Procurement Leaders Listen to Roxette!

How do you do (do you do) the things that you do?
No one I know could ever keep up with you
How do you do?
Did it ever make sense to you …

A recent article over on Procurement Leaders asks CPOs why do you do and notes that a recent exercise they’ve been carrying out has been to ask CPOs to share the value propositions they have in place for their function.

Procurement Leaders’ goal was to force extremely busy people to take a step back and think deeply about why they do what they do. What are the ultimate goals of those negotiations with suppliers? Why are they spending time building relationships with certain suppliers and not others? Where should scarce resources and investment dollars be spent? This is because while a value proposition for a Procurement department is not an easy thing to produce and even more challenging to agree and implement, the provocation can allow a Procurement Department to get back to strategy, think about how our decisions affect our stakeholders, suppliers and the communities we do business in.

And while a Procurement department should understand its value proposition, because it helps it focus and relay its value, getting everyone in the organization to agree can be a very extensive effort and extremely time consuming. Furthermore, when you consider the possibility that the “value proposition” ultimately agreed on could be such a mish-mash of different viewpoints and demands to the point that it adds absolutely no value whatsoever, just like a corporate “mission statement” when everyone gets to add their bit to it (and the end result is no different than what the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator used to generate).

However, if you look at the example questions Procurement Leaders’ quoted, you realize that while a vision might be a good goal, a better effort, or at least a better way to start, is to ask the C-Suite to outline it’s top goals for the year, and then for the Procurement organization to identify the best ways they can meet those goals. From there they can identify: which categories should be strategically sourced, which products or services are critical for them, which suppliers are likely critical, and then, for each project, define the value and the goal and not spend effort building relationships with suppliers who are supplying tactical products or services that can be just as easily obtained from the next three lowest bid suppliers and instead spend time developing relationships with suppliers who are critical, even if the overall spend is low. For example, control chips in cars and power regulation systems are extremely critical and often only (capable of) being produced by a few suppliers due to highly specific requirements or proprietary natures. Compared to the costs of the steel, the transmission, the engine and/or the batteries, and even the tires, the total spend might not even register when the chips are only a couple of dollars each — but if a supplier failure, logistics delay, or raw material shortage shuts down your entire production line because you didn’t see a shortfall coming and either work with your supplier to build up an inventory or work with the backup supplier to allow production to be ramped up quickly, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue could be at stake.

Furthermore, no effort should be spent “strategically” sourcing a product or category where the payback isn’t at least 3X the cost of the manpower required to do so. If an automated multi-round RFX with automated feedback or a reverse auction will get you 99% of the savings and the last 1% won’t even pay for 3X the salary and overhead of the buyer, it’s just not worth it if this prevents the organization from sourcing a lower cost category with a 5% savings potential through better analysis and negotiation. Know the value, define the value, and only put effort in where there is real value to be gained. Otherwise, use appropriate automation or redefine categories and projects. (Definitely don’t go nuts and RFQ everything, because even the squirrels will know you’re nuts if you do. But maybe do some overarching sourcing or negotiation that you can just cut POs or one-time orders against for a year. Sometimes just negotiating for 20% off of lowest list price in a 30 day window [and carefully tracking and documenting those prices to prevent invoice overcharges] is enough to automate catalog orders.)

And similar logic applies to all Procurement (related) activities. While machines can’t replace procurement professionals, they can take over the tasks where their intervention doesn’t add value. That’s the point. So think before you act, and act appropriately.