Category Archives: rants

UNSuitable Procurement Spend Classification!

Brian Seipel of Source One Management Services recently shared his Pros and Cons of using UNSPSC for spend classification, indicating that the best taxonomy for you, including UNSPSC, was determined by your primary goal.

According to Brian, if your goal was to hit the ground running fast and base analysis on a tried-and-true standard, then UNSPSC was a great start because, as a standard, it is:

  • pre-developed and ready-to-use,
  • capable of expressing a good degree of granularity, and
  • widely available from vendors and a significant number of data enrichment options exist.

And this sounds great, but, any services vendor with a spend analysis offering (Insight Sourcing Group – SpendHQ, Spendency, Sievo, etc.)

  • has one more standard taxonomies designed for Procurement that it has been using for years and years (that has been refined across dozens, if not hundreds, of clients) and that it regularly achieves great results with
  • and these taxonomies are highly granular, usually to at least four levels of detail, and sometimes more and
  • can be enriched from dozens of sources using pre-defined mappings that the expert spend services group has ready-to-go

And when you look at it this way, there are really no benefits. (Well, there is one benefit to UNSPSC, and that is easy H(T)S code mapping, but that’s a Finance/AP benefit, not a Procurement one!)

However, the benefits of a custom Procurement taxonomy:

  • alignment to organizational Procurement/Sourcing needs
  • flexibility and capability to be re-organized on the fly
  • ability to support different levels of granularity in different categories (so that drill down is only available where it makes sense)

can not be found in UNSPSC. It’s one rigid unaligned structure. It can’t be remapped and re-organized as needed to support changing spend responsibility (such as department-specific IT services being taken out of IT spending and mapped to the appropriate departments). And the granularity cannot be altered. Allowing spend to be analyzed in some cases down to nonsensical levels.

So while it may be standard and universally supported (and even useful from a Finance/AP point of view), it really is an UNSuitable Procurement Spend Classification. So, when it comes time to do spend analysis, do NOT use it. (Select a system that supports multi-classification and finance can have their UNSPSC pound-cake and you can have your feathery souffle.) Are we clear?

(And yes, if asked, even consultants who do not like UNSPSC will say it’s a reasonable option because they are told to never directly contradict a client who signs the cheque, and if the CFO who signed the PO wants it, for whatever half-baked reason, guess what is all of a sudden a viable option … )

We Don’t Need Another Hero!

the doctor‘s response to the public defender‘s post on What’s the Future of Procurement? How the Rogues Will Become the Heroes

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can’t make the same mistake this time
We are the relics
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder why we are always after change
Dancing around the way, till nothing pure remains

We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping

Looking for something
We can rely on
There’s gotta be something better out there
Rules and processes
Their day is coming
All else is descriptive vapourware
And I wonder why we are always after change
Dancing around the way, till nothing pure remains

All the stoics say
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping

So what did we do with our lives
If we don’t leave our mark
Will our story shine like a light
Or end in the dark
Give it all or nothing

We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping

While flexibility, collaboration, and innovation are to be nurtured and cherished … if the system is the workaround, then something’s wrong …

Classic (Friday) Rant: The Key to a Successful (Virtual) Procurement Center of Excellence? No MBAs and No PMPs!

As you know, the doctor is pushing for platform-powered Virtual Procurement Centers of Excellence, and some of you might be wondering how to staff them.  The answer is, with the best Procurement Pros you can get.  Who are they? The answer is often industry, Company, and sometimes even category specific, but to get you started, we’re going to reprint this classic post that defines who they are not and, in traditional SI style, pulls no punches.

Regular readers will know I’ve been blasting MBAs (Master of Business Administration) for years and feel that the degree on its own is worthless (a belief that has started to be echoed by many progressive US companies who realize that MBAs have too much training on the coastline of business and not enough on the mainland, as pointed out by Robert Kaplan on The Hollow Science). In a nutshell, if all you have is an MBA, then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re just a Master of Business Annihilation!

But what regular readers don’t know is that I hold project / product managers with no education or skill in what they are attempting to manage in the same regard and believe that PMPs (Project Management Professional, as certified by PMI for e.g.) with no other skills are nothing more than certified, legitimized, pimps. (Think about it. All you are to them is a resource with a skill to be sold to the highest bidder. The only difference between them and a street pimp is that, while the street pimp is selling a resource with physical skills to the highest bidder or favoured client, they are selling a resource with mental skills to the highest bidder, or favoured executive.) The reason that I’ve been quiet is, until now, I’ve had no proof. But thanks to a recent Hackett Group study, nicely summarized in this Information Week article on Project Management Offices: A Waste of Money, we now know that not only are you not expected to get better business outcomes or project delivery performance if you use a PMO (Project Management Office) staffed with PMPs, but using one might actually decrease outcomes and/or performance. In fact, the study found that an IT organization’s performance actually improved once the PMO was eliminated.

What everyone seems to be forgetting is that, especially today when the level of process and technical sophistication in most fields is higher than its ever been and the pace of advancement is still relentless, you cannot effectively manage what you do not understand. While the basic principles of good business and project management are the same across disciplines at the high-level, 30,000 foot view, the implementations vary, and the knowledge needed to understand if a project is really on schedule or if a disruption is serious or not is different across every industry, organization, and project — especially in software and engineering. Every project comes with its own unique challenges, many of which will be deeply technical or process oriented. And if you don’t even understand the ramifications of the second law of thermodynamics, don’t expect to understand the challenges your design engineer is facing when the system keeps overheating at normal usage levels and how long those challenges might take to resolve.

Now, to be clear, I’m not denying the usefulness of MBA skills or project management skills, as they are useful when layered on top of a deep understanding of the organization’s supply chain or a relevant engineering degree (when one is managing an engineering project) — as they are incredibly useful in these circumstances, just denying that these degrees and/or certifications have any value on their own. In fact, as some recent studies have shown, on their own they can be down-right destructive!

So if you want a successful Supply Management Center of Excellence, forget about the MBAs and the PMPs and look for people with the skills in the disciplines necessary to create and deliver your products and services. If you produce electronics, look for designers, electrical and electronics engineers, risk management experts (to prevent supply disruptions from your dependence on rare earth metals), finance experts (to help manage working capital until the first product is sold), and any other cross-functional expertise necessary for a successful product. If you find the right experts, you can then train them in the project management and business skills that are required. And since these skills require substantially less capability and training than the disciplines the experts have already mastered, your experts will be able to master these skills given sufficient time and proper training. (On the flip-side, the chances that a PMP with only an associate’s degree in psychology is going to gain a sufficient mastery of power electronics to truly understand the project requirements to design a new overload reset switch for a local power grid are slim to none.)

The Black Swans are Gunning For You!

Maybe, after years of humming and hawwing you finally put a proper supply chain risk management program. Maybe you feel you’ve learned enough about disruptions to identify them early and react quickly and the threat of those black swans has been minimized. Maybe you just had the worst disruption in a decade and you know that there are few of them (outside of their native Australia), but many organizations, and the odds are that you won’t see them again for a decade. Maybe you’re safe. Maybe.

But what you don’t understand is these swans are angry. Very angry. And they have a right to be. How would you feel if you were, more or less, consider the ugly duckling compared to your white cousins. Ridiculed and reviled thanks to Dr. Taleb who called you out as the cause of every single unexpected event that few predict, especially when those events have devastating consequences. And to top it off, associated with your raging white cousins that are, the vast majority of the time, the perpetrators of the “swan attack”.

So what do you do when you’re angry? You get revenge. On the biggest targets. And what’s the biggest target? The modern, global supply chain.

And before you think the doctor‘s off his gourd, he knows that, 99.999% of the time your supply chain disruption is not the direct cause of a black swan attack, but that no matter how good you think you are at preventing and detecting black swan events, you’re not good enough. At least not yet.

How does he know this?

  1. The percentage of Procurement organizations that have dedicated risk management solutions is miniscule.
  2. The percentage of Procurement organizations that have dedicated risk management solutions and leading SRM solutions is smaller still.
  3. The percentage of Procurement organizations that have dedicated risk management solutions, leading SRM solutions, and modern strategic sourcing / supply chain optimization solutions is much smaller still.
  4. The percentage of Procurement organizations that have dedicated risk management solutions, leading SRM solutions, modern strategic supply sourcing / supply chain optimization, and six sigma level disaster planning capability is so much smaller still that it’s almost non-existent.

And the reality is that unless you’re at level 4, you’re not going to see enough of the potential disruptions headed your way to analyze their impact probability and potential severity, and you won’t even get a hint of coming big, “black swan” events, until the tsunami is right on top of you and there’s nothing you can do to get out of it’s way. As a recent post by the public defender  points out, events that seem unlikely, surprising, or virtually impossible do happen, more often than we expect, and our risk analysis, mitigation approaches and management actions should bear this in mind.

And most importantly, just because they are half a world away doesn’t mean that they won’t devastate your product line in two months when you’re supply can’t supply because their supplier didn’t supply because the raw material supplier couldn’t supply because the earthquake collapsed the mine — something you could have known two months ago with monitoring, which might have given you enough time to get your disaster recovery plan in place. You’ll still be affected. Costs will still go up. Workloads will still double. But you won’t be up the creek without a paddle (just in a more expensive boat with an un-preferred, less favoured one.)

If You Let Your Supplier Rip You Off …

Then whatever else they do to you, blame yourself!

Not long ago, over on Spend Matters UK, the public defender penned a post on Public Sector Project Failures, Blame the Suppliers! which, while likely deserving of some vile for having the audacity to continue to overcharge the public coffers for the products and services they deliver (something they likely wouldn’t get away with if it was a big private sector client which was a leader in strategic sourcing and supplier management), is not, in the doctor‘s view, deserving of all the vile. After all, as we penned here not that long ago in our post on whether or not your suppliers are ripping you off, if you are letting them, then they are.

But that’s not all they are doing if you let them. What else you ask? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s step back.

If you flip over to the public defender‘s post, he mentions an article by Allan Watton of Best Practice Group discusses what an organization can do if a provider exhibits problems that impacts the service to your recommendation. And this is the crux of it. If they are willing to rip you off, and you are willing to let them, then if their quality slides, they are likely also willing to send you (more) inferior/defective products, let their service commitments slip (in favour of another customer if resources are thinner than they guaranteed), and even fail to enforce necessary social responsibility and sustainability requirements that they agreed to (that will get you, and not them, thrown into boiling hot water if not adhered to).

And, frankly, as far as Si is concerned, if this happens, if you are not watching them and working with (or, if necessary, replacing) them, then it is all your fault and you only have yourself to blame. Yes, they are deserving of vile for being such scumbags in the first place if they do any of this, but it’s your supply chain delivering your product to your customers, so it’s your responsibility to monitor and if anything happens, as per legislations being introduced around the globe, unless you took reasonable measures to monitor, it’s your fault. So the ultimate blame rests with you.

But, as the public defender points out, sometimes monitoring and managing won’t be enough. Often time the suppliers, while a little bad, aren’t truly rotten and can be improved with monitoring and management, but sometimes you truly do have a truly rotten apple that you can’t do anything with. In this case, you will need to switch, and to do that quickly and effectively, with as little disruption as possible, you will need a disaster recovery plan, an extreme mitigation plan where you are not dealing with a temporary disruption due to weather, equipment failure, etc. but the need to replace an entire supplier permanently. And that’s why risk management is discussed regularly on this blog, because it does no good to identify millions of savings with optimization and analytics only to lose it because you weren’t prepared for that eventual black-swan mega-disruption that is coming your way!