Category Archives: Strategy

Procurement Trend #20. Increased Strategic Focus

Seventeen anti-trends still remain. And while somedays it might seem like this series will never end, we assure you it will and now that LOLCat has figured out that the best thing to do is just take a nap, dream of his grandfather’s adventures as an archaeologist cat uncovering lost tombs, and wait for the series that is regurgitating topics of his past lives, we can march on knowing that as long as other LOLCats do the same, the series will do no our poor LOLCats more harm. And in fact, when we lay bare each and every one of the futurists’ lies, you’ll be in a better position to learn the truth and seize upon the real trends that lie ahead and the opportunities they contain.

So why do the historians keep pegging increased strategic focus as a future trend? Besides asphyxiation as a result from breathing in too much of their own hot air, probably because:

  • Supply Management is still tactically focussed in many companies

    on purchase order creation, invoice processing, and other forms of paper document and contract management.

  • Supply Managers are too focussed on survival, not control

    Procurement in many companies is comparable to the Island of Misfit Toys where the toys are all wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out how to find what they need to get through another day, instead of taking control of the situation.

  • Reaction is the name of the game, but Planning is the key to winning

    but most Procurement departments spend their days reacting to requisitions, supplier mishaps, late deliveries, stock-outs, and other unplanned events.

So what does this mean?

Strategic Focus

Procurement has to acquire and implement automation management to reduce tactical focus from mundane processing to exception management to give it time to focus on more strategic sourcing tasks, category planning, process review and improvement, and other tasks that will allow it to not only find any savings it has not yet tapped but identify new sources of value to the organization.

Transition to Farming and Harvesting

When you’re just trying to survive, all of your efforts generally go into hunting and gathering to meet the day’s needs. But in order to get ahead, you have to start farming and harvesting. You have to work together and divide up the work in such a way that someone has time to focus on more long term tasks while others handle the emergency situations of the day. While Procurement cannot avoid doing what it takes to put out the fires to avoid burning to the ground, it has to regularly step back, step up, take a wider view, and come up with ways to advance its methodology and operations and implement those so it can progress towards a path of proactive strategy and not reactive data processing.

Forward Planning

Procurement has to not only look for ways to get better today, but for ways that will allow it to continue progressing in efficiency and capability and potential beyond next quarter and next year. True forward planning looks five years into the future, not five months. While it won’t be able to see that far right away, when it has truly matured as a strategic organization, it will be working on projects for the current the year, next year, and on preparing for projects that will happen three to five years in the future that take a lot of planing and preparation to get right, such as factory and warehouse relocation as a result of a supply chain redesign project.

Doing Procurement Right Regardless of Organizational Size

A few days ago, in our post on how You’ve Negotiated but you still might not be realizing savings on marketing print, we pointed out two great guests posts by Santosh Reddy of GEP on how just throwing a problem over the wall to an expert doesn’t necessarily save you money — it just guarantees that someone else, namely the Print Management Company (PMC), makes money on your behalf.

Today, we’re going to point out another guest post by a GEP consultant, Sanyam Khurana. In his recent post on Spend Matters on Procurement Lessons for Small Businesses and Large Multinational Corporations, he notes that some strategies work well regardless of organizational size. Thus, if you are a small business that wants to get bigger, you should take take these lessons to heart and work on these strategies.


If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Sourcing Innovation has been emphasizing the importance of the 3T’s to successful Supply Management — Talent, Technology, and Transition Management. Transition Management requires a lot of things, but above all else, flexibility as your organization needs to adapt to, and be in, a state of constant change, in order to navigate the ebbs and flows of today’s global economy.

Cost Optimization

Whether you’re buying 100 units or 100,000 units, you still have to make sure you’re paying the right price for the right product. Over paying by 10% is still overpaying by 10%, and with smaller budgets, and margins to work with, 10% is still a lot.

Supplier Rationalization

Whether you’re a 1 Million, 100 Million, or a 1 Billion dollar company, you still depend on your suppliers for your success. In Sanyam Khurana’s post, he gives the example of a bakery that requires raw material, namely flour, to produce its goods. If the suppliers don’t deliver, the bakery can’t bake its bread. Having the right suppliers that you can depend on through thick and thin is important regardless of organizational size.

Data Management

Not only does each of the above strategies require good data to be effective, but so do other organizational strategies. For example, you can’t optimize cost unless you know how much you are paying, how much you could be paying and the value you are getting. You can’t rationalize on the right suppliers unless you are keeping good performance metrics. And while you can always be flexible, there’s no point in being flexible unless you know the direction that you should be be flexibly moving in! Plus, in today’s economy, social media is often critical to marketing, sales, and advertising — and in order to focus on the right channels, you need data!

Data, data everywhere
And all the tables burst
Data, data everywhere
It can not get much worse!

Projects Fail — Here Are Four Proven Reasons Why!

An article over on Outsource Magazine on Project Delusion summarized research from a group that has been tracking UK project management for more than a decade. This group, which has seen budget overrun recently climb from 18% to 27%, investigated the minority of projects that ran more than 200% over original projections. When the causes of deviation from the plan were analyzed, the following major contributors were found:

  • Missing Focus
    Specifically, unclear objectives, poor requirements, and a lack of business focus.
  • Execution Issues
    Specifically, unclear objectives and reactive planning.
  • Content Issues
    Specifically, shifting requirements and uncontrolled technical complexity.
  • Skill Issues
    Specifically, an unaligned team, lack of skills, experience, and resource.

That’s why you should never start a project until

  • The Goals Are Clearly Defined
    along with the metrics that will be used to measure against them.
  • Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans Have Been Defined
    along with processes and procedures for creating new plans for unexpected situations.
  • Change Request Procedures Are Clearly Defined
    so that requirements don’t shift and technical complexity does not spiral out of control.
  • Proper Training is Provided Before the Product Starts
    so that team has the right training, is led by the right experience, is aware of, and able to use, the resources at their disposal, and have what it takes to align toward the project goals.

Also, you should adopt some best practices based on lessons learned. Four best practices, as detailed in the article, include:

  • Manage strategy and stakeholders.
  • Master technology and the business.
  • Excel at core project management practices (as defined in the PMBOK).
  • Fail quickly and cheaply.

For details, see the great article on Project Delusion in Outsource Magazine.

Dick Locke On The Yin-Yang of the Business Universe (Repost)

Editor’s Note: This is a repost of a classic post by Dick Locke. (His guest posts are all archived.) Dick, who has delivered seminars to over 100 companies across the globe, is a seasoned expert on International Sourcing and Procurement who wrote the book.

Steven Guth proposes that “Procurement pros should be in sales“. He
implies, but never quite says, that procurement pros should have sales
skills. That’s right on. I’ve been there, done that and even got a
tee-shirt. Sales skills are essential, especially if you are in a
corporate central group that is outside of any profit centers.

Here’s the situation. I won’t mention the company name, but I hope
people will figure out who it is. They had a Corporate Procurement group
of which I was a part. I received an assignment to start up International
Purchasing Offices (IPOs) in Asia back in the mid 1980s. Funding those
offices quickly became an issue. It had been an issue all along for the
Corporate Procurement Group, with big annual negotiations and
discussions about how much each profit center would pay to fund the
corporate group. Now we wanted to add more people and expense for an
unproven new function. They might as well have painted a big target on
our backs.

The funding solution we came up with was that we had to generate our own
funding and using us had to be voluntary. That meant we had to charge
our users a fee and that we were in competition with two other groups.
One was reps and subsidiaries of (largely) Japanese and European
companies who had set up a sales subsidiary structure in the US. The
second group was our own company’s buyers and purchasing managers in
profit centers who felt they could source, purchase from, and manage
overseas suppliers themselves.

We realized we had to not only charge less than what sales subsidiaries
charged but also less than our profit centers felt it would cost to do
it themselves. We came up with essentially a sliding scale of markups on
purchase orders. Small users might pay as much as 5%. Large users might
pay less than half a percent.

I’m glad to say it worked. The operation was handling more than a
half-billion dollars per year in orders when I left. That’s not to say
there weren’t, err, “learning experiences.” One of our big issues is
that we had selected employees for their purchasing and engineering
skills, and not for their marketing skills. It required a tune up for
several of our people, not excluding me. It took about three years to
become fully self funded. If we had avoided some mistakes we could have
shaved about a year off that time.

It had some very pleasant side effects. We essentially were running a
small business within a big corporation. Our people got lean,
entrepreneurial and very customer-oriented. We quickly developed an
antipathy to bureaucracy. We became really efficient. It also took us out
of the annual budget battle and the annual exercise to calculate what we
were saving. (I refer to that as “lies, damn lies, and purchasing
statisitics.”) We merely had to state that we received x number of
purchase orders per day from people who didn’t have to use us and were
paying us for our services. That kept management happy nearly all the time.

Where is this model applicable? In companies where there is a lot of
independence on the part of profit centers, a center-led purchasing
effort, issues with funding the central department and finally where an
internal department can develop and market an advantage over their
competitors. Check it out, it may be right for you.

Dick Locke, Global Procurement Group.

This was, and is, and a great post, Dick.
(And why SI is including a few games to sharpen your sales mindset in it’s Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management.)

The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part XVII: The Village

Life is tough in Competitive Co. Global growth is slowing with the economy. Your products are no longer the most wanted in the marketplace. And at the end of every quarter, the employees who fall in the bottom 10% of their performance reviews get axed. Plus, you just found out that the CPO has been lured away to Big Money Co., one of the Directors is getting promoted, and it’s likely that the next Director will be promoted from within. You want that job, because it significantly decreases the chance that you will be cut when your next annual performance review comes up.

But how do you progress up the corporate ladder? Where do you focus your efforts? Even though you’re required to be a jack of all trades as a Category Manager, you can’t focus on everything, and if you’ll try, you’ll be a master of none and one of your category management rivals will be picked instead of you. Looking around, you see that people who get promoted to Senior Management positions tend to be those who either excel in timing the market and locking in contracts and/or spot buys at the perfect time, forging new markets, managing supplier relationships to optimize production, embedding themselves in standards organizations, or mastering the politics of the workplace to advance despite their lack of skills.

It’s not much different than trying to progress up the social ladder in the typical medieval village. If you were unhappy with the simple life of a farmer (like in Agricola) or a fisherman (like in Le Havre or Rouen Upon a Salty Ocean), then you either have to make your life as a merchant in the market and learn how to profit on every trade, travel to strange new lands to find new and valuable goods for trade, become a master craftsman and produce the ploughs and carriages needed by the farmers and traders, take the religious path and join the church and try to become a monk and work your way up the pecking order, or, if you were lucky to be living in one of the early commonwealths or states, where leaders were elected, become a politician and try to work your way up the ranks in the city council to eventually become elected (or appointed) as the representative of your city.

In other words, things haven’t changed much in 300 years. If you want to get ahead in the world, you either master trade, travel, craft, religion*, or politics. And that’s what you have to do in The Village.
In The Village, you win by controlling the family that achieves the most prestige by the end of the game. Prestige is gained by traveling to new cities, occupying the council chamber(s), progressing through the ranks in the church, succeeding in trade at the market, amassing wealth (in the form of gold coins), and getting your family members recorded in the village chronicle (for their deeds) on their demise. (Unlike the other worker-based games we have covered so far in this Board Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management, where you either have a constant number of workers, or a slowly increasing number of workers as the game progresses, in this game, you lose workers as the game progresses as actions have a time element, and you only get so much time per worker. This adds a new dimension of complexity as you have to be balance worker acquisition with worker loss, just like in the real world where workers retire, defect, or, occasionally, drop dead at their desks.)

As with most worker placement games, the game is round-based and each round consists of a number of actions. In each round, there are a fixed number of birthing, grain harvest, craft, market, travel, council, church, and well actions and players take turns until all the actions have been taken or the end-game has been triggered (in which case each player takes one more action). The birthing action adds one family member (worker) to your family; the grain harvest allows you to take 2 (3, or 4) bags of grain (if you have a plow and a orse or an ox); the craft action allows you to either produce or trade for a scroll, plow, or wagon, mill grain and sell it for gold, or work or trade for a horse or ox; the market action allows you to trade goods (and acquire prestige for your trading skills); the travel action allows you to visit a new city if you have a wagon and the resources to do so; the council action allows you to place a member in the council if you have a scroll or the influence (resources) to do so or, if you have a member in the council, advance him through the ranks if you have the scroll and/or influence (resources) to do so and gain rewards for doing so; the church allows you to enroll one of your family members in the clergy in the hopes that they will be selected for advancement at the end of the round (which will give you prestige if you have the most family members in the clergy); and the well action allows you to acquire a resource (needed for travelling, council advancement, goods, etc.).

The difficulty is in balancing your actions so that you always have the resources and time to advance. For instance, you can’t take too many time-based actions until you have expanded your family as you lose one family member after you have taken actions that require 10 time units in total, and, because this game takes place during the time of the plague, you cannot add more than 7 family members over the duration of the game. Many of the actions, such as travel, advancing through the council chamber, trading in the market, milling grain for gold, and working for scrolls, ploughs, wagons, horses, and oxen, require time. Depending on the action, it can require anywhere from one time unit (to enter the council chambers for the first time) to six time units to produce your first plough (as it takes 3 time units to learn the trade and 3 time units to build a plough). Just like in the real world, it takes time for your workers to learn their jobs and then time to produce results. That’s why you often buy or outsource, trading money and material (in The Village, resources) for goods and services you need instead of trying to acquire the talent and build the product yourself. Some competencies (like category management) you invest in and others (like production) you outsource. Sometimes you keep a superstar on your team, and advance them through the ranks (like you advance them through the council or the church in The Village) and sometimes you let them go (or, in The Village, let them expire to be recorded in the Chronicle for prestige).

It’s another great game for testing your Supply Management muster, with the unique twist that you not only have to balance resources with growth, but you also have to balance trade with workforce output, because, just like in real life, if you burn out your workforce, they expire. Do you have what it takes to be master of The Village. Why don’t you find out? Maybe you’ll even figure out where to focus your efforts to advance your own Supply Management Career!

* Some standards have as many zealots as recognized religions!