In this guest post, Procurement Leaders invites Optimum Procurement’s Gerard Chick to look at procurement’s identity and where functions are breaking free of the contstraints placed upon them by narrow concepts, like best practice.
The world of procurement reminds me of those concave shaving mirrors (the type you get in posh hotel bathrooms), which allows the rest of the business world to see their image pitilessly enlarged -both faults and virtues. Maybe that is why procurement gets such a hard time in the modern organisation; they have watched its transformation from callow youth to a full family member – yet the sibling rivalry remains.
The voices that previously condemned procurement as worthless because it was neither progressive nor avant-garde have gradually died down, while that of procurement grows more powerful every year.
Without getting mired in the detail, the time has come for procurement to consider how its collective professional identity has formed and developed. And yet we are unquestionably a product of our professional past, we are also at times a ’prisoner’ of that heritage, managing everything but owning nothing.
To some extent the handcuffs on procurement relate to the notion of and deference to ’best’ practice. There can be no best practice. Best must be judged in context; it is relative to needs and circumstances. Another way of looking at it is to ask: what is right for this organisation? What is right for your needs and, crucially, for your own needs at a particular point in time and in particular market circumstances? Needs vary and they vary by organisation, location, culture, geography, industry sector, capability, maturity, philosophy, personality and over time. But people still want the unattainable – best practice.
The broadening range of the procurement profession’s contributions to organisations has made this concept even more significant over time. Reducing cost is clearly important to all organisations, but organisations also have other decision drivers, which demand the derivation of greater value. Examples of these value drivers include security of supply, speed to market, service levels, quality standards, and social and environmental responsibility. So it should be patently obvious that one organisation’s ’best’ practice might not be ’best’ practice for another organisation.
Needless to say, there is still ’good’ practice and one can loosely characterise what ’world-class’ practices might look like. Much of the writing on procurement in the last 30 years or so has focused on and provided a wealth of research, data and experience that indicates the characteristics of both good and bad practice, but so far no one has found that single, superlative, best practice.
The characteristics of what good practice is can be reasonably well defined. They can even be graded and quantified to show a linear progression across a broad range of criteria. In fact they can also be used as part of a process to define progress and set goals. But, such characteristics are outcomes really. They are the benefits to be gained from sustained effort and continued investment in good procurement practice.
However, if these characteristics are to be developed and built into the organisation’s processes and mind-set then much hard work and serious influencing has to be brought to bear. Dan Milman wrote in his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior: "to rid yourself of old patterns, focus all your energy not on struggling with the old, but on building the new".
Gerard Chick is chief knowledge officer at Optimum Procurement.
His new book, ’The Procurement Value Proposition: The Rise Of Supply Management’ is available from Kogan Page here.