Democratising the procurement digital journey: Empowering practitioners and enthusing stakeholders

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“I just don’t understand why we are struggling to achieve buy in”, laments the digital project lead as they refresh their PowerPoint from the last major systems overhaul two years ago.

 

It’s a familiar scene. They update icons representing promised full-time equivalent savings, add some procurement jargon and build an FAQ that poorly disguises the fact this change has been driven by the new CPO’s preference for a replacement system, to demonstrate some return on investment. And then, perhaps to polish it off, the digital project lead shifts the slides into a new marketing-approved colour scheme, adding some buzzwords to fill any empty-looking slides.

 

It’s an exaggerated vision, but not wholly inaccurate. Procurement Leaders’ research and advisory has consistently identified a major disconnect between digital project teams, practitioners and stakeholders outside of procurement.

 

Given 42% of respondents to Procurement Leaders’ 2019 Data, Intelligence and Technology (DIT) Forum pulse survey said they had no communications strategy for their digital initiatives, the lack of engagement from purchasing staff outside of the project team should not be surprising.

 

Similarly, a common refrain is that key stakeholders have little interest in supporting digital procurement projects. Given just 15% of respondents to the DIT survey claimed to have a cross-functional change management framework, it is not as though procurement project teams have been rolling out the welcome mat. Furthermore, just 10% of digital procurement leaders said they accounted for suppliers affected by their initiatives.

 

This is not an attack on digital leadership teams aligned to procurement. My overwhelming experience is that these individuals are astoundingly knowledgeable, skilled and enthusiastic. The question is how these leaders translate their vision and enthusiasm beyond the project team.

 

It is a question that is starting to yield an answer as a growing number of project teams are approaching digital initiatives from a more holistic and democratic perspective.

 

Discussions with these teams have led Procurement Leaders to identify a number of core techniques that differentiate their approaches:

Widening participation

The most visible distinction of these high-performing project teams is how they distribute authority within digital initiatives throughout their organisations. Rather than being driven by a small central team, tasks are delegated to a much wider body of staff outside of the core project team who help shape the direction of the initiative.

 

These employees are embedded in teams to support training, push core messaging and solicit feedback. While their roles vary significantly between organisations, these individuals all serve as an important interface between the central project team and the rest of the company.

 

However, this spirit of participation can extend far beyond individual digital projects and can even be leveraged in building a digital strategy. A key example of this can be seen in the approach to digitalisation taken by Siemens, which crowdsources ideas for digital projects for their function’s prolific Digi Network.

 

These crowdsourced ideas must follow a short but strict template, with prototypes voted on by a selection committee.

Reshaping the language of our strategy

To enthuse practitioners and stakeholders, project teams have to fundamentally reevaluate their communication, focusing on better targeted messaging, using business-friendly language and reshaping their project objectives.

 

Building a more effective narrative for digitalisation relies on two principal steps:

  1. Building a change management team

The highest-performing organisations have a designated change management team that is aligned to, but distinct from, the digital project team. This change team is supported by dedicated resources. Although members of the digital project team are often involved, this distinct group has a mandate to ensure change management is neither an oversight nor something to be cut when resources tightens. The change management team is centrally tasked with designing change management methodologies, as well as developing communications and training plans.

  1. Understanding practitioners and stakeholders

Engaging in workshops with affected teams and one-on-one discussions with senior staff helps to understand how to position the digital solution. It is important for digital procurement leaders to understand these individuals’ motives and the support they require at project milestones.


A quick win is to draw from the strategy of the organisation directly to shape the digital initiative’s objectives. It is far easier for resistant individuals to dismiss what they perceive to be a siloed procurement proposal than a project clearly aligned to the business’s 2025 strategy pillars.

 

Represent these objectives visually and elevate them to an organisational level to win support. Drawing a line from a business objective such as entering new markets, for example, to procurement leveraging supplier capabilities to develop new intellectual property will help the function develop a powerful case for a digital initiative to support supplier relationship management.

 

Project teams should look to onboard individuals with change management expertise or at least ensure they have access to such expertise throughout the project life cycle. Increasingly, procurement teams are looking to formal training programmes, which may help drive improvements.

Prioritising the user

From placing the user experience at the heart of vendor selection to using iterative development frameworks that better incorporate feedback, market-leading teams focus on empowering and satisfying users.

 

If affected groups are aware they are the beneficiaries of deployments – and that the solution is shaped around their needs – project teams will both see reduced opposition to change and the organisation realising greater value from its investments, by encouraging staff to suggest improvements.

 

Using learning resources to demonstrate the effect of technology on workflows will help ease staff concerns and limit resistance. Bringing in subject-matter experts to explain the limitations of automation and how it will, for example, enable purchasing practioners to focus on more complex, collaborative activities, will drive acceptance.

 

One organisation Procurement Leaders has spoken to dealt with resistant elements to their robotic process automation project by directly targeting those individuals’ projects and pain points during the initial pilots. This helped the project team turn the most hostile staff into advocates; demonstrating the success of the project’s messaging. Rather than targeting high-opportunity areas, this approach can help minimise opposition to the project.

 

Over the past few years, there has been a growing awareness that project messaging drawn from early business cases does not enthuse the range of stakeholders digital procurement leaders need to engage. Increasingly, project teams are revisiting the narrow procurement focus of their messaging, which has caused a noticeable shift away from the most heinous crimes – advertising FTE savings to the procurement staff who must invest in the initiative for it to succeed.

 

Redeveloping our approaches to enthuse and empower these groups is a difficult task. Over the course of this year, Procurement Leaders will release several digital capability development videos as one part of a wide array of content and case studies that will support teams in this much-needed transition.

Key actions

  • Empower practitioners and stakeholders by opening up digital projects and strategy to their input. Rather than driving change entirely from a central team, leverage a wider community of volunteers.
  • Develop a designated change management team to build a better-targeted communications strategy. Reposition the language around our deployments to encourage a greater range of stakeholders invest in projects.
  • Focus on enablement by focusing on user experience and building in feedback mechanisms to tailor solutions as closely as possible to employees’ needs.

Further resources

Alex Johnston

Alex Johnston -

Research, Procurement Leaders

Alex is a Lead Analyst at Procurement Leaders, with a focus on technology, tools development and procurement methdolology

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