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Keep it simple and be brave!

Top tips for procurement professionals
By Cheryl Choong on 21 June 2022

I always thought I would enter consultancy later in life, perhaps towards the end of my career when I felt I had amassed ‘enough’ knowledge and experience to feel confident about imparting it to others.

But during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, I realised that not only did I already have the capacity to help others, but there was a real need for people like me who could help procurement professionals navigate their way through the complex post-Covid, post-Brexit, 21st-century landscape.

I joined eXceeding four months ago, and I’m pleased to say it was absolutely the right decision. Having worked in both public and private sector organisations over two decades, I’ve seen procurement from both ‘sides of the fence’. I’ve seen how both non-profits and commercial organisations tackle common challenges and approach opportunities that come their way. I’ve been part of innovation, big and small.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot about what makes procurement teams and processes effective, and conversely what hampers them and causes problems.

In this article, I share my top tips for procurement professionals.

Disclaimer: This list is by no means exhaustive, but represents some of the more common issues I’ve seen in procurement teams I’ve worked with.

Top tips for procurement professionals

My top tips would be:

  1. Keep calm!

  2. Keep it simple

  3. Go back to basics

  4. Prioritise

  5. Standardise

  6. Understand your spend

  7. Remember you’re the expert

  8. Be brave

Let’s look at those in more detail…

Tip #1 Keep calm!

This is absolutely key; panic buying benefits no one. No matter how busy you and your team are, buying under pressure can only lead to missed opportunities. Worse still, you may end up locked into contractual clauses that can’t provide your business with what it needs in the long term.

The long-term strategy and requirements of the business should always be taken into consideration in the procurement process, and this is impossible to do properly if you’re in a hurry.

Sometimes, this sort of pressured buying is out of your control, but if you see it happening you should always ask yourself and those around you: ‘Is this really the best or most efficient way to be working?’.

Tip #2 Keep it simple

You don’t need to validate your role by over-complicating things. Keeping it simple will make the whole procurement process easier to understand, for others in your organisation, for your suppliers, and for your customers. It will also help improve the reputation of your team internally, which will make it easier to get things done in the longer term.

Avoid jargon and buzz words at all costs, and unnecessary repetition in the words you use in tender documents and contracts. When you do introduce new policies, make sure to delete old ones that conflict or no longer apply. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a confusing tangle of different policies and multiple layers of process that will create an admin nightmare and suck up your team’s resource and time.

Some of this is common sense, and sometimes it just gets missed because you’re too busy to stand back and ask if there is a better way. It comes down to efficiency at the end of the day, and it’s a cycle. The more you step back and review what you’re doing, the more you can eliminate the over-complicated and make room for fresh ideas.

Tip #3 Go back to basics

What do you need to buy, for whom, and why? When do you need it? What are your options for who you buy it from and how you buy it? Do you need to buy it in fact, or could you lease it instead?

These fundamental questions or ‘W principles’ should be the starting point for all procurement processes, as it is only through considering these that you can truly understand the organisational requirement and the marketplace you’re buying from. By keeping focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can avoid being distracted by cost or other factors and ensure you’re always considering the whole picture.

In everything, remember that just because you’ve bought something before in a certain way, doesn’t necessarily make it right to buy that item again, or the best way to buy it.

Tip #4 Prioritise

Every business is different and will have different priorities when it comes to balancing cost, quality and sustainability.

Is your organisation legislative-driven? Is driving social value at its heart? Do you need to demonstrate long-term value for money and return on investment?

Understanding the priorities and appetite driving your organisation’s strategic agenda, culture and bottom line will make it easier when it comes to developing tenders and ensuring organisational buy-in for procurement initiatives.

Tip #5 Standardise

In any organisation, there will be common processes. Incorporating these into tender documents at the outset will help create collaboration with other departments of your organisation.

Standardising ways of working also improves efficiency as it makes everything simpler to understand and easier to implement for all concerned.

Tip #6 Understand your spend

Another element of going back to basics is to really understand what spending looks like in your organisation. Only by looking at your spending portfolio and noticing the commonalities can you get to grips with what level of buying power you have as an organisation to leverage price and negotiate with suppliers. Organisations often have much larger supply chains than they need, which leads to inefficiencies as you’re processing more invoices than you need to, creating an admin and resource burden that ultimately costs you more as an organisation.

If you know your spend inside out, you can almost draw a roadmap for how your organisation should be buying, because you have that foundation knowledge in place. You know what categories to group in, what can be done as bulk-buying, what areas you can influence, and which you can’t.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is a big task. Reviewing several thousand individual budget lines then refining, categorising and commodifying those in such a way that everyone in your organisation understands takes time and effort, but help is out there. And, once you know your portfolio, you can develop category plans that will give you a roadmap of how your organisation is going to procure things over the next five years. Without that, you’re just a reactive buyer and you will be missing the best opportunities.

Tip #7 Remember you’re the expert

So much of the change procurement professionals can effect is down to the quality of the relationships they have both internally within their organisations and externally with suppliers. Much of this depends on the reputation of procurement in that organisation, whether that’s the people or the processes.

It can be difficult for people outside of the function to understand what we do and the potential it has to make a fundamental difference to a business, not just financially but in terms of improved customer service, compliance and myriad other factors.

That’s why having confidence in yourself, and in your expertise, is crucial. You understand about leverage, buying power and economies of scale. You know how to buy products and services in the most efficient and beneficial way. In short, you’re the expert.

If someone in your organisation was buying a house, they would know where they were buying it, how much they had to spend, and what sort of paperwork they would need to put together to get the money. They would do their due diligence, making sure their solicitor checked the land ownership and having a survey done to make sure the house wasn’t going to fall down. They would put in place life insurance in case something happened that meant they couldn’t pay the mortgage. They would think about how they could add value to and get return on their investment in future.

These requirements are similar whether you’re buying a house, 50,000 widgets for a manufacturer, or repair services for a housing association – there’s a whole process involved in making sure you’re buying from the right supplier, at the right price, that the paperwork is in place, that all the due diligence has been done to protect that investment, and that the financials are signed off. Only, in the latter two instances, procurement is taking care of all that for the business.

There’s something to be said for procurement professionals not just developing their procurement skills, but also taking time to learn how to network and build relationships that effect change.

Which brings us onto…

Tip #8 Be brave

Depending on where your organisation is starting from, you may not have the easiest task to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of its procurement. This is where it’s important to have courage of your convictions and to remember that what you’re doing will eventually make life easier and better for everyone concerned.

Transitioning to new ways of working takes time and often requires culture change. There will undoubtedly be opposition along the way, but don’t let that deter you. You might lose people during that journey, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t the right thing to do for your organisation.

During my career, I’ve seen many people come in with fresh ideas and challenge the status quo, only to have that confidence and questioning nature squashed out of them by the resistance to change they encounter along the way.

As procurement professionals, we should always be searching for better ways to buy, so don’t ever stop questioning why things are being done the way they are.

Finding the headspace for change

Finding the headspace to work not in the procurement function but on it isn’t always easy to do. There’s so much to do just keeping up with the day job, and never enough time or resource to do it. Finding time to work on those nice-to-haves that make everyone’s life easier and improve efficiency doesn’t always happen as it should.

So, how can you find the headspace and time for change?

I’d suggest it’s a learning process. It’s about being more mindful, being disciplined in taking time out of the day-to-day, and asking for help.

Can you break your tasks down into bite-size chunks? Could you then ask for weekly protected time where you can work remotely for the day and not look at your emails, because you’re focusing on improving one process at a time?

Or do you need to bring in some external help? At eXceeding, our consultants are experienced in all elements of procurement strategy, including category planning. We can review your operations and processes, suggest efficiencies, help you establish new processes, and set up frameworks, giving you more time and space for the day job while knowing that your ‘wish list’ is being taken care of.

How do I find my own headspace?

Personally, I like to do mind-mapping. It’s a bit old-fashioned these days, but I find it helpful to keep me focused. I listen to mindfulness podcasts and, when I know I’m going to be busy, I block out times in my diary where I commit to doing something for myself, for my mental wellbeing. I also do five or 10 minutes’ relaxation or meditation at the end of each day to help close off the day, and always make sure I start each day fresh with a positive mindset. And I’m doing cryotherapy – but I know that’s not for everyone!

Cheryl Choong

Cheryl is an experience procurement specialist in construction, engineering, facilities management and IT, with more than 20 years experience spanning both public and private sector organisations.

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