Should Procurement Just Get Out Of The Way?

I recently read an article whose author stated that procurement “should just get out of the way” of stakeholders.

This is a surprise from my perspective. Articles over the past few years, and my personal experience, have shown that procurement and stakeholders need to work closer together. This article seemed to recommend the opposite.

The Idea

It may seem that, too often, procurement gets in the way of work being completed.

Procurement should provide information to the stakeholders, and ensure the procurement process is as smooth as possible. The result of a sourcing event should allow the stakeholder who requires the service/material to get what they need when they need it.

In the most recent project I worked on for vehicle parts for the Transportation Department of the company I work for, it was the stakeholder who told us what they needed. Then, it was my team and I that sought out current and new suppliers, set-up supplier workshops, and worked with the stakeholder to craft a detailed scope of work.

With the award to the now strategic supplier (the supplier who was awarded the business had been one of ten suppliers previously used), the stakeholder is able to order what they need online through the supplier’s website.

But my team and I aren’t stepping away. We are tracking supplier performance against agreed upon key performance indicators (KPIs), dealing with stakeholder/supplier issues, and conducting semi-regular benchmarking of pricing on small selections of parts to keep the supplier honest and competitive.

The Risk

The risk is that when procurement “gets out of the way” spend returns to the unmanaged state it was before. Instead of a handful of strategic suppliers, stakeholders go to whomever they see fit. The synergies and savings created by procurement are lost.

You want to avoid this situation.

So, while procurement should streamline things for their stakeholders as much as possible, procurement should never just “get out of the way”.

 

Communicating Change

You’ve completed the sourcing event. The agreement is awarded. The supplier begins full implementation next Monday.

And then the storm hits.

The employees on the line are up in arms. No one told them things were changing, and unbeknownst to you entire processes and policies needs to be changed. Their supervisors aren’t happy either.

With resistance from below, you go to senior management for assistance. But they only had a high level view of your sourcing event and the change it would bring, and have difficulty providing assistance.

What happened?

When Change Begins

News about change, whether good or bad, is not like wine. It does not get better with age. From the very beginning of your sourcing event you must craft your communication letting those affected within the organization know what’s going on.

Early Stages

The idea phase is over, and the sourcing event is in full swing. Suppliers are being talked to, stakeholders are being consulted as to what they want. Here, too, communication of what is going on must go up, down, and across the organization to those affected. A simple update may suffice. “We met with X and Y Suppliers on these dates.” Maybe that’s enough to keep people informed that change is moving along – and coming their way.

During Change Design

The agreement has been awarded. Now you, your sourcing team, and the supplier are sitting down to hash out the key deliverables and milestones. Who is in that meeting? Are all those affected there? Who from the executive level has provided their guidance, or is in the meeting to match the supplier’s executive team? Has that executive been updated on what’s in the agreement, and the desired end state so they can support your vision?

Implementation

Before and during the implementation of the new supplier, communication is even more key. Daily or weekly updates with the supplier, the employees on the ground and their supervisors ensures progress is moving forward, and any problems are addressed immediately. The executive level will be wondering as to the progress of implementation, and if the savings and added value promised through the agreement will be realized.

Post-Implementation

This is your time toot your own horn. This is where you show the progress made, the savings and added value realized. Both quantitative and qualitative measures of success should be used in your communication through the organization.

But it’s not a time to sit on your laurels. This is where you engage the executive level, managers, supervisors, and even people on the line to reinforce the change. How many times has change come around, only to disappear and things go back to the way they were? Not only do you need to reiterate the story of the gains made for the organization, but you must gain buy-in from all levels to ensure compliance. When individuals decide not to comply, you must also gain the buy-in of their management to deal with them accordingly.

Craft Your Message

Throughout this process you must craft your message. You wouldn’t provide granular details of the change to senior management, nor would you want to give a strategic, 50,000ft view of the change to the line employees. Ensure your message gives the “Why?” and “What’s in it for me?” at the correct level of detail.

Conclusion

There have been dozens of books written on change management and communication. A lot of it’s the same information. Why do they continue to sell? Because people in organizations continue to fail at it. Keep to the principals above and you and your organization will be better prepared for the change your sourcing event brings.

Data Is King

Today everything in business relies on data: sales, lost sales, materials in stock, efficiencies, budgets, demand, etc. It’s the exception to the rule that a business can run without at least some data as to the peaks and valleys of their sales.

This is no different for procurement. Today data is as important to an organization’s procurement and supply chain functions as it is to any other area. Data not only informs procurement about what’s going on, but is increasingly driving procurement decisions, such as how much to buy, how to enter negotiations, and even whether or not to eliminate the requirement for what is being procured.

Herein we’ll take a look at the ways data drives procurement, and how your organization can benefit from it.

Spend

How much you spend, what you spend it on, and how you spend is one of the most important data points for procurement professionals. What you will spend in the future is also important.

Why?

How much you spend gives you a number to work with, and helps the procurement professional set goals on reduction. What you spend it on can tell you if you’re spending too much for a material or service, or perhaps your organization is spending money on something it doesn’t need (ex. obsolete materials). How you spend can tell you if you spot buy, make multiple purchases resulting in paying for multiple shipments when you should consolidate them, and with how many suppliers.

Forecasting spend is important, too. What is that project in 12 months projected to cost you? Why?

Management

Gathering all of this information helps you manage that spend. Some companies can readily access this data and procurement professionals can begin tackling it. You may belong to a company like this.

Or, you may be part of a company that doesn’t have this data ready at hand. You may be the person that gives your IT department a heart attack. (It’s OK, they have health insurance.)

Managing this spend helps you and your organization make decisions on how to change certain purchasing trends, make decisions on how money will be spent, and why.

Unmanaged spend, also called Rogue Spend, accounts for roughly 29% of a company’s spend, according to The Hackett Group. If your annual spend is tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, your organization could be leaving millions or tens of millions of dollars on the table, something that directly effects the bottom line.

Getting spend under management helps you make decisions such as consolidating areas of spend and bidding out to find a single supplier that can supply it all in order to find better solutions that will help save money and avoid costs.

It can also help you begin the discussion on processes.

Process

Soft costs are hard for some people to grasp. They “technically” don’t exist, so why address them?

A perfect example is one I dealt with recently. Currently the company I work for has workers clean their own vehicles. The issue? That worker is being paid $30-$40/hour straight time to clean that vehicle. Lump on benefits, that’s roughly $45-$60/hour.

We began a project to contract vehicle washing services. Bids came back at around the $15/vehicle mark. A fraction of what it would cost for one of our workers to clean them. (The agreement is for approximately $65,000/year.) And vehicle cleaning would be done after hours, not affecting the work schedules of the workers.

The managers and supervisors we discussed this project with just shrugged their shoulders. “They’re on the payroll anyway, so why not just keep having them clean their own vehicles and not spend $65,000 a year?”

The issue is that these workers could be spending the time they are cleaning their vehicles doing their actual job. If you have ten or so workers taking time away from a job site throughout the month to power wash their vehicles, that reduces the efficiency of work done on that job and could extend the schedule of that job, even pushing it past the deadline. How much does all of that cost your company?

This could also include your procurement processes. Are there steps in your processes for purchasing, receiving, warehousing, and issuing materials? Or perhaps suppliers that provide services are late (costing you time and money) because of certain processes your organization follows such as unnecessary security checks.

Using spend data to look at your organization’s processes can help you address both hard and soft costs. The data gleaned from these calculations can help your organization become more efficient and effective.

Total Cost of Ownership

With spend managed you can begin to address Total Cost of Ownership. How is freight billed? How are shipments handled? How does the supplier bundle things? What’s the mark-up? What’s the cost of labor for the supplier to handle that product or service? What’s the cost of labor for your organization to accept that material or oversee that service? What are the manufacturing costs? What is the cost of holding inventory at the supplier’s location? What’s the cost of holding inventory at your location? Are there materials you can remove and still be effective?

All of these things, and more, go into the total cost of ownership. Tracking the total cost of ownership, perhaps through should-costing, can help you and your organization determine if you need certain materials or services, if there are features that can be removed, or if there are better ways of doing things.

Conclusion

Getting a handle on your data in procurement is as important as getting a handle on it in sales. As the procurement professional you need to be able to track how much is spent, what it’s spent on, how it’s spent, how much was spent in the past, and what your organization will spend in the future if you are to be effective in contributing to the conversation on how to change all of that for the better.

Procurement New Year’s Resolutions

It’s the New Year, and almost everyone has made a New Year’s Resolution; lose weight, get back to the gym, learn to play the guitar, learn a new language, talk to that girl, etc.

The problem is many of these resolutions don’t survive much past March, or even January for that matter.

In order for these resolutions to stick, we must have a plan, and make incremental changes that stick and become part of our habits.

While many of us, myself included, are working toward self-improvement goals (my fitness goals are year-round, not just tied to New Years), we should also be working on goals for our Procurement processes.

What New Year’s Procurement Resolutions should we make? Herein I detail just a few.

Communicate a Unified Vision and Gain Senior Management Support

You want to make changes the procurement area of your organization. But every time you present something and implement it no one listens and it falls through. What gives?

First, make sure the vision you have created is clearly and effectively communicated. Maybe the message is getting lost in translation to the rest of your organization. You could be using too much technical jargon, and the people you are trying to get on board are zoned out. Before you roll out changes make sure you have communicated those changes well.

Then, get senior management on board. Without the support of the right VPs and Directors your plans will be dead on arrival. Try all you might, if your senior management doesn’t support you, no one will. Communicate your vision to the SM’s of your organization, show them the data of savings and value added, and sell them on the changes you are proposing. With their backing, your procurement change initiative will go further.

Standardize Processes

Is everyone in your procurement group doing things the same way? Are purchase orders and contracts all processed with the same steps each time? Or, like many organizations, is everyone doing their own thing?

In the New Year, dedicate your organization to doing things the same way each time. Standardizing processes, as well as making checklists to follow, ensure that everything is completed right the first time in your organization’s ERP system. That way no pertinent information is left out and rework is reduced. Rework costs companies hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars each year. Preventing this rework with standardized processes and checks can significantly impact your organization’s bottom line.

Get Involved Earlier

Best case scenario you’re already part of your stakeholder’s annual budgetary meetings.

But what if you’re not?

In the New Year, get involved immediately. As a procurement agent in your organization you should be involved at the moment of ideation – the moment your internal customer comes up with the idea of a need. If you are involved the moment the the internal customer is ready to send out a bid package, you’re already too late.

Regular meetings with your internal customer can alleviate a lot of this and ensure that the moment a need arises, you’re immediately involved in the process.

Push Back!

There’s a right way and a wrong way in your organization.

Your internal customer is doing things the wrong way; providing incomplete scopes of work, not involving you early enough, talking to suppliers without procurement’s involvement, coaching their favorite supplier throughout the bid process.

The answer: push back.

The saying goes: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

The moment your internal customer does things the wrong way, you must push back. If you haven’t in the past, start now. Proper processes, and doing things the right way – and sometimes the legal way – is paramount to keeping your organization running smoothly and remaining in business.

Does the internal customer push back when you push back? Get support from your management and senior management. (See the first paragraph in this post.)

Prepare Better For Negotiations

A few notes and an “idea” of where you want to go no longer cuts it when walking into negotiations with suppliers.

What’s your target outcome for negotiations?

What’s your optimistic position (best case scenario)?

What’s your pessimistic position (worst case scenario)?

What’s your walk away criteria?

What’s you’re best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA)?

How much time have you and your team dedicated to practice negotiations?

In the new year, commit yourself to improving your negotiations preparations.

Reinforce Regularly

All of these practices are great – unless your organization stops doing them. Have you or someone in your organization improved a process or changed the way you were doing things – only to have people in your organization slip back to the old, inefficient, ineffective way to doing things?

Let’s face it, generally speaking human beings hate change. It’s wired into our DNA after hundreds of thousands of years of surviving. In the modern age this translates into resisting change in the workplace where the worst threat may be a spreadsheet takes twenty seconds to load.

If you want better sourcing processes to take and hold in your organization, you and your senior management have to reiterate and reinforce these new habits over and over again. Sometimes you’ll feel sick of saying it, as you’ll be sure your colleagues will be sick of hearing it.

But reinforcing these new processes through training, oversight, and tying them to the key accountabilities in personnel annual reviews will make sure they stick for years, and your organization will continue to realize the external and internal cost savings and added value they provide.

Conclusion

I hope these few Procurement New Year’s Resolutions start helping you and your organization start on the right track, or get back on the right track, to realizing good change in your procurement area and its processes.

And if you need more help, Meybest Procurement Solutions is available with training and consultation to take your organization tot he next level.

Happy New Year!

Should You Should-Cost? (The Answer is Yes)

Your supplier says they’re giving you the best deal. They promise they are saving you tons of money compared to their competitors.

But something in the back of your head tells you otherwise.

The supplier didn’t budge in negotiations during your last RFP. Nothing was gained, and the supplier said they actually had to raise prices, regardless of your business with them. They were the lower bid compared to the other bidders, but you still think that you’re not getting the best pricing.

Enter the Should-Cost Analysis

A should-cost analysis is a detailed breakdown of what a material or service should cost compared to what a supplier wants to charge for it.

Once complete, companies can compare their analysis against the bids of potential suppliers, or the pricing of a current supplier.

While there are some programs out there that enable companies to do this, a spreadsheet can generally fill this need.

Dig Into the Details

Should-costing is an in-depth process, and can take quite some time.

We will use a hammer as an example.

In order to should-cost the hammer, you will need to find out what kind of metal is used to make the hammer head. By weighing it, you can determine how much of that metal is used. Is there a rubber handle? Strip the rubber off and weigh it to determine how much rubber there is.

With these weights you can now search online for the current price of the steel and rubber, and determine the cost of the amount of material used.

Was the hammer made in the U.S.? Or China? Include the base salaries of workers in the country the product is made.

How long does it take to make one hammer? How many people are on the assembly line for the hammer? Machinery is most likely used in the process, too. Using an internet search, you can find videos on how things are made to give you a general idea of cycle times and personnel on the production line. (This “How It’s Made” video is perfect for helping you should-cost hammers: https://youtu.be/7xHVyT5oEL4)

Along with this information, corporate overhead, shipping, and any warranties will need to be factored into your should-cost analysis. Many times you can ask the supplier – in supplier workshops or in the RFP itself – the percentage of overhead they include. Or, for publicly traded companies, they include this in their annual report.

 

Putting It All Together

Once all of your information is gathered, organize it and add it up in a logical format.

How does your should-cost analysis match the supplier’s pricing? Is the supplier’s margin close, and they actually are giving you the best pricing? Or is there a large delta that you need to discuss with your supplier?

This information is excellent leverage during negotiations. Calling out suppliers on too-high pricing gives your organization a major advantage.

Note: Do not show the suppliers your should-cost analysis! Giving them an idea of the difference in terms of a percentage is enough. If they ask for it – tough! They came up with their pricing, they need to explain it to you.

To give you an idea what this looks like, here is a rough example of a should-cost analysis for a mini-excavator that I did. Again this is very rough, and doesn’t include shipping and warranty data.

Should-Cost 2

Conclusion

A should-cost analysis can be time consuming, but it is a valuable tool to your organization. With a solid should-cost analysis you and your team can gain a great deal of leverage over the suppliers you negotiation with.

Remember, this can be done with services, too. And, the more detailed the material or service analyzed, the more time it will take. But it will be time well spent!

Managing Change in Procurement

These days it seems every organization is going through some sort of change. Companies are cutting levels of management, cutting headcount, adding headcount, reorganizing departments, changing processes, adding paperwork, reducing paperwork, and so on. Such changes can be small or large, but all come with some friction from all affected.

As things change, people within the company will begin to push back. It’s human nature. Change is hard for most human beings. Many times there are personnel, long in the tooth with the company, that have seen such “change initiatives” before, and are just waiting for this latest iteration to blow over before everything goes back to normal.

Change in procurement is no exception. As a company’s procurement organization and the way it does business changes, those within the procurement organization and people within the rest of the company can become frustrated with shifts in everything from new faces to new ways of doing things. It’s up to that Procurement or Supply Chain manager or director, and their team, to navigate these turbulent waters.

Organization

Many times the first thing to change is the procurement organization (usually interchangeable with the change in processes, talked about below). New faces from different business units or outside the organization show up with new titles and responsibilities. The scope of the work they are responsible for changes, and suddenly people within the company have no idea who to call to handle their material or service needs.

Communication is key when this occurs, and over communication is best. It’s important for the procurement organization to openly publish contact information, job titles and a basic description of their duties.

Procurement personnel should have regular meetings with their stakeholders, two or three times a week if need be at the beginning. Of course, face to face meetings are preferable if possible. Technology has made it possible for quasi-face-to-face meetings when being there physically isn’t possible or economical, though.

The Procurement director or manager must ensure that their procurement organization’s strategy and goals are clearly communicated to the organization, and that senior management is on board with their strategy, goals, and the changes occurring.

Processes

Change in processes goes hand-in-hand with change in organization. No longer can a requester create a request and approve it themselves. Now they are required to go up through their management chain. Instead of a crew leader or project manager overseeing a RFP and handling negotiations, the Procurement Organization will take care of all of that.

Again, communication here is key. The Procurement Organization must clearly lay out who has responsibility for which part of the procurement process, and explain why.

For example: “It’s important for the procurement specialist to handle the request for proposal and be the single point of contact for supplier questions so that all suppliers receive the same information. It’s important for the procurement specialist to be the single point of contact for the bids themselves so that they can be compiled and reviewed fairly and ethically, and we can make sure the company is getting the best total cost for what we’re sourcing. More money saved and value added to the organization ensures we’re competitive and people can keep their jobs.”

Explaining the reasons behind theses process changes is just one step.

The next step is showing the value of these changes. The Procurement Organization must balance quick wins with longer terms wins to show their internal customers the value of these process changes. If there’s one thing I’ve seen that brings a skeptical internal customer on board to a new procurement process, it’s dollars saved that directly impact their budget, both immediately and for years to come.

Suppliers

In every company there is a supplier that everyone loves. The sales rep stops in each month to say hi, asking about family members and the golf game coming up that weekend.

With change in procurement organization and processes comes change in suppliers.

Everyone’s favorite supplier is not the best total cost for the organization. After a multi-million dollar RFP, the business was awarded to some supplier that no one has ever heard of. How could the procurement organization do this? The favorite supplier took such good care of the company! This can be especially hard if changing suppliers means changing out a fleet of vehicles, or changing even more processes.

Did the favored supplier actually take care of the company, though?

Once more, communication is the key piece in changing suppliers. The procurement organization must mine historical data and forecasted spend from the company’s systems to clearly communicate and demonstrate the savings and value adds they are receiving by using the new supplier. Showing the savings now, and how much the organization will save in the future quiets many critics.

For those critics that remain, it will be communication of the new supplier’s processes, as well as communication with the supplier of the customer’s requirements. Again, this may be cause for frequent meetings between the procurement organization, the new supplier, and the internal customer to ensure implementation is going smoothly and any issues are hashed out immediately. If the procurement organization can accomplish this, they will most likely win over the last hold outs.

Conclusion

Communication is the corner stone of any change initiative, and changes in a company’s procurement organization, processes, and the suppliers are no exception. Senior management buy-in, and short- and long-term wins are also key, and the procurement director/manager must strive to achieve them all.

Not everyone in the organization will be won over. There are always hold outs. But if the procurement organization does their job and communicates with senior management and other departments in their company, they can work through these issues.

In closing, the final piece of achieving lasting change is to have a plan to continually reinforce that change. Having a five and ten year plan to reinforce and continually improve the changes in procurement ensure those changes remain, and that any gains made aren’t lost two or three years after the changes have been implemented.

How Strategic Sourcing Can Improve Your Organization’s Processes

Originally posted on my other blog, The Red Renegade.

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Your organization is working to improve its sourcing processes and strategy. Like areas of spend have been grouped together to determine what the organization spends annually. The department or division responsible for sourcing has identified areas of spend where savings can be realized.

But, as the organization delves deeper, they find that reducing outside drivers of cost isn’t the only hurdle they face.

There are materials and services within the organization that people have been dependent on for years, perhaps decades. Leaning these materials and services, or removing them altogether, will be a major culture shock. Senior management is even wary of cutting off these materials and services.

Senior management wants to save money, but the sourcing group knows that changing how materials and services are sourced, what will be sourced, and when will have a major impact on the organization’s processes as well as its budget.

Sourcing the material and/or service is just one part of the larger sourcing strategy. A lot of work goes into transforming the rest of the organization and how it does business in order for the wins in sourcing to have their full effect – one more part of total cost ownership. Process improvement in other parts of the organization are just as important as improvements in the sourcing function itself.

Total Cost Ownership

As discussed in a previous blog post, Total Cost of Ownership is everything that goes into before, during, and after the sourcing of a material and/or service.

Generally speaking, this includes administrative processing costs, technology costs, overhead, freight, the cost of lead times, if items are damaged, and rework that needs to be done.

Rarely do organizations look at total cost of ownership in terms of what their own organization is doing.

Does each project manager or department use the freight carrier they like the best?

Is there a service the company uses, but could be eliminated if project managers were held to better standards of planning?

Do employees make parts runs because favored suppliers “don’t deliver”?

It’s internal processes like these that need to be looked at in tandem with the improvement of sourcing the material(s) and/or service(s) and organization buys. They are as much a part of Total Cost Ownership as overhead or lead times on materials.

How so?

Let’s use an example from my experience.

The company I work for uses a freight service that only delivers between facilities in my company in the city we’re in. This freight service costs about $300,000 per year for them to move material from one facility to the other. We love this external freight service so much, their drivers park their trucks at our facilities.

Why do we use them?

Because sometimes project managers cut work orders associated with one facility, only to draw the material out of another. So materials needs to be shuttled around to ensure the proper materials are in the proper place at the proper time.

We also junk out some of our larger equipment, and this service transports the junked out equipment (they’re rather large) to our central processing facility here in town.

On the face of it, this is $300,000 expended by my company per year.

Immediately some will note that, if PM’s were held to a standard, and their work orders assigned to the correct facility, this would eliminate the need for this service. And can’t we use internal personnel (we have personnel qualified) to load the equipment and drive it to the central processing facility?

But it goes deeper than that. PM’s not assigning work orders to the right facility forces them to draw from that facility, which causes work in the warehouse, and then those materials aren’t there for jobs that are properly assigned to that facility, creating wait times as items are shuffled between facilities. Sometimes its time sensitive jobs that are forced to wait as the warehouses figure out where material went and what needs to be brought in from other warehouses. Sometimes people get lazy, and instead they just put in an order to have it bought from the supplier, costing the District even more.

So it’s not costing the company I work for $300,000. It’s costing them hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions, in additional man hours, rework, opportunity cost of inventory, and delays on projects.

Why do we still use this “shuttle” service then? Because we’ve had them for almost twenty years. Because no one has pushed back on PMs and other internal business partners to assign work orders to the correct facility. Because our warehouse personnel are doing the best they can within this system and the shuttle service is a Band-Aid that people have become comfortable with.

In this case, it’s not just a process – it’s a part of the culture.

Where to Begin

So where does a sourcing professional begin?

Start with the sourcing strategy.

The sourcing group has identified a need, and then they go and gather their facts. But they don’t just gather the facts on the surface. They have to dig deeper.

  • What are like materials/services that can be grouped with the one being looked at?
  • What vendor(s) provide this material/service and those grouped with it?
  • What internal stakeholders use these?
  • Why are they using them?
  • Why are they using them the way they are?
  • Are they still needed?
  • What would need to be done to consolidate or remove materials/services?
  • If this is done, how will it affect the processes and procedures of the different divisions and departments of the company?

These are just some of the questions that must be asked to challenge the status quo, especially if that status quo is costing the company substantial amounts of money.

And it has to be the group responsible for sourcing in the organization that must do this.

While part of sourcing strategy is definitely cost savings and value adds, it’s also process improvement around what is being sourced, and how it will affect the organization.

I caveat this with the organization should not mold itself around its sourcing department. The organization should mold itself around its overall strategy, and the sourcing strategy should support this. But if there are procedures (low level/tactical) changed by sourcing that will help the company achieve its goals, then these should be pursued.

Buy-In

As the sourcing organization moves to change the processes – and perhaps even some of the culture – of the organization, they cannot operate in a vacuum.

Any change initiative needs a guiding coalition, preferably upper management, and buy-in from managers at all levels. It will be up to the Director/Division Manager of the sourcing organization in the company to win that buy-in, and to communicate with upper management for their support.

This isn’t unique to sourcing. Any change initiative requires this. I would argue that sourcing needs it more since most people view sourcing or supply chain management generally as order takers, and resistance to change coming from this area may be greater.

Conclusion

The processes surrounding and effected by sourcing strategies within the organization for different areas of spend are just as much a part of total cost ownership as external factors. Sourcing professionals must take this into account when sourcing materials and services from a strategic level. Some organizations call these individuals Category Managers, and category management is a discipline all of its own with that broad focus. It’s up to the organization to determine how they will conduct their strategic sourcing, and they must do so with an eye to internal process improvement.

Finding Savings in Sourcing Before Cutting Headcount

This post originally appeared on my author blog The Red Renegade on February 24, 2017.

The Office Space Effect

Many remember (and chuckle, and seethe) at the scenes in the movie “Office Space” when the consultants are grilling the employees of the company to determine what they do to see if they are needed. Many in today’s workforce can relate to this. When companies need to save money or are trying to find efficiencies, where is the first place they look to cut?

Headcount.

The men and women that do the actual work in the company.

I am not advocating that executives cut their pay (though, that may help image-wise). I am a firm believer in free market capitalism and the freedom of people to amass as much wealth as they see fit. If the executives’ pay is the thing hurting the company though…

But cut the people that are making the company operate every day? Especially if those people are effective at their job? That makes no sense to me. (Note: I said if the people were effective at doing their job. If they’re not: fire them.)

Rarely do companies look at their sourcing activities, as well as other internal processes within the company, to cut the budget.

Developing more effective sourcing techniques and improving processes, and reducing total cost ownership will do more for a company, both up front and long term, than slashing headcount.

NOTE: I use the following terms here interchangeably.
•RFP/RFQ/Solicitation for Bids
•Supplier/Vendor/Contractor

Developing More Effective Sourcing Techniques and Improving Processes

This is anecdotal and I don’t have any hard data to back it up, but I am finding that many medium and even larger companies don’t have a central procurement/sourcing department, or a department within their organization that leads and monitors that function. Purchase orders are done as lists on excel spreadsheets, or over the phone. Many times supervisors or crew leaders simply go to the vendor with a credit card. This is an ineffective way of sourcing the company’s needs.

How do these companies know they’re getting the best price? Because the vendor tells them? Unfortunately, “Our supplier tells us we are getting the best price.” is the answer I hear time and time again, both in other companies and in the company I work for.

Developing effective sourcing techniques can help reduce costs almost immediately. Just a simple RFP can produce lower purchase prices. (We’ll talk more about purchase pricing below under reducing total cost ownership.)

The company I work for did this with their MRO. They discovered on some items which suppliers were telling us we were getting the best price we were being charged a 400% mark-up. When we asked the supplier why, the supplier’s response was, “You never asked.” It was no wonder these suppliers “loved us” so much – we took them at their word when they said we were getting the best price, and were able to overcharge us exponentially.

Control of bidding, purchase orders, and contracts – everything that goes into sourcing – with a central sourcing department, or at least one department within the organization that is given responsibility and accountability for this function, helps, too. They can work to set company policies, processes, and procedures around sourcing and, with upper management support, enforce it.

This is where your Lean and Six Sigma ninjas come in, too. Perhaps there are already procurement processes within the company, but there is clearly room for improvement. Mapping the processes and their sub-steps, and leaning them out by removing steps and/or red tape will save in work hours alone – and time is money. It doesn’t take spending millions on a consultant like McKinsey and Company, or Accenture to do this. Companies can do this themselves.

Developing better negotiating tactics and techniques can help, too. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) includes many techniques for negotiations in their CPSM Study Guide. And there are lower cost consultants and webinars out there that can help your company hone their negotiating skills. (Yes, I do have a bias against the bigger supply chain consultants. There might be some bitterness there. (There’s definitely bitterness.))

Finally, control of the procurement process, and by extension payment of suppliers, helps save. While there are some instances where parts or services are needed in less than 24 hours – I emphasize some – 95% of the time this is due to poor planning on the part of the Project Manager, the sourcing department, and the warehouses. (Note my use of and not or. It’s a team effort, and if one fails, they all fail.)

The company should limit who can input requests for orders, who can approve and issue these requests and orders, and then keep a close eye on invoices to ensure they match quoted pricing.

Working closely with the company’s warehouses can help set minimums and maximums (min/max) on materials so that what is needed most is in stock when it’s needed, while working estimates and forecasts on past spend and usage and upcoming project earlier can ensure that if additional materials or services are needed they are sourced well in advance. Having pre-negotiated agreements across the company with a handful of suppliers can ensure that support is provided when needed, and new one-off contracts aren’t being constantly issued.

Reducing Total Cost Ownership

So your company has a handle on its sourcing of materials and services. Controls are in place, and the processes have been made lean, mean, sourcing machines. Money is being saved.

But not enough.

The next thing a company should look at is the total cost ownership of the materials and services they are sourcing.

Here’s an example:

Lean Corp wants to go out for bid for buying and installing widgets. (Very original, I know.) They send out a RFP to five vendors. The bids come back, and Lean Corp short lists two of the vendors: Cheapo Co, and Quality Co.

Cheapo  Co can provide the widgets for $10, and charge $10/hour for installation.

Quality Co can also provide the widgets for $10 (widgets are probably a commodity, like steel), and charge $20/hour for installation.

At face value, Cheapo Co is the low bidder.

But there’s a catch.

Cheapo Co takes 3 hours to install each widget! That’s $30 of installation per widget!

Quality Co, on the other hand, only takes an hour to install each widget; $20 of installation per widget. And the equipment is up and running faster, meaning less downtime, meaning Lean Corp can produce more, sooner.

Lean Corp brings both vendors in for negotiations.

Cheapo Co won’t budge on their pricing, and offer very little extra for their services. C’mon, they’re clearly the low bid! They know it! They’ve been working with Lean Corp for over a decade and the working relationship is great. And Cheapo Co’s owner is golfing buddies with two of the VPs of Lean Corp. Why would Lean Corp want to award to anyone else?

Quality Co, on the other hand, offers extended warranties on the widgets they install, and they offer up to 10 business days of training per year at no charge, a value of $15,000.

That training has downstream effects in Lean Corp: the training which Quality Co provides increases the knowledge of Lean Corp mechanics and reduces rework they have to do, and reduces downtime of the equipment by dozens of hours per year – remember time is money. The additional cost reduction is compounded by the value added services Quality Co provides.

This is an extremely simplified example, but it gets the point across well.

Total Cost Ownership is a pricing model that takes into account everything before, during, and after the sourcing of a material or service. This includes (but is not limited to) materials that go into producing the thing being bought, labor hours that go into producing the material/service, overhead, freight, mark-up, how long it takes to provide the material or service, number of deliveries per week/month, estimated downtime, and inventory holding costs, to name a few.

Reducing the total cost ownership of the materials and services sourced, while working to increase the value added services the supplier provides, should be the goal of the organization trying to cut its costs, especially when trying to not cut overhead.

This can be done through negotiations with suppliers, or through internal efficiencies within the company itself.

Conclusion

Companies looking to reduce costs should develop more effective sourcing techniques and processes, and reduce their total cost ownership of materials and services before slashing headcount. This will not only create short-term wins, but a long-term, sustainable model of keeping costs low. It is up to senior and middle management of companies to enforce this so that it takes hold in the company’s culture.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not advocating for never cutting headcount. If positions are completely outdated and unneeded, then they need to go. No need having the ten Accounts Payable clerks that were kept because that’s how many they had in the time before computers and now everything is automated so six of those clerks are being paid to check social media. And if individuals are truly underperforming, even after corrective actions, then they need to go.

Improving sourcing is where companies should start to cut their costs.