Is Procurement Ready to Say Good-Bye to the Spreadsheet?

(Featured Image from Microsoft website.)

Yesterday, June 27th, I ran across an interesting tweet. Jon Hansen (@piblogger1) tweeted the following:

I wholeheartedly agree with Jon. In this age of blockchain and and small app startups disrupting almost every industry you would think that procurement, and supply chain in general, would be ready to part ways with spreadsheets.

But are we?

An article from Robert Half reports that 63% of U.S. companies still rely on excel spreadsheets. And a Small Business Trends reports shows that 84% of Small Businesses rely on excel!

This comes as no surprise for a number of reasons:

  1. Spreadsheets are cheap or free. A small business needing to keep costs down can get Microsoft Office for the low price of $10 or so a month, or just utilize Google Spreadsheets for free. OpenOffice is another free offering that has a program just like excel. The list of free alternatives goes on.
  2. Spreadsheets is easy. I don’t care who you are, spreadsheets is easy to learn. And once learned, spreadsheets can be utilized to do a plethora of things. Organize data, create charts and tables, analyze said data and charts/tables. Even an iota of training can lead an employee to create a generally acceptable presentation of data. Want to learn more about how to do things in spreadsheets? There are a number of excellent free online resources, or you can pay for a book, or even pay for an advanced class at your local community college. Big solutions providers? Not so much.
  3. Current ERP/WMS haven’t done a good job creating a viable replacement for spreadsheets. Despite SAP, Oracle, Coupa and others making great strides, the numbers I cited above speak for themselves. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)/Work Management Systems (WMS)/etc. do not provide enough of a solution to effectively unseat the spreadsheet.

I have personal experience in this area.

The company I used to work for had used an industry specific WMS for decades. Spreadsheets were the norm for day-to-day operations. As I left, the company I worked for was beginning the long road to a major upgrade of the WMS. But when asked about spreadsheets and additional functionalities, the WMS supplier replied that the company would still need to utilize spreadsheets.

Two small businesses I’ve worked with in the Greater Omaha Metropolitan area use spreadsheets for 80-100% of their operations. One of the businesses effectively has a WMS at their disposal, but that only covers a small fraction of what they need to track, and the WMS doesn’t connect with the business owner’s bank account. Enter spreadsheets. The other small business is just starting up, and there is zero dollars in the budget for even NetSuite by Oracle. Spreadsheets fill that void.

Conclusion

I think, as do many others within supply chain and procurement, that it’s time to say good-bye to spreadsheets. It’s 2019, after all.

But, then again, we were supposed to have flying cars and cities on Mars by this point…

Maybe someone will come along and create that perfect ERP that finally replaces the spreadsheet.

Supply Chain Flywheel

In February Jim Collins came out with the small book “Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great“.

In it, Collins discusses the Flywheel concept, and how organizations like Amazon and a failing school on a military base leveraged the Flywheel concept, and made it their own to become GREAT.

I first heard about it on the Tim Ferriss Show. During the interview, Jim Collins discussed the monograph, how it applied to businesses, departments, and even our personal lives.

I shared that portion of the podcast (starting at 1:40:00 or so) with a colleague, and together we built the flywheel for our Supply Chain Division at the company I worked for.

The Supply Chain Flywheel

Here is the Flywheel we came up with.

  • Increased Stakeholder Engagement
  • Quality Scope of Work
  • Better Market Position
  • Better Market Relations
  • Reduced Total Cost of Ownership
  • Increased Stakeholder Buy-In

As described by Jim Collins, each step in the Flywheel cannot but help cause the next step.

Increased stakeholder engagement cannot help but lead to a better quality scope of work. A better quality scope of work cannot help but lead to a better market position. A better market position cannot help but create better market relations. Better market relations cannot help but reduce the total cost of ownership of the materials/services being sourced. Reduced total cost of ownership cannot help but lead to increased stakeholder buy-in. Increased stakeholder buy-in cannot help but lead to increased stakeholder engagement…

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Doom Loop

The Doom Loop, of course, is the exact opposite, and each step in the Doom Loop feeds the next.

  • Decreased Engagement
  • Poor Scope of Work
  • Poor Market Position
  • Poor Market Relations
  • Increased TCO
  • Reduced Stakeholder Buy-In

Conclusion

Supply Chain/procurement should strive to reach the flywheel described here and, of course, improve upon it. Maybe there’s an additional step your team or department needs to add. Try and develop it.

And if you do need a hand to start your flywheel, the MEYBEST Procurement Solutions: Strategic Sourcing Training is a great place to start.

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!

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.

Standardization In Processes to Reduce Costs

Go to any department in your organization. How consistent are the ways people are doing things? How consistent are the results in that department? Is everyone on the same page, each person executing their job by a set of processes? Or is everyone doing their job their own way?

If your company is like the company I work for, standardized processes are a near-term goal – or in some cases a far off dream. Each person in a department has their own way to do work, and feels their way is best. Their way has worked thus far, why change it?

Standardizing processes is key to streamlining a department, and in procurement it can mean money saved that directly affects the bottom line.

Purchase Orders

Purchase orders are a primary issue when working to standardize. Some procurement agents process purchase orders one way, some another way. Some buyers have a checklist they follow each time, while other buyers just run the PO through the ERP system and send it to the supplier without another thought.

Standardizing purchase order processing should include, at minimum, the following:

  • Check pricing against negotiated numbers.
  • Consolidate duplicate line items.
  • Confirm material need dates.
  • Confirm shipping method and carrier.
  • Receive order acknowledgement from the supplier.
  • Update expected/promised delivery date from supplier in the ERP, and notify the stakeholder.

Just these simple standardized steps can ensure consistent outcomes each time. Consistent outcomes mean dollars saved internally in time worked on purchase orders and externally in keeping supplier pricing of materials and freight consistent with pre-negotiated prices.

Contracts

Contracts may be more complex than purchase orders, but standardization can be achieved in the process. The procurement specialists that are responsible for RFPs and contracts should have a checklist of everything they need to do, from the moment they receive the RFP/contract from their stakeholder, up to award. This checklist may even include contract management.

Templates are another way to standardize RFPs and contracts. While stakeholder specifications and requirements may differ, the organization should have a single template for procurement specialists to follow with standard information that each RFP and contract must include, such as RFP timeline, milestones, and evaluation criteria. The organization may have two or three checklists and templates for different RFP/contract situations, but each should follow a standardized, enforced process.

Conclusion

Standardization has many benefits, and in an organization’s procurement processes it translates into savings that directly affect the bottom line.

In fact, the German Institute for Standardization, DIN, recently published a report on how standardization positively effects companies. In the report, they found that not only did standardization give companies competitive advantages, but also lowered transaction costs and had positive effects on the buying power of the companies surveyed.

Now is the time to begin process standardization in your procurement organization.