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”.

 

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.

Negotiations Don’t Stop at Contract Award

Finally! Both you and your supplier have signed a strategic agreement for the next five years. KPI’s and milestones are enshrined in the contract, and it’s a win-win for both of you. You have begun managing the contract and working with the supplier in their roll-out of materials and services to your organization.

You’re done, right?

Wrong.

With any strategic procurement agreement there is always room for improvement. While, overall, your strategic supplier may be saving you money overall, there may be parts and/or services that the supplier is still pricing high. It’s these handful of materials or services in strategic agreements that are ripe for negotiation.

For example, say you have a strategic agreement with a supplier for maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) materials. You have over 10,000 line items in this master procurement agreement, and the supplier was the lowest total cost for 80%-85% of those materials – that’s why you awarded them the agreement. It’s that 20%-15% that can, and should, be negotiated down.

It’s up to you as the sourcing professional responsible for the agreement to regularly review chunks of the MRO materials list for pricing. Other suppliers may have offered some lower pricing on some of the materials in the bidding process, and the sourcing professional can use this information to negotiate with the awarded supplier.

The organization’s buyers are integral to this process, too, as they buy the materials everyday at the tactical level and may be able to spot materials in ones and twos that seem priced high. You can also send out RFQ’s for handfuls of materials at different intervals to see if there is better pricing. This RFQ process may be driven by a purchased dollar threshold set by the organization.

Key performance indicators are another way you can ensure the supplier is offering you the best pricing on these MRO materials. Having a KPI, or several KPIs, that focus on the supplier ensuring they are providing cost savings can help reduce pricing on materials in an already awarded agreement. Maybe a manufacturer has slashed pricing due to increased production, or there is a substitute part that is the same quality but another company produces it at a lower cost.

Once the MRO materials that are higher priced are identified, it’s up to you as the sourcing professional to bring in the supplier’s representatives and negotiate this. Generally speaking, the supplier will be open to reducing the pricing in order to retain your business and have hopes of winning the award again five years down the road.

Using these principles in other agreements, whether materials or services, will ensure you are getting the best pricing for your organization.

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.