"Procurement is just a roadblock. Why do we have to deal with them? We can do this on our own and we can do it much faster than Procurement.”
Jennifer had heard it before. As a Procurement Manager at the County, she had been dealing for years with customers pushing back on working with Procurement. It was so frustrating. She didn’t understand why her customers tried to avoid her department. There were even times when department directors would go straight to the County Administrator to work around Procurement. And sometimes they succeeded! Jennifer tried reminding her customers about the policies and procedures, she tried getting her Procurement Director to talk to the County Administrator about not allowing customer to work around Procurement, but it just didn’t seem to work. It felt like business as usual… and she was exhausted by the battle.
Can you relate to Jennifer and her situation? Do the customer comments sound familiar? If you’re in public procurement long enough, you will likely hear these comments directly or you’ll hear your colleagues share these frustrations. Procurement teams, both large and small, struggle with customers who may fail to recognize the value of procurement. They may not appreciate the services provided by Procurement. They may not understand how much easier their purchasing would be if they simply followed the rules and processes established by Procurement. Right?
While there is a degree of truth and validity in Procurement’s perspective and frustration with these types of situations, there is also a degree of truth and validity to the customer’s perspective and frustration. Public procurement is a profession of service, and in order to properly serve our customers, there must be a recognition and appreciation of the customer’s view of the world. In customer service, if the customer doesn’t feel they are being served and that the level of service is not of value, then the service provider must be prepared to be accountable to that view. As one of the six Values of Public Procurement, “accountability” includes the profession being accountable to the customer’s view of their needs and cannot be limited to Procurement’s view of what the customer needs.
As Procurement develops and refines its level of service to customers, it is important to actively seek out the customers’ perspective and to find ways to measure the customer’s level of satisfaction with Procurement services. If Procurement is falling short in its provision of value-added services, it should desire to create awareness of this short-coming in order to take appropriate action on improving service. It may be that procurement professionals are “missing the mark,” leading to customer dissatisfaction in the entity. However, through a collaborative partnership with customers, Procurement can become more self-aware, can plan for action and can take the steps toward transformation. Through a transformation of procurement services, Procurement can work with stakeholders to most effectively and efficiently deliver the services the entity requires to meet its goals. If Procurement finds itself battling its customers, or worse, resorting to leveraging “the rules” to force behavior change, Procurement may consider an intentional, internal look at a different approach.
So, take time to reflect objectively on your situation. If you feel that your entity can’t objectively assess your current environment, consider pursuing assistance from a neutral third party. Many Procurement operations struggle just to get the daily work done, and lack the time, resources and commitment to look holistically at the procurement operation. A holistic analysis includes considering organizational structure, staff roles and responsibilities, policy, procedure, process, technology, tools and programs. Acting alone, Procurement may fail to see the problems in the forest due to its proximity to the daily trees standing in the way. Procurement may be stuck trying to leverage the same ineffective solutions to address the same customer work arounds, customer complaints, process inefficiencies and absence of tools to effectively meet customer needs. Procurement may keep pushing the same policies, the same process and the same training with no evidence of improvement. So, while the customer experience continues to suffer, and Procurement continues to dig into its position, it is the entity and the community that ultimately suffers. To be true to its values, Procurement must be willing to open itself up to analysis and opportunity for improvement.
For many procurement operations, there has been a level of comfort and familiarity with the operation in place. Procurement staff may continue to worker harder to make processes faster, tools more effective and customers more informed. While these efforts are to be applauded and encouraged, they should not reflect the extent of the effort to improve. Without a more global view of the entity and the environment within which it operates, without consideration of the standards in the industry and without challenging the existing perspective, Procurement will likely miss opportunities to substantively improve… to effectively transform the operation. As the pandemic, other emergencies and technological changes in the industry demonstrate on a regular basis, Procurement must to be more nimble, more adaptable, more effective and more creative to meet the ever-changing world within which it operates. Accept an ability to pivot and adapt, Procurement will lag, or worse, fail to deal with the changes and the problems of the future. Procurement must drive meaningful engagement with all stakeholders to lead transformational change in the operation.
Change can be hard, particularly for those who may lack a roadmap to move their entity from the current state (Point A) to a more effective future state (Point B). Some Procurement operations may lack the vision, the awareness or the resources to pursue the abundance of opportunity in a procurement transformation. Procurement must expand beyond its four walls, beyond its current experience and beyond its existing limitations. In order to broaden its perspective, increase awareness and challenge assumptions, Procurement should look to the procurement industry for the professions’ standards, best practices and core competencies that will help drive change. Through the engagement of broader resources available in the public procurement community, including associations like NIGP, the Institute for Public Procurement, Procurement can begin to plan for its transportation from point A to point B on the transformational map.
To pursue a level of excellence for the entity, Procurement must assess its current level of maturity in relation to where the current operation stands, whether tactical or strategic. Procurement must acknowledge where it does and does not align with industry standards and best practices, just as procurement professionals have varying degrees of demonstrated core competencies. Procurement should also consider the resources it may or may not have for a transformation effort. While one entity may leverage internal subject matter expertise in relation to public procurement best practices, others may require external subject matter experts. Where Procurement lacks the internal support, it may look to gaining external, third-party expertise to lend credibility to advocate for changes intended to drive the agency further down the road to procurement excellence.
Where can Procurement begin its analysis of its operation? Procurement should consider a strategic analysis of its operation, from policy to procedure, from staff roles and responsibilities to organizational structure, from program effectiveness to level of customer service. Procurement may also consider a comparative analysis to comparable benchmark agencies, as well as an in-depth comparison to industry standards, such as the ABA Model Procurement Code and Public Procurement Best Practices. Procurement should seek out feedback from its internal and external stakeholders to inform the analysis. These perspectives should drive the approach to how best Procurement can meet the needs of the entity and the supplier community. From this holistic, in-depth analysis, Procurement can then begin to build the roadmap that moves the entity from Point A to Point B, in its journey to procurement transformation. So, let the transformational journey begin!
The NIGP Consulting Program provides procurement consulting services, including Strategic Procurement Assessments, Staff and Organizational Assessments, Staff Augmentation, Agency Benchmarking, Policy Development, Contract Administration Analysis, pCard and Contract Auditing, as well as numerous other service areas. NIGP Consulting provides expert procurement consulting services through the contracted management firm, Periscope Holdings, LLC. At Periscope, a team of independent, diverse and highly experienced consultants and subject matter experts in the public procurement industry.
Periscope and the NIGP Consulting Program will be hosting an NIGP Webinar entitled “From Roadblock to Trusted Advisor: Transforming the Role of Procurement in Your Entity” to continue this discussion with a live panel. Please consider joining the Panel on 12/16/20 at 2pm pm EST. For further information on the NIGP Consulting Program, please visit the NIGP website or contact Marchetti Gillespie, NIGP Consulting Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.