Keep it simple

2 March 2010
In the words of the author Douglas Adams: “Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much like what the man in the street would have said ‘Oh yes, I could have told you that’ to. Then some phrases like ‘Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks’ were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it.” Our job in procurement is about improving the quality, cost, delivery and service that our organisations offer their customers, by working with suppliers. It can become complicated: but is often simple. We get the bits in. Problems can result because our role seems too obvious to the man in the street – it is just “shopping”. So the tendency is to protect ourselves through phrases like “supplier relationship management”, and build our own language of TLAs and jargon to try to make it less accessible. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of SRM. To me, it is about developing buyers away from needing to chase individual products, and instead managing suppliers so that the goods and services happen. Purchasing is a great place from which to change things across the organisation, develop new products and win new customers. Plus, it’s a great place to develop “talent”: in purchasing we tend to allow more management responsibility earlier than in other disciplines – for better or for worse. But back to the point. Let’s keep it simple. First of all we have to be good at getting the bits in – now, and for the future. So let’s concentrate on good solid output metrics (quality, cost, delivery and service) that the rest of the organisation can understand, and see the benefits of. Then let’s communicate it in plain English. SRM programmes, vendor reduction, 5forces, contracts, systems, processes etc: they all have their place, but if they do not contribute to quality, cost, delivery and service, then why are we doing them? Jargon, shorthand and input metrics also have their place internally for communicating within our team, and for tracking progress before we can see it clearly in the output metrics. To get our messages across elsewhere, we need to think about the audience. What are they looking for, what will they understand in the time available? We need to use the  right language, and the right amount of it. To grab senior management attention, think “picture book” rather than “thesis”. The profession has come on leaps and bounds over the years. And people developed from within purchasing have gone on to do all sorts of things. But let’s not let it go to our heads. Let’s not use jargon to improve our sense of worth. Instead, let’s celebrate doing simple things well. I don’t mind being called a shopper, as long as I am acknowledged as a great shopper. Steve Foister is an independent purchasing consultant
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