Perhaps your company is launching a new line of business, has had an influx of less-experienced buyers or an acquisition or re-organization that requires a new blending of talent. Boot camp gives your team time to focus uninterrupted on a specific curriculum at the same time and place. The curriculum could be on any challenge – but it should take into account the specific circumstances and culture of the organization. For instance, I have conducted boot camps on category management, cost and price analysis, ethics and sustainability, and supplier relationships.
Boot camp is an intense experience, and to keep people focused ask them to put away cellphones, kill their alerts and stay off email during the sessions. On the other hand, you can’t realistically ask people to ignore their business, so in my sessions I build in a few long breaks every day where participants can check their messages and respond to emergencies. Knowing that, it becomes anti-cultural to walk out to take a phone call.
Boot camps are particularly beneficial to organizations that are giving managers throughout the company more freedom to make purchases within certain budget limits in order to encourage speed to market or overall nimbleness of the enterprise. That freedom has benefits, but often puts people in procurement situations without all the tools of an experienced buyer. I did a boot camp with a group of aerospace engineers where I put them to work on a project buying a helicopter bearing that had to meet very difficult specifications and was therefore very difficult to source. Even so, they learned how to apply some competitive leverage and they saved $4 million within about two weeks after completing the course. It was quite a realization when they discovered how powerful procurement skills could be.
That example also points out the importance of keeping the content of the learning very specific to the functions and responsibilities of the participants. It’s important to not only identify the skills that you want to build, but incorporate company-specific material into the learning. No one wants to hear a generic presentation about buying widgets. Instead, put them to work on projects they can implement when the session ends. Boot camp gives participants the time and support – often from peers in the same session – to focus on a problem category or item in a new way. I did a small boot camp for a construction company where the group came up with new category spending plans. By identifying where they needed to have strategic relationships and where they could use competitive leverage, they saved several million dollars. That turned what might have been a skeptical, “eye-rolling” experience into an eye-opening one.
For a diversified manufacturing company my boot camp participants had to take an online course as a prerequisite – so all participants had a common set of knowledge. They created projects during the boot camp and had six months to implement them. During that time they had access to their instructors to assist them, and in the end the company counted up the savings and determined the cost of the boot camp had delivered a 40-to-1 return on investment.
If you think a boot camp might be a good fit for your team – here are six considerations before you begin.
- Assess the skills of the group formally or informally and identify the gaps in knowledge and the focus of the boot camp content.
- Use self-paced online learning modules as prerequisites to give all participants common knowledge of basic concepts and terminology you will be using in the camp.
- Identify in advance or ask participants to bring procurement projects they can work on as part of the boot camp experience.
- Incorporate specific categories, processes and culture from your organization into the content you present.
- Keep everyone focused during sessions by providing adequate breaks (and food) for people to tend to emergencies or simply reflect on what they are learning.
- Support the participants when the boot camp ends and follow up in 90 days or six months to allow implementation of boot camp projects and to quantify their ROI.
Boot camps are intense and can be very effective. And the best part about supply managers’ boot camps is that they actually require neither boots nor camping.
Bill Michels, VP Operations, CIPS Americas