Tag Archives: agility

Agile Procurement Through the Ages…

Agile principles are all about the decision-making process. What changes should you implement to drive greater value at higher speed?

At IBM, we understand agile as a set of principles and values that when thoughtfully considered across the business, enable quality decision making, empower teams, and delight customers.

In procurement, the Category Manager’s role is to enable their internal customers by eliminating any disruption or friction within the business while also managing cost using their category knowledge and procurement skillset. The key here is the category managers’ ability to have deep category knowledge paired with a breadth of understanding for all internal customer profiles and needs.

As a category manager, team members must build a consultative skill set that allows them to identify pain points, use time wisely, and seek feedback. The result is a category manager who works towards customer needs rather than contract expiration dates and the latest price benchmarks. As a guide, we should seek to digitise and automate as much as possible regarding benchmarking, negotiations, RFx process’, contracting, etc., allowing us to give the appropriate attention to discovering internal customer needs including service levels, pain points, and demand.

What we did before vs. what we do now!

Previously, IBM, like most large companies, hosted a heavily layered procurement organisation requiring multiple sign offs and complex processes in order for decisions to be made. Agile principles are all about the decision-making process. Our leadership knew we needed to make some major changes resulting in fewer layers of management, accountable teams with decision making authority, and greater collaboration across the business, allowing them to drive value for our customers at the speeds they expect.

In a traditional procurement organisation, the category manager’s role is to identify where the savings opportunity is and act accordingly. They do this while following age old processes and having little to no interaction with internal customers. Many organisations seek to use poorly participated customer surveys to get a sense of how well category managers are serving their customers.

Yet, the best way is to open the channels of communication and collaborate with the business, whether it be face-to-face or virtually, allowing category managers to make the right decisions.

While cost reductions are still a priority for nearly all organisations, we found that when we work closely and listen to customers, we can eliminate the costs associated with under and over delivering across the business, which in turn, results in lasting cost savings.

The journey

To achieve this transformation, it takes strong displays from leadership of all the principles and values agile organisations are known for, establishing a belief system across the business encouraging category managers to ask ‘why’ when performing a task their internal customers do not care for or need to be successful. Implementing an agile belief system into a large organisation requires a major cultural change that takes time and patience from all parties.

In this new space, the role of a category manager has quickly evolved from contract and cost management to a crucial role that links business needs to the external marketplace for a specific category of goods. To achieve success in this role, category managers must interact daily with internal customers and evaluate each moment of their time spent not serving their customer’s needs.

Even so, many procurement organisations are too deep into spreadsheets and other manual processes to be ready for such an agile way of working. These manual processes make it impossible for category managers to have the time capacity to be a true advocate and trusted advisor for the business. To lift category managers’ heads from the clutter, organisations must invest in digitising their procurement processes where possible and identify the areas where they are not ready and get ready!

This article was written by Shawn Busby, Global Category Lead- IBM and Norman Braddock, Sourcing Consultant – IBM.