As procurement professionals we have to continually demonstrate our value to our organisation by focusing on the key activities that deliver the most added benefits. What gets in the way of doing this is the myriad of other things that we have to do each day. Often there is more to do than we are able to achieve in the time available to us.
At this point we need a good process for prioritising our tasks, planning our work and working our plan. The best analogy I have ever heard on prioritising work came from Stephen Covey; it is called the “rocks, pebbles and sand” analogy for time management.
The story as told by Mr Covey is that an expert was addressing a group of business students. He reached beneath the desk to produce a large glass container and proceeded to fill it with rocks. When he could fit no more in he asked the group whether the container was full to which the group replied yes it was.
He then produced some pebbles and through a process of shaking the container managed to fit them all in the gaps between the rocks. Similarly, he managed to fill the gaps between the pebbles with sand. The group then thought the container was full until the expert successfully poured a jug of water into the container.
The lesson of this story is clear. If the container represents the time we have available to us in a period of time and the rocks, pebbles, sand and water represent the tasks we have to carry out then we can only do them all if we do the rocks first and the rest in order of size. In other words, start with your biggest tasks first and only go to the next level of tasks once the big ones are complete. If you do the tasks the other way round, you will never get to the big rocks (tasks).
So what are the big rocks that procurement professionals need to do first before they give their attention to the smaller tasks? I would suggest the following:-
- Understanding your supply markets – what is their scope, who are the major players, are they growing or declining, is there scope to bring in new entrants and so on.
- Understanding the demand for products and services in your organisation and how this relates to your supply market knowledge. For example, is there a need to develop a particular market by stimulating innovation or attracting new entrants?
- Organising price and cost analyses and carrying out benchmarking exercises to understand the opportunities for savings. This might be linked to value analysis and value engineering exercises.
- Carrying out supply chain risk assessments so that you understand the potential vulnerability for your organisation and then put in place effective monitoring and mitigation.
- Working with key suppliers to bring about product, service and cost innovations, improve delivery processes and carry out joint planning and product/service co-design (all part of a supplier relationship management programme).
- Building effective working relationships with other parts of your organisation.
- Measuring performance (both the procurement organisation and suppliers) as the basis of designing and delivering improvement programmes.
- Continually improving your capability through knowledge exchange, training courses and coaching.
Do these big rock activities well and you will show your organisation what great value you can add. This then becomes a “no brainer” case for investing in more resource to do the other, smaller tasks if you can’t do them all yourself.