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Part 1: Navigating your company’s procurement process

This is the first in a series of articles which will cover different aspects of navigating the procurement process in your organization. If you work at a Fortune 100 or even a Fortune 500 company, the odds are that your company’s procurement process is far more complicated than sending Fred the procurement guy an email to ask him to purchase something for your project. At times navigating your way through a company’s procurement process can feel like finding your way through a maze.

It took me far longer than I would have liked to learn how to navigate the procurement process at my organization, and I’m confident that what I learned will be able to help you as well.

I work for a large multinational health insurance company and have been managing Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure projects here for a number of years. Infrastructure projects, by nature, generally involve replacing hardware or software, or both, and at a large organization, this means managing project capital budgets of several million dollars. The procurement organization’s main mission is to ensure that the money you are asking them to spend on your project is spent wisely and they are getting the best possible value for the price they pay.

I say this because it is very easy for a Project or Program Manager who has to navigate this process, to believe that procurement is a black hole where a bunch of evil people work whose main role in life is to make your project fail, or at least come in late. My success in navigating, and yes, even managing the procurement process for my projects, is the result of understanding the process, the organization, and the people who make up procurements. By creating an environment where everyone gets what they need when they need it. I have been able to build the procurement process into project schedules and deliver large-scale projects on time.

Did I say there would be no pain involved? No. I did not. However, the pain usually comes early, goes away fairly quickly, and in the end, the procurement guys are just as happy as the recipients of the project deliverables.

Process

The procurement process at most Fortune 100 companies is complex and requires hand-offs in both directions between several departments. I will use my organization’s process to illustrate this, and I am hopeful that you will be able to find the equivalent departments in your organization.

First a bit of background. At our company, the process begins by establishing a project or program budget. The requirements are documented, reviewed by a team of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), dollar estimates are provided for capital expenditure, operating expenses going out three years, and labor. Once these estimates are delivered to project management, a project budget is prepared, the budget is then submitted to the business organization funding the project, and approved.

Once approved, the project budget is recorded in the finance department, and the procurement process becomes a dance between the procurement team, the legal department (if new or revised contracts are required), the vendor or supplier of the good or service being purchased, the finance team who needs to pay the vendor, the project manager, and the installers of the goods or services being purchased.

The biggest mistakes people make when trying to navigate this process are:

  • Underestimating the number of touchpoints, there are between the requirement for a piece of hardware or software.
  • Learning the process flow “on the fly” while trying to manage the project.
  • Assuming that each of the hand-offs in the process are being made as you would expect.

If you have not been required to follow the procurement process from beginning to end before you start a project, learn the process. There are a number of ways to do that. One way is to find someone on your team who has been through the whole process; have them show you what the components are, where the hand-offs occur, and who they have worked with successfully. Go through the required forms, ensure you have access to the locations where the forms reside, understand the lead times between hand-offs, and get the names of at least one contact in each piece of the process.

Your next step is to speak with someone in each of those areas and understand what they need before they can hand your request off to the next part of the process. My experience is that a telephone or face-to-face conversation is best. I work from an office in my home, so I rarely get to meet the procurement or finance team, but a phone call here and there is much better than an email.

What I am trying to accomplish is to build a rapport with the procurement and finance teams. I want to learn what they need, how they like to see it, what is the busiest time for them (so I can avoid it if possible), and what their pain points are. Invariably I find that someone will tell me that their piece of the process would go so much more smoothly if only “forms were received before noon” or “the cost center field was completed.” If I can give that person what they need, then I am actually helping them avoid pain. Once the people who work the process know that I want to make it easier for them, they will go out of their way to make it easier for me and even give me helpful tips from time to time.

 

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