This week's guest audio comes from a panel discussion moderated by Code for America. They create open source solutions and facilitate a collaborative community around their use. Code for America also hosts an annual summit that brings together public sector innovators and the organizations that collaborate with them – and that is where this particular recording was made: at a 2014 summit panel on public sector procurement.
In this exchange, the panel responds to an audience question about the politics of procurement and facilitating cross-functional communication for the sake of gaining buy in.
One of the points that was made earlier in the discussion was the idea that public sector procurement is not about cutting costs or building competitive advantage. It is about solving social problems, and the first step to solving problems is identifying them.
The fact that these teams start by bringing everyone together around a problem – something we heard in the audio excerpt just now – strikes me as really smart. There is no shying away from the fact that there is a problem or concern that defining the problem up front starts the project in a negative place. The group captures the problem and then works together to become part of the solution.
I think this is an approach more private sector procurement organizations can get behind as well. And in particular, we should put a methodology in place for finding problems. Although private sector procurement often feels chained to savings and spend under management metrics, when we start to feel pressure to create greater value, becoming the organizational problem solver is a good approach to consider. Sure, in some cases the answer might not require a purchase, but if we can claim some gain of efficiency or avoidance of waste, that is still a win.
The other interesting point raised in the excerpt is the idea of not speculating about possible solutions too early in the problem solving process. Although it is natural to start thinking of where the project might end up, spending too much time on that prevents the fair consideration of alternative ideas. Even without realizing it, the group may end up defining what they are looking for in the solution based on where they think they want to end up. By focusing on capturing the problem in detail, the range of possible solutions stays as wide as possible.
In the past, procurement has boxed ourselves in by the apples to apples approach. Sure, every qualified solution needs to be able to solve the problem by meeting all of the defined requirements. What they don’t need to do is meet those requirements in the exact same way. At the end of the day, as long as the problem is solved, all varying methods or approaches should be considered.
Does your procurement team shy away from problems or do you call them as you see them? How hard is it to keep the project team from going so far down the road towards potential solutions that perfectly qualified approaches are prematurely taken off the table.
If you have any thoughts or feedback about this episode, you can reach me directly on Twitter @BuyersMeetPoint or on LinkedIn or by visiting BuyersMeetingPoint.com. Please also listen to some of my other procurement perspectives podcasts, available on Blog Talk Radio and Sound Cloud.