Do you have any idea how lucky you are to work in procurement? Who else can understand a business by taking it apart and putting it back together again from the bottom up and the top down? Who else understands the unbelievable network of suppliers and service partners that are required to make a supermarket run, build a car from nothing, get a new pharmaceutical through trial and to market, or design the best new components for sale?
I recently cleaned out and recategorized all of the content in the Buyers Meeting Point site. I have been writing and posting there for 12 years this month. Do you have any idea how many blog posts and articles that means? And that doesn’t even touch upon the guest posts, book reviews, event recommendations, etc.
Here’s what’s really funny: guess what we were talking about 10 years ago? Transformation. Sure, it was procurement transformation and not digital transformation, but it was transformation all the same. We were also talking about negotiation, supplier relationships, risk, and collaboration. And now – yes, we’re still talking about negotiation, supplier relationships, risk, and collaboration. It doesn’t matter that we’re doing it with the help of AI, machine learning, and RPA. We’re still focused on the same things.
I’ll be honest, my initial response to this realization was sadness and a touch of embarrassment. How have we been talking about the same things all this time and not completed them? Did we fail?
Maybe that is the real question we have to answer. Over the last decade, has procurement failed in our mission to change, grow, and evolve?
I’ve given this a lot of thought, so I’m going to jump you ahead and let you benefit from my thought process. We haven’t failed. We’ve simply refused to stop pushing. We’ve succeeded so often, and in so many ways, that it has become a habit. Procurement is an iterative effort, driven from within. Can you imagine what we would look like if we had ever declared our journey done? We’d still be analyzing line items in spreadsheets and manually processing POs. We’d still be ‘purchasing’ – both in functional name and in activity.
I recently spoke with Soheila Lunney, experienced procurement executive, consultant, and the co-author of ‘The Procurement Game Plan.’ I was telling her that my favorite idea from her book is that procurement used to be like the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ – hopefully you’ve all seen the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and get the reference. She went on to write that procurement was the place people were sent so that management never had to see them again.
Back in 2012, when the book was published, I would share that idea with people and they would nod solemnly and agree. “Yes,” I could see them thinking, “That is sad but true.” Now, when I share the same idea, do you know how people respond? They LAUGH! Not in a mean or vindictive way, and not without a hint of agreement, but without any baggage either. WE are not THEM. They had that problem, but we are us. We have come so far. If our past progress is any indication, we are never going to be done.
Like all individuals and teams, procurement faced a lot of challenges in 2020. I’ve had conversations with CPOs where they talk about their teams. The stories range from heartbreaking to awe-inspiring. Stories of sadness, isolation, and substance abuse but also determination, persistence, and undying creativity. We didn’t like everything we had to do to make it through the year in one piece, but we did it anyway. More importantly, we learned from it.
2020 tested procurement, and we came through with shining colors.
We are so lucky to work in procurement. Our jobs are critical, fascinating, measurable, and expanding. No one else knows what we know, and no one else sees what we see. Take a minute today – and every day going forward – to be grateful that you are a procurement professional.