Keeping up with Mickey North Rizza's new blog, Strategic Sourcing, is a quick daily exercise that always provides a good nugget of knowledge or anecdote – or two. Her recent thoughts on driving procurement competitive advantage is a good case in point. Even though it sounds stupidly simple, the concept of "looking past your present situation and plotting a better future for your business" through procurement is not something most of us can readily admit to contemplating on a regular basis. Entering the office every day and thinking about current negotiations, contract implementations or stakeholder engagement can prove all-consuming. But the big picture matters just as much, even if we're as focused on it in the course of daily activity.
In considering the foundational elements about how we can drive competitive advantage in procurement, Mickey suggests taking an articulated single or multi-year business strategy about then discussing "with your customers, suppliers and partners their future direction, growth projections, what changes will happen – company, product, and jobs; what their needs will be; and how the business might be modified to meet future demand." As part of this engagement with suppliers and partners – not to mention internal stakeholders – it's important to "look at the 'what-if' scenarios, understand the pitfalls or gaps that are apparent between and among your customers, your business and your suppliers," among other tactics.
One of the best techniques we've seen applied driving competitive advantage through procurement goes beyond just a "what-if" planning approach. It requires engaging in broader scenario planning and analysis efforts to get everyone on the same page (key suppliers and internal customers included) in regards to both how the future might unfold as well as how to recognize the signposts that may tip us off to what paths we follow to get there.
Ironically, as I write this, I'm about to head into a scenario planning meeting with an organization to facilitate a group of executives mapping out how the future of supplier engagement could impact their business. I find that sometimes the best offense in attempting to drive competitive advantage – whether through procurement or other means – is finding ways to harness the creative energy of management teams in structured, well-prepared workshops in contrast to top-down strategic planning and forecasting exercises that only selectively engage stakeholders throughout the process.