Procurement capability building – learning from Formula One

Our recent webinar* with GEP was focused on capability building in general, and we looked at the particular aspect of skills transfer in more detail.

Now a couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to hear an after dinner speech, at a fairly small private event, from the Chief Executive of one of the Formula One motor racing teams, based like so many of them in the Oxford / Northampton area of England. It was fascinating, even for a non-fan. (I occasionally watch the start of the race then come back two hours later and ask my wife who won - she is much more enthusiastic than me).  And what was clear from his talk is the sheer professionalism of the teams in every aspect of their work - it was truly incredible and inspiring.

One of the stories that stuck in my mind was relevant to our topics of capability building and skills transfer. After each race, held on a Sunday, I had assumed that the drivers spent the next 24 hours or so drinking champagne and discussing the finer point of gear changes with beautiful models. That apparently isn’t at all what happens. Instead, in most cases, by 9am on Monday morning the whole team – mechanics, managers, designers AND the drivers are back in Brackley, or wherever the team base is located, where several hours will be spent going through the race in minute detail, literally minute by minute. The drivers contribute, as do the pit lane folk and everyone else.

So that addresses both skills transfer, from team members to each other, and it is a great lesson in building capability via learning from your mistakes and successes. Why did that tyre change take 7 seconds, not 4 seconds? Why did the gearbox start misbehaving on lap 45?

Let’s bring it back to procurement. Could we do more to spread knowledge, experience and skills throughout our procurement teams, from the external resources,  high profile stars and our technical gurus, to the junior staff?  And how well do we analyse significant experiences to capture the learning? Do we look carefully at failures and successes, and properly capture what is important so we improve performance next time?

Patrick Callahan of GEP, who spoke with me during the webinar, talked about doing detailed reviews with clients after key supplier negotiation sessions or tendering exercises. But too often – and I was guilty of this in my time as a CPO, without a doubt – we’re ‘too busy’ and move on to the next project before learning those lessons. But look at it like this. If a Formula One team, who have another race in just one or two weeks' time, can spend half a day analysing their last race, we should be able to apply the same discipline to that last major negotiation, reverse auction, or meeting with a key stakeholder.

Equally, we should find the time to pick the brains of those consultants, interims or other solution providers who work with us. We may want them to deliver tangible benefits to us through their own actions, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we’ve also got the ability to gain knowledge and skills from them, and transfer it to our teams, so next time we’ll be able to work out just what that gearbox problem might be, or how to set up the fuel system to take 0.2 of a second off the lap time. Or at least our procurement equivalents...

* (And you can still hear the whole webinar again here).

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