Project Management and Procurement: A Real-Life Example With Lessons Learnt

Capgemini IBX Business Network

I have been doing some consulting for a quasi-public sector organisation who needs to let a contract, significant for them both strategically and as a proportion of their total running costs. As a new and small organisation, they have limited resource and the individual responsible for this procurement is not a procurement professional and is relatively inexperienced – but bright, good with people and diligent.

I was asked to give some steer as to the public procurement process – how to stay legal, and how to construct a tender evaluation process that would allow them to select the “right” supplier to best meet their pretty complex needs. This is light touch advice – just a couple of days' work over  2 months or so, as it has turned out.

Last week, at a meeting of the ultimate “board” for the organisation, the procurement was halted because of a view that there was not enough certainty to approach the market. Both the project manager (PM) and I are quite relieved; we were having problems tying down the details. For example, this was the sort of discussion we had:

Me -  Well how exactly does your top team think they are going to pay the supplier - on a fixed-cost basis? Variable-based on volume? A mix of the two? Any performance-based fees?

PM -  I’ll ask.

(One week later)

PM - They don’t know.

Me – OK, well shall we just make something up and hope the Board likes it?

When the PM told me last week of the postponement, they sent me a short email that contained a lot of wisdom in a few short lines, and identified some key issues for any project management or procurement lead who has to run a complex project. We will paraphrase the PM's exact comments below to protect identities, and also add our comments  ...

“I have learnt not to make assumptions that everyone involved with the project knows what they’re doing.  You need to check those assumptions from the start.”

Ah yes, when I was young I assumed everyone else was competent and I was the only one desperately trying to get on top of my job. But you live and learn ...

“We still need to build a business case - I assumed that had already been done, after all I was hired to deliver this project …”

You might think that, but those of us who are older, wiser and more cynical know that initiatives can get a very long way without a business case. Good grief, Crown Commercial Service went through creation, launch and initial wave of problems all without a business case. Not sure I ever saw one for the ID Card programme either. Not one that made any sense, anyway.

“I now understand I need to voice my opinion persistently until I’m heard …”

Absolutely. The problem – in public or private sectors – is that this can make you unpopular.  On the other hand, it is about self-respect. If something is wrong, you do need to politely but persistently say so, for your own peace of mind if nothing else.

“We now need to step back and look at the fundamentals in more detail before we make any decisions …”

Or before you start a procurement process, we might add. Understanding what you are trying to achieve, how it will be funded, measured, what success looks like: these questions and more need to be asked and answered before we rush to market. Strategic alignment and all that, you know ...

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