The Analytical CPO – reader comments and another extract

(Please note - I drafted this piece a couple of days ago so I haven't included the very recent comments here!)

Thanks for all the stimulating comments on our “The Analytical CPO” article last week. I hope you’ve all downloaded the full paper too – available here , free on registration. 

Just to clarify a few points and explore issues raised by readers. I do make the distinction between analytical skills and mathematical – this is not about breeding a new species of semi-human procurement calculating mathmo-machines! As some of our commentators said, it is about being able to interpret data and information and draw consulting and see opportunities. That is exactly what I mean by being analytical.

Dan said this -  “Having the data is all well and good, but it’s useless unless you can do something with it. It can highlight a problem, but how do you solve it? It can highlight opportunities, but what’s the best way to exploit it? Being analytical is fine, but it’s better to be creative and imaginative”.

I think that you have to be analytical as a starting point Dan – then sure, the creativity can come into it. I don’t think we fundamentally disagree there. Having said that, I do believe that people who are truly innumerate will struggle in procurement roles – just as they will these days in many jobs to be honest. But Mark Lainchbury made an interesting point.

“Sorry Dan but couldn’t disagree more. It’s very rare these days (in procurement) to face a problem requiring a whole new solution. Drill Downs, Discovery and Diagnosis are the challenge. Solutions are 10 a penny (though their application still leaves managers scope to be dynamic & creative)”.

There’s something worth another blog or two I think – do we really need true creativity in procurement, or is it all about application and delivery now? Discuss, as they say...

Back to the topic in hand. “In the current world it is all too easy to become lost in a forest of information when we need to understand which trees to dig under to find the truffles, if you’ll excuse the dreadful metaphor!”

That was RJ – and not a bad metaphor, I’d say.

Most unusually, I find myself disagreeing somewhat with friend and ex CIPS colleague Kim Godwin, who said this -

“Agree wholeheartedly about the importance of analytical skills but I don’t see those as being different from behavioural skills”.

He did expand on that, linking analysis to judgement, but to me, behavioural skills are things like persuasion, listening, empathy, intuitive... absolutely important, but not the same as being able to analyse and draw conclusion from masses of data, for instance. Judgement is probably something that cuts across both. Kim is of course ritght though when he say this:

“The key thing is that these (behavioural) capabilities are not given the focus that they need to in the education, selection and development of people in procurement today – and arguably analytics is viewed in an even worse light as being tactical and dull as dishwater, and not a leadership trait by many”.

I believe that the most successful procurement people at every level will be those who have both analytical and behavioural skills – along with other technical skills in areas including negotiation, project management, finance, economics... but that debate is for another day perhaps.

Anyway, here is another extract from the paper, expanding a little on more of my thinking. And thanks again for everyone who contributed.

"It is not simply about numbers though, so don’t despair if your education was more humanities based.  The principles of analytical “critical thinking” are also important, and are often better taught in the Arts faculties (History, English, Politics) than they are in the science disciplines.

For instance, there are core skills around understanding how to obtain, interpret and use evidence; understanding the context and reliability of what is observed or heard; using relevant criteria for making judgements; and decision making techniques and methods. These are capabilities we all use every day in our jobs, yet having an analytical approach to understanding the world around us and making decisions is vital for long-term success.

The days have gone when a CPO could say, "I'm not very good with numbers", or “all this analysis is over-rated, I just go on my gut instinct”, and get sympathetic nods from around the room.  Times have changed, as have the requirements of the role".

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