#Lean: Making the case for process and tech

Procurement Lean Technology Business Case Process Efficiency

Spending countless hours manually cleansing spend data in Excel to gain meaningful category insights. Going crazy entering data in unattractive entry masks in a procurement project management system? Only to then find out you (or someone else in the business) have to copy the same data to yet another system, be it supplier performance management, contract management or any other. Contract approval systems that make it hard for all, from the requester to the approvers in Finance, Procurement and Legal to quickly assess whether the document is good to go.

This probably sounds only too familiar to Procurement professionals from all industries. Yes, there are many Procurement tech vendors touting the benefits of a particular module. Or even have a full end-to-end solution. But the standard user experience is less than stellar. Internal processes range from overly prescriptive, laborious and bureaucratic (as in banks) to chaotic, risk laden and poorly executed in other industries.

So if you are passionate about changing this and making sure Procurement can focus on the “strategic”, how do you make the business case for investing in a revamp of processes to structured, but lean and invest in better tech and user experience? Especially if your organization has already invested big $$$ in the latest tools, but you know that how they are applied is still very inefficient?

Knowing that money talks, we have approached this in a structured, fact and financials based manner to clearly highlight the benefits and savings (in time, resource and money) that can be derived from the change. But also citing inspirational best practise examples and making reference to design thinking and user experience research.

First step, instead of just verbalizing the pain and time waste, we have quantified how much time each step in the process or user journey takes. X minutes of the admin assistant’s time to enter the initial request. X minutes to review and approve the request. An additional X minutes if a new document version needs to be uploaded. X minutes in clarifying missing entry details or sending back the request to update. X minutes to search for information details in other databases, etc. For the experienced user, it will be relatively easy to make some initial estimates (and we like to stay on the conservative side and under-rather than overestimate). You can then check the assumptions with a few select users of each group.

Then we would draw the whole user journey step by step, with roles, timings and all the electronic tools (or offline methods like phone calls / quick conversations) that are involved. And then add the $ figures what running the status quo process actually costs. They may not be 100% accurate, but it’s not hard to get approximate numbers what an admin assistant, a Procurement Manager or a lawyer’s average cost per hour is. That allows quantifying the cost to run a full cycle of the process and knowing the volume of transactions, you can give a clear picture of the total cost.

Our experience is that very rarely, this number has been seen by those in charge. Being able to not just say “this is a pain”, “this is a waste” but quantifying that it costs significant time of often highly skilled talent (who’d prefer doing something more interesting) and real money is an eye opener.

We then modelled different alternatives, to allow for different scenarios on how far management was ready to go in making the change. Only want to change spend thresholds a little bit to reduce number of transactions? Here are the savings if you raise it to x, y or z. Looking to delegate or skip process steps? Here are the savings for scenario a, b, c. Investing in technology that removes the need to re-enter / copy-paste data in different systems? Here are the gains.

As with Procurement Category Management, we firmly believe that basing your argument and strategy on clear facts and presenting different viable alternatives is crucial to successfully drive change. In addition, the cost and conditions for the change (e.g. retraining) should also not be swept under the carpet to ensure successful implementation.

Lastly, when highlighting the flaws of a system or process, it can be helpful to show some inspirational, best practise examples from outside the function or industry to give a vision where the journey might lead to eventually. How long does it take you to do a quick check out of a shopping cart on Amazon? And how much do other systems learn about your preferences over time and pre-populate or suggest for quicker completion of forms? Now, how about bringing a flavour of that in-house? If again, you have clear numerical alternatives, you can make fact based decisions if you want to go for a cheap, off-the shelf and standalone fix by your tech supplier or push them for a slicker, more integrated solution. Is it worth it? You tell your management

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