Agile procurement

With news coming through of the Government’s Spending Review this week, one particular piece caught my eye and got me thinking…

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Now maybe I’m reading this incorrectly, but that to me reads as a £1.3bn project to deliver a set of defined outputs by next year. Call me a cynic, but if that is the case, then it feels a tad optimistic.

In a number of conversations in recent days, the topic of procurement has raised its head – and most notably how the processes associated with formalised procurement methods too often lead to uncollaborative engagements between clients and suppliers because negotiations become too combative and adversarial (and also too focused on the bottom line).

But how might one change this? How might we achieve an agile approach to procurement? This might be a case of, to paraphrase Charles Handy, “I wouldn’t start from here”…

For me, there are two core features of a truly agile approach. Firstly to be deeply collaborative, usually to blur the lines between provider and client. And secondly to be focused on objectives and intended consequences, not on “stuff”. So, for example in the HMRC case there should be talk of wanting to increase revenue and reduce cost through more effective use of technology and better processes, not guessing the outcome as “Digital Tax Accounts” and sticking a price tag on it.

The iterative approach of agile surely tells us that whilst today we might think that Digital Tax Accounts might be the answer, until we start doing it we just don’t know (and we don’t know what unintended consequences, positive or negative might be either – see what’s happening with getting rid of Tax Discs for an example).

The Business Case/Procurement Process model of doing stuff mitigates against agile approaches. It means that you have to be very specific up front about things of which you can have no knowledge (what you might need, what it will cost, what you will gain) but then ties those things down so that politically (big and small P) people are too tied to those guesses to be able to actually course correct until it’s too late.

What might agile procurement look like? Well, nothing like procurement. But maybe more about collaborative engagements based on risk and reward (although not punitive punishment for not delivering) where multiple parties are engaged to help solve problems. In fact, very much like some open innovation methods (X-prize type approaches for “big” challenges, for example) that to date seem to have not been used much in Government to look at some of the really big issues.

In the meantime, here’s a handy risk checklist from the IEEE…

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How many of those do procurement exercises today actually address?

Find out more about my collaboration research project #sharingorg at http://bit.ly/sharingorg

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