Many organisations have a slow down through festive seasons as many people head off on holidays and the volume of work often slows. So if you’re lucky enough to be working during a quite time, what procurement tasks can you do to take advantage of the extra flexibility and set yourself up for when the pace picks up again?
I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Whether your team uses Excel workbooks, and Access database, Sharepoint lists, an ERP or a full procurement management solution, taking the time to go through and make sure all the data is up to date and correct will do more to help you through the busy periods than anything else.
There may be some records that you know you took shortcuts on, so get back in and fix them straight away. Run some reports, or apply filters if you are using Excel or Sharepoint. Check for gaps, make sure the records are assigned to the right categories and groupings, and most important, make sure your name is against everything you delivered because someone is most likely reporting on your performance using that data.
While your doing the cleanse of your data, make sure you get to know your system better. Check what that field you always ignore is meant to do, find out new ways to review and access the data in the system and look for ways it can make some of your tasks easier.
How will this procurement task help you in the long run? Well there are two key reasons for using systems in procurement; 1) to help you keep track of what you are doing, and; 2) to allow reporting for performance or to find information about what you have done. The cleansing process will help you spot if you missed a step in the process, confirm you are up to date and allow you to plan what you are going to do over the coming weeks/months. In addition to this, a well set up and maintained system can really relieve pressure during the busy times. Think of those wonderful moments when you are elbow deep in work with competing timelines when a senior manager comes up to say “I need to extend Bob’s contract, I believe it expires next week”! This is where a good system will help you identify what contract Bob is on, what the terms of the contract are and maybe even generate some of the paperwork for you. If the data is all wrong, your in manual mode.
Often when you are working your way through your data cleanse, you will start identifying missing or poor documentation. This can also be a major headache when you are under pressure and half the information you need is missing or done in a way that will cause headaches in delivery or if a variation needs to be processed.
Make sure the evaluation documentation is up to date and all approvals have been signed off. Confirm you have scanned and stored electronic copies and the physical copies are properly filed or destroyed in accordance with your organisations policies. Check the terms of key contracts to make sure they are clear and align with the intend of the contract. Go through a do a flush of unimportant documentation into archives to remove the clutter.
If you have more time, consider if the current filing systems are working for you. Is now a good time to restructure the system, or maybe just to tweak it a little. Are the files you work with every day on the bottom shelf instead of the middle and top shelves where they are easier to reach?
For a bigger project, consider if you can move away from retaining physical copies all together. Check the legislated requirements of your region, most will now accept scanned electronic copies of documents as evidence of a contract. Implementing “signing in counterparts” will also significantly improve the velocity of you procurement processes.
Filing is a necessary evil amongst the cloud of procurement tasks and a good filing system will make day to day work much easier and will allow audits to go more smoothly when they have confidence you are in control of your data.
Have you just spent a year changing the same field, text or format of a frequently used template and just haven’t had the time to get in a fix the template instead? or maybe the structure is just not right in general.
This is a killer of process efficiency and often is the cause of a procurement team being seen as “process driven” instead of focused on the task and outcomes. if your templates are causing you to think about format or data rather than driving you to think about your procurement, then you need to review and fix the issues. Use any downtime you have to make sure the templates are beneficial tools rather that anchors around your neck.
For an extra bonus, see if you can automate some of the functionality. Can you switch to using an Excel spreadsheet for evaluation reporting so the scoring can be calculated by the template rather than calculated separately as it is in a Word document. Take the time to learn visual basic for applications. This appears complex to start with, but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty straight forward and enormously powerful. There are some fantastic videos available for free on YouTube, one I highly recommend for Access users is Steve Bishops channel called Programming where he will take you from and Access noob to a guru.
Sit back and have a think about what you have seen through your data cleanse and documentation review. Did you identify contracts that needed to be varied to be realigned with what is actually being delivered or to close a gap you spotted. Do you need to engage with a supplier to clean up some documentation? Did you spot some key contracts that are about to expire?
Start mapping out work you can kick off now or schedule in to the next couple of months. If your contract tracking tool doesn’t allow you to plan your forward procurement’s, then look to see if you can make it do so, or if you need to source or develop your own solution. Forward plans can keep you on top of your game and will win respect from your clients when you are on top of their needs,
There is nothing better than being ahead of the curve when a spike in workload appears. Forward planning gives you confidence, sets you up to make better decisions and allows you to demonstrate that you are in control and valuable to the organisation.
After you have gone through the tasks above, you are now a well informed and well planned asset to the organisation. It’s now time to get out there and 1) show how in control you are; and 2) start gathering more information. During slow times, people are more likely to be up for a chat and will often be happy to share more information. Get out there an talk to your clients and find out what they are working on, what the plans are for the new year or the months ahead at least.let them know what you have found regarding errors in process and documentation, expiring contracts and new inefficiencies you have developed and put in place.
This step will not only furnish you with a greater understanding of what is in the pipeline and how much work is coming your way, it also opens up relationships that can be productive during times of high workloads. Procurement teams are most effective, not when they have efficient processes or tight controls, but when they are fully engaged in the business and involved in planning and decision making. Give the business the confidence that you can add value, you understanding their needs and you are in control of the current workloads.
Slow downs are a wonderful thing and it is great to have a bit of a break, but don’t squander opportunity. Grab the chance to do the tasks that are low on the radar for delivering operational needs, but provide high value to supporting those needs. Cleaning house and getting a deeper understanding of the environment you are working in and the work the organisation needs to deliver will make your workloads more manageable and increase your real value to the organisation.