Rugby and the parable for procurement

Posted 29/10/2019

Like many, the England - New Zealand rugby union match in Japan this weekend held our attention, as much for the sheer spectacle and pure effort expended by both teams rather than the partisan demand for a result.

      Within all the skill and effort on the pitch, it was also notable that considerable thought had been put into other areas to give an advantage to one side or another. One standout element of this was the way the England team faced the haka with their own v formation. Although this caused some commentary about disrespect being shown, a Māori researcher in Aukland noted that this seemed a perfectly reasonable way to respond to the challenge laid down (  NZ Herald   )

      In the world of purchasing and procurement, we are often looking for ways to influence the other side to our way of thinking. It isn’t something that happens without thought, planning and preparation, and a helping of creativity on the way. There is often an intense focus on some elements of a negotiation or a supplier engagement, and other areas, such as controlling messaging, gets only limited time and effort. However, if we can find a way to focus on a key message to the other side, it can help influence the way they are thinking about us, and shape elements of the response we get.

      Moving on from this, the game was also a reflection on  both the whole concept of both marginal gains - improving all elements by 1% - as well as the need to have all the fundamentals right. A focus on marginal gains, which gained visibility through some of the coaching efforts for British cycling over the last 12 years, has two clear impacts. Firstly, all elements of an approach are pulled apart and tested for the opportunity for improvement, even if that improvement is small. The critical part here is leaving no stone unturned. The second part of marginal gains is not being fixated on the one giant leap. Procurement has, on occasion, looked for the step change delivery, but they are few and far between, and often have their own barriers to adoption and implementation. Future Purchasing’s Category Management Leadership report reflects on the need to have a broad pipeline of opportunities identified across categories, and marginal gains can be just as important as spectacular uplifts.

      Having the fundamentals right is also reflected in the category management leadership report. We have to get the basics of procurement right. Having good governance in place, having sound data, having a great understanding of the marketplace are all critical to success. The best rugby teams have skills, drills and fitness all solidly in place, and work tirelessly to make sure those elements will remain sound under intense pressure.

      Of course, procurement isn’t a game of rugby, but many of the foundations of success in both fields have similar roots. Being inspired by high quality sport can give us insights about what we need to do, which help us to success in our own field.


A few days to go to find out exactly how good that preparation has been!

Tagged by topic: procurement , purchasing

  by Mark Hubbard

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