A Holistic View to Procurement, by Bob McGannon (PMP, GWCPM, MPC )

As project managers we often have to manage or play a significant role in a procurement exercise in order to bring a significant product or service in house for our project. Standard processes are typically applied to these procurement exercises; and that is appropriate. As procurement can involve significant amounts of time and money for both the purchaser and the potential vendors, a methodical and well thought out approach that treats all vendors equally is vital. However, while engaged in this important and process oriented exercise, the project manager involved in a significant procurement exercise should keep other aspects in mind. Here are Mindavation’s four approaches we recommend for successful and holistic procurement management.

1 – Make it fair for all vendors

As mentioned in the introduction all vendors need to be treated equally in the procurement exercise. Information needs to be distributed with equal timeframes; each vendor should have an equal opportunity to provide information, demonstrate products or share information from other clients. Standard procedures handle this routinely. However, there are other considerations which need to be reviewed to ensure the process is genuinely ‘‘fair’’.

Is there a possibility that the vendor could have information that other vendors do not have? This can occur more often than you may think – prior engagements when the vendor worked in your organisation, or former employees that may be associated with a vendor in some way could potentially give one vendor an advantage over others. Although it is good that you get an insightful proposal from a vendor with good information, getting multiple proposals that are insightful is an even better outcome.

It can be useful to reflect on what any of your vendors might know and prepare an overall review section in your procurement documentation, to equalise the level of information available to all vendors involved in your procurement exercise. Be sure you include data about your organisation as a whole, as well as your project.

2 – Ensure it supports the needs of the business and change the approach if necessary

Things don’t always proceed as planned; procurement exercises are no different! Vendors will need to change schedules, viable new vendors become known and other vendors might drop out of your procurement exercise. It is tempting to cite things like your project schedule and move forward without making appropriate adjustments for these changing procurement conditions. Although it is important that we maintain our project schedules, ensuring that an appropriate vendor has an opportunity to ‘‘present their case’’ could well be the best thing to do for your project, and in turn, your organisation.

With most procurement exercises, it is possible to continue to treat each vendor fairly (as discussed above) while altering the schedule or the means of evaluation of each vendor to ensure you are finding the best solution for your organisation. If you can ensure each vendor has the same degree of preparatory information, with the same amount of time to process that information, it is probably fair to the vendors. Depending on the cost and duration the product or service being purchased will be in place, a significant schedule change can be justified. In a recent case, a 3-4 week delay has been accepted, because the product being purchased will likely be used by the organisation for up to 10 years. Although the prospect of a month’s delay creates a bit of tension, when considering the project is seeking the best solution for a ten year duration, the month long delay becomes an insignificant issue.

3 – Look for opportunities to start the organisational change management process

A procurement exercise often presents the first opportunity for the project team to expose a project element to a larger collection of stakeholders. Although it is often more efficient to have a smaller number of people view and evaluate a product, or outcome of a service, a prudent project manager can often take advantage of an early change management success factor. Having a larger set of stakeholders examine and express opinions about a potential product BEFORE a final selection is made can engage clients very early into the project’s purpose. People feel a sense of ownership when they can participate in the decision making process, and making a larger stakeholder group part of the decision making process can be quite powerful.

A warning here however: do not take the time and energy to involve stakeholders in the ‘‘decision making’’ if their input will not be seriously factored into the decision criteria. Should your project team end up making the decision with little or no influence from the larger stakeholder set, you are treading on dangerous ground. If your project team likes product A over B, but the stakeholders like B over A, your attempt at an early change management ‘‘buy-in’’ exercise could lead to a significant project setback, giving you an issue to manage before you hardly get started.

4 – Start the relationship as soon as it is practical

One of the primary rules of procurement exercises is to engage in equal communication with all vendors, utilising similar timing and structure. That type of constraint on communication styles and approaches does not allow for much relationship building. However, once vendors are short-listed or you enter into the contract negotiation stage of the procurement exercise, you will be spending considerable time with vendor personnel that may be part of your ongoing project “world’.  Some project managers are hesitant to engage in relationship building because they remain in the ‘conservative equal communication mode’ with vendors for longer than they have to, or should.

The optimal outcomes from a negotiation session is not only to get a favorable deal for your business, but to also establish a sound, trust-based relationship that you can count on when  receiving ongoing support, expand product scope or are looking for the next product or service you may require. Project managers should feel free to engage in relationship building during the final stages of a procurement exercise, as long as that relationship building does not include sharing information that isn’t available to all of the vendors still involved in the procurement exercise.


Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

Please contact the Mindavation team to see how we can assist your organisation in delivering successful outcomes for your projects. Mindavation’s project consulting and interactive courses are delivered in a pragmatic and informed way, drawn from more than 320 years of combined project experience.

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