Friday, 18 May 2012

Veering towards procurement bravery or stupid sourcing?

On 9 May, despite others criticising the government's U-turn on fighter jets, I tweeted that the U-turn was worthy of praise.  It took bravery to recognise a wrong procurement decision had been made and then change direction rather than 'keep calm and carry on'.

Today we saw another potential act of procurement bravery.  This time it was the decision to place in custody the outsourcing of £1.5bn of police services.

Regardless of whether or not these were initially examples of stupid sourcing, to me there's a need to acknowledge that stupid can become brave and clever procurement.  Revisiting and changing procurement decisions before it's too late has to be one of the key benefits of Gateway Reviews. It also requires bravery. (Although somehow I doubt that a gateway review prompted the revisiting of the above two examples). Why do we so rarely hear of procurements being aborted or changed as a result of Gateway Reviews - surely that is a cause for celebration that the risk management processes worked!

Having said that,
there is also a need to consider Surrey Chief Constable, Lynn Owen's justification for placing the procurement process under arrest.  She said:
I think we have really struggled to describe what we are seeking to achieve and we need to invest much more time in doing that together. As a result I am not supportive of going to the next stage in the procurement process at the moment.
Now the perceived act of procurement bravery may have just managed to claw back a stupid sourcing award.

Does the Chief Constable mean the specification was inadequate in setting out the outcomes to be achieved?  If yes, then the balance tips toward stupid sourcing.

If, on the other-hand, she means poor communication with stakeholders was behind the decision to stop the procurement that's an entirely different issue. I have previously blogged on the need for 'accentuating the positive'.  But if lack of stakeholder engagement and ownership is what was considered at fault, then by implication, the Chief Constable must therefore mean she would not have arrested the procurement process if she had won the hearts and minds of stakeholders. This is a big issue because, as others have blogged, the procurement may well have been fundamentally stupid sourcing.  We need to know before a commendation for bravery in procurement can be awarded.

Either way there are lessons:
  • be brave enough to stop a procurement if the business case no longer stacks up;
  • make sure you communicate clearly the outcomes you want to achieve;
  • make sure you manage the risk of poor stakeholder management and communications, through, unsurprisingly, good stakeholder management and communications.

Background reading:

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