Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Scepticism is a procurement virtue

We all hold up Harvard, home of the HBR, as having a reliable voice worth listening to. That's where Michael Porter's 5 Forces, value chain and so much of procurement's basic academic theory derives from.  Yet we have now discovered that two of its esteemed professors, who influenced UK austerity strategy, got it wrong in their research. Fortunatelty one of student, Thomas Herndon, a PhD candidate (pictured), had the sense to question their data.

There is a not insignificant problem though in that the Chancellor may relied on Reinhart and Rogoff's flawed evidence which told him what he wanted to hear about austerity strategy, even though it has now been proved wrong.  But Osborne is not alone in being gullible.

We have also learnt that a key influencer in childcare policy was feted yet without much testing of his credentials.

Then we have the health nightmare unfolding in Wales as a result of the nonsense propagated by the now discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield over the dangers of MMR vaccinations. Many of the population, including the Lancet proved gullible.

That's not to mention the £50m spent on fake bomb detectors.

Is there not something which suggests that when you get someone who is coming up with a 'flat earth theory' you maybe should test a bit more, after all is that not what the scientific method is all about. The   student who have the bravery and tenacity to challenge the findings of the two Harvard professors was not welcomed with open arms but has been proved right.

As procurement professionals perhaps we also need to be bravery, more tenacious and sceptical.

Two examples of what I mean in terms of procurement: I recently critiqued a bid and found 25 assumptions stated by the bidder - when the buying organisation were challenged on the assumptions I found that raised a hare in terms of readiness to accept the bid without being contractually open to additional costs and risks. Secondly, some 20 years ago, I was asked to review a recommendation for a tender award a few hours before it was to be recommended to councillors for acceptance. I received many cynical looks when I strayed beyond my 'look at the process' remit and revealed that the 'numbers just didn't add up'. Of course the "specialist consultants couldn't be wrong" - well actually, sorry, they were wrong.

We should use the low risk option of questioning validity in procurement more often - all we need is to be more sceptical and recognise that scepticism can really add value.

So, why is it so difficult to be a sceptic? Isn't scepticism a procurement virtue?  

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