Case study

Find out how our engagement driven approach was used to improve the processes within the Procurement department.

Background

The remit of the Procurement department is to achieve value for money on purchases of goods and services made by the University and to ensure that the procurement processes used are legal, compliant, accountable and safe. Purchasers of goods and services across the University are known to value the advice and guidance received from the Procurement department but have raised concerns regarding: the complexity and slowness of the procurement process, restrictions on choice of suppliers and obstructions on ‘spending my money’.

The Procurement department have themselves raised issues about: sufficiency of staff resources within the team, process effectiveness, system efficiency, team workloads and knowledge of the procurement process throughout the University.

What we did and why?

The engagement driven approach began by working with a small group of procurement staff, all of whom had knowledge and experience of the range of procurement processes used across the University. Working with an Improvement and Change facilitator, this group worked to map all the procurement processes used. The mapping of the processes sought to identify: each stage of a purchase journey, where hand-overs occurred, when approvals were required, how orders were placed, how goods or services were received, how and when invoices were approved and paid and how goods or services were delivered to the purchase originator. This mapping also sought to identify average time taken to deliver each stage. The mapping when completed was shared with the wider Procurement team to ensure accuracy and to receive additional comments. This produced an agreed ‘Procurement-world view’ process.

The Improvement and Change team then worked with the Procurement department to identify individuals and departments from across the University where the procurement experience was either positive or problematic or where complex purchasing occurred. Staff from these departments were then invited to attend a workshop. In this workshop the Improvement and Change team facilitated a discussion between members of the Procurement department and the other invited University staff. The facilitator established ground rules for the workshop to enable issues to be aired, without blame being assigned.

It became clear early on that a significant amount of local purchasing activity occurred within departments including: the investigation of products and potential suppliers, local approval and recording of approved purchases. Such activity could take up to 2 weeks before a locally approved purchase request was then forwarded to the Procurement department to place the actual order. All of this increased the overall purchase time and contributed to University staff frustration because the extended timeline was seen as the fault of the Procurement department, whereas the Procurement department believed that they had no control over delays which occurred before they became involved.

The discussions of the procurement processes also highlighted where changes could be made to improve communication, through-put of orders and reduced wait times.

It was agreed that a ‘purchase manual’ would help University staff understand the procurement processes and why things needed to be done in a certain way. The manual would also highlight those tasks which should be done locally, or those tasks to be done by the Procurement department.

Clarification of internal customer frustrations enabled the Procurement department to make some immediate changes which helped their customers and also benefited their own workloads. Identification of problems additionally added weight to the Procurement team’s requests for system developments.

Lessons Learnt

  • Communication between process owners and their customers is vital to ensure that problems are aired and solutions achieved
  • There are negative consequences where such communication is absent, conversations are necessary to help with process improvement.
  • Bringing process owners and their customers together puts ‘faces to names’ and leads to direct conversations which ultimately helps with process improvement.