How to apply Agile methodology in the purchasing department
The current economic scenario requires faster responses from both companies and their employees. Aspects such as late deliveries of indirect material, for example, can generate a series of problems within the operations chain, impacting productivity and, consequently, financial return.
In order to try to respond to these demands, the Agile methodology becomes fundamental. In this text, we talk about the main concepts of agile mindset and give some tips on how to implement it in the purchasing sector.
What is the Agile mindset?
There are many cases that can exemplify the moment we live in: considering the field of technology, for example, extensive communication networks have been developed that allow instantaneous interaction between individuals in different parts of the world. Regarding the economy, we have seen supply chains become global, influencing and changing processes that involve a number of actors (suppliers, buyers, logistics companies, among others).
There are many experts and academics who seek to conceptualize what we live in the modern world. An example is the term VUCA, created by the US military to define scenarios and contexts of war, which has come to be used as a business strategy as well – long story short, VUCA is an acronym composed by the first letter of the words: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.
More recently, in order to expand this concept, the term MUVUCA was also introduced, with the addition of two new elements: Meaningful (all actions are guided by a purpose as a result of the search for a meaning for life and the world) and Universal (concern about the global impact of what we do).
In order to find a way to follow up a reality in constant change, the agile methodology emerges: coming from the Information Technology sector, it seeks to reduce the rigidity of traditional organizations’ processes and procedures, encouraging smaller and faster deliveries, constant reviews and collaborative work. Read our Agile Supply Chain article to understand more about it.
What are the agile principles?
Even though it emerged in the IT area, the set of principles and processes that make up the agile methodology started to be used by different types of departments and organizations. In the purchasing area it is also incorporated as an alternative to the traditional model of acquisitions.
It is important to emphasize that the adoption of agile thinking is not an easy task, it requires organizational changes and the willingness of employees to change. The use of this methodology also depends a lot on the context, but there are some topics that can be applied in all situations:
1- Consumer / customer satisfaction is the main element: highest priority, with a focus on deliveries happening correctly and in a short time. This customer or consumer can be thought of in many contexts: in the case of purchasing indirect materials, for example, it refers to the company that needs a spare part to continue its production.
2- Change as an opportunity: this new way of dealing with challenges is extremely important, regardless of the context in which the change occurs, helping to increase the competitive advantages and the satisfaction of the clients served. The focus now is on solving a problem and not on the problem itself.
3- Speed and value go together: in short periods of time, high value-added deliveries must be made, whether the value is tangible or intangible. These deliverables can be products or services resulting from a process or project, which must be regularly revisited with updates. Here, “value” can be understood as the customer’s view (or expectation) of benefits and sacrifices in relation to what is offered.
4- Collaboration overcoming conflict: members of a project must develop the team mentality, in order to guarantee the transparency of communication and the shared commitment to guarantee success.
5- Power to people: projects are built and led by people and teams engaged. That is, they must be given the tools and working conditions necessary to succeed and complete the assigned tasks. Soluparts already understands and applies this concept since its creation, reflecting it in our purpose: Empowering Buyers, a maxim that reinforces the company’s focus on customer satisfaction.
7- Demonstrable values and results must guide each project: deliveries that meet or exceed expectations in terms of precision and value (tangible and intangible) become useful references for future initiatives and projects.
8- Keeping activities stable and sustainable: while delivering value is a priority, processes must be developed and optimized from a sustainable perspective to ensure that everyone is involved in a stable manner, without surprises that hinder decision-making.
9- Continuous improvement ensures agility: processes must be increasingly efficient through regular changes.
10- Simplicity is an essential element: maximizing returns using the least possible resources.
11- Self-managed teams are more successful: better results come from agile teams that are able to organize themselves.
12- There is always room for improvement: reassessing processes and making necessary changes to bring more efficiency and effectiveness are always welcome.
The twelve principles shown above, are based on the Agile Manifesto, which is the basis of mentality and all agile methodologies around the world. These principles were designed and coined by the Agile Alliance, a global non-profit organization committed to supporting people who explore and apply agile values, principles and practices to make the development of solutions and projects more effective, humane and sustainable.
This alliance was created by a group of 17 developers who, at a meeting in Utah, USA, from February 11 to 13, 2001, developed the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Read more about the Manifesto and its principles on the alliance’s official website.
Agile thinking in the purchasing department
Unlike traditional models, most commonly focused on cost reduction, Agile thinking in purchasing seeks to generate value by supporting the organization’s objectives and business needs. Considering some crucial aspects of the procurement sector, it is possible to raise the main differences between the traditional and Agile forms of purchasing:
Instead of fixed and extensive planning and documentation, with the Agile methodology, a more responsive, objective and iterative position is valued, attentive to the real needs of the moment. Thus, identifying priorities becomes very important for purchasing employees.
The focus should be on elaborate more collaborative terms and built stronger relationships with suppliers, having as a result the gaining of shared success (questioning the competitiveness and rigidity present in traditional format contracts). Learn more about the topic.
They have to be iterative and responsive, in other words, suppliers can be changed after a round of work, as required by changing circumstances. On this topic, see the article we have specifically prepared on the application of agile methodology in the context of supply chains.
4 steps to make your purchasing department more agile, today
Below are some ways to make your purchasing process more agile:
1- Daily meetings at the beginning of the work day: lasting between 15 and 30 minutes, these meetings help to establish the day’s tasks, encouraging collaboration between team members to solve possible problems. In many companies, to encourage agility, it is proposed that participants remain standing;
2- Apply the notion of sprints, which would be small projects or project fragments, sequences of iterative work (with repetition of actions) in order to have a more compartmentalized notion of the whole, speeding up possible reevaluations and changes in the acquisition path;
3- Definition of priorities: in the face of frequent changes within the company, establishing priorities and regularly reviewing them helps to streamline the purchasing process;
4- of software that helps in Agile management: technology can help centralize data related to a purchase, in addition to facilitating communication and alignment between dispersed teams. There are a series of programs aimed at the application of Agile methodology in companies.
In this article, we show how Agile methodology can help a lot to optimize the projects and processes of purchasing departments. Even though the method was originated to meet the demands of software development, many business areas have adopted these guidelines, resulting in more effectiveness and efficiency. Responding quickly to market changes has become a competitive advantage.
The purchasing department has a lot to learn from Agile, but for that it is necessary to be sure that its organizational culture and professionals in the area are flexible and resilient. To help you optimize your purchasing department, we suggest the following readings:
Another way to streamline the activities of your purchasing department is to count on a company specialized in the search for spare parts (MRO) from more than 15000 brands anywhere in the world, such as Soluparts.