Procurement: A Project Manager’s Best Friend

By Kevin Korterud
We all agree that projects need things. These things can run the gamut, from pencils to gas turbines. In the past, the corporate function that acquired things for projects was called “purchasing.” Its sole role was to do what the title implies — purchase things. As corporate governance evolved, so did the purchasing department into what we now know as procurement.
Today, procurement has to orchestrate the acquisition of hundreds, if not thousands, of things for projects on a daily basis. In addition, this department puts in place policies that keep project managers from purchasing a gas turbine when they need only a pencil.
Traditionally, project managers have viewed procurement departments as a barrier to progress and a constant source of frustration. However, this friction can sometimes be the fault of the project manager, who’s not practicing good stakeholder management with procurement team members.
As with any other stakeholder, team members from procurement need to be an integral part of the project team. Let’s look at ways to make this happen, as well as the benefits of doing so:
  1. Share the big picture. Project managers tend to assume that procurement team members already have deep knowledge of the things they need to acquire for the project. Even with procurement departments dividing acquisition activities into product categories, it’s nearly impossible for procurement team members to know everything about their product category. To enable a smooth acquisition process, share the objectives, scope and schedule for the project with them. By clearly understanding the needs of the project, the procurement team can be more effective in acquiring things for the project in a timely and effective manner.
  2. Clear division of responsibilities. As part of the project, procurement team members need to understand their roles and connection points with other team members. This understanding of others’ roles is essential so that the procurement team members know what and with whom to execute acquisition activities. In addition, it is also essential to discuss the best way to engage suppliers with procurement team members, as a poor supplier engagement process can adversely impact the project budget, costs and resulting benefits. A good side effect of discussing vendors together is that the project manager and procurement team members work closely and keep each other informed of acquisition progress and potential issues.
  3. Recognition as a key team member. Acquisition activities on projects can involve both short-term consumables (e.g., printer paper, temporary office space, etc.), as well as long-term capital investments (e.g., software and hardware). Especially in the latter case, the activities of procurement team members can have a substantial influence on the outcome of the project. When organizing the project, ensure that procurement members are a visible and engaged part of the team that reports to the project manager. They should also be included in project team meetings and project work plan, and contribute to the project status report.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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