Supply Chain – Identifying a Need Versus a Solution

I can’t count the number of times in my career when I had stakeholders or team members come to me and say,”I need X done, and I need it done this way.”

A few “why” questions, and a little investigation reveals that, no, it actually doesn’t need to be done that way, it’s simply the way the individual thinks it should be done. What do they actually need? What is the overall end state that must be accomplished?

Once we have that figured out, we can then start researching solutions.

What is a need?

In this instance, the need is what the end state is. Materials, such a maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) procurement; a service, such as company-wide maintenance; or software for something like managing your supply chain. Identifying this to its simplest source can help you and your organization find the best solution.

What is a solution?

Here, a solution is the process or way that the need to achieved. There are times when a project manager or upper management says, “We must do this from A to B to C.”

A Solution Vs. A Need

But many times this is not the case. In my experience (this is anecdotal), more often than not the stakeholder/requestor/project manager has conceptualized a need, and has built a solution to fit it.

“We need program Y because our manager and department need it for work.” This is another sentence I hear very often. And, just as often, it’s not true. The IT department or one of the maintenance departments gets a visit from an account manager from a software company, manufacturer or distributer, and are sold on their offering.

The specific software or certain product is rarely what that department or business unit actually needs.

A need looks like the following:

  • We need a work glove that is ANSI cut resistance five, is fire resistant, and made of a material that won’t melt to the worker’s skin in sizes small to triple-XL.
  • We need a program that manages and integrates our procurement, contracting, warehouse operations, that talks to our current ERP system.

Those are model needs.

From these needs, scopes of work written and requests for proposal/quote can be created. Or, if working with an incumbent vendor on a blanket contract/master purchase order, your team can work with them to find the most cost effective solution from their offerings to meet your actual need.

The Role of Supply Chain/Procurement/Material Management

Here I call it “Supply Chain”, but your business unit or department may have a different title.

Regardless, it’ll be the job of you and your department or business unit to work with your stakeholders to identify their actual needs and not allow the latest shiny thing to derail good company and/or project budgetary goals.

This can be hard, as there are individuals within organizations who have de facto authority over others where they shouldn’t, and you will have to work with your manger, director, and perhaps even your VP and other stakeholders to overcome these people.

It’ll also be your job to make sure that all suppliers and contractors go through your department. I can’t count the number of times I have been getting a vendor to meet our needs at or near our desired pricing, when they get the ear of a supervisor or manager in the department I’m working with, and all of a sudden all of my had work is derailed. Time that could have been used completing the agreement is used getting everyone back on the same page, or renegotiating things that we thought were already locked in.

Working with your stakeholders, maintaining good relationships, and using the “5 Why’s” method (which is actually as many “why’s” as needed to get to the bare bones need) will help you and your organization identify these actual needs of your internal customers.

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