Thinking Outside The Box


Author: Margaret Gilbert 

It is time that procurement practitioners looked at all available options for procurement rather than working the ‘same way’.  There are times that ‘business as usual’ does not provide for clear thinking time.  However, this is an easy ‘out’.  The ’same way’ can lead to ongoing outcomes that do not provide the best procurement solution.

As each procurement is different then it stands to reason that consideration should be given all options.  The same or easy way may not be the best way. While it may take time to look at options this is worth doing and may save time and money later.

Choice and comparison is vital so finding all available suppliers and possible solutions is the outcome wanted.  The ‘same way’ occurs due to time and lack of choice but there is also a laziness factor.

Being able to ‘see the big picture’ and being prepared to keep an open mind can provide alternative solutions, ideas and concepts that can give you the best procurement outcome. Challenging the ‘as usual’ should occur so we can be sure that the best solution is found for the issue.

Investigating different avenues can also give you confidence that what you are proposing is the best solution. Yes, time has gone into looking at alternatives but knowing the best option is worth the time put in.

We must frequently question the best way to undertake procurement and we should look at our actions – do the actions follow the procurement principles of transparency, value for money and accountability or are some decisions being made around relationships?

While relationships are important there should be clarity around decisions that ensures there are sound reasoning.  Thinking must occur that considers collaboration, strategic contracts, contract design flexibility and consideration of future direction to name a few.

We have to consider long term procurement needs and by thinking strategically this becomes possible.  To achieve we should interact with suppliers who can provide ideas, vision and can think mid to long term.  If you do not look at all options, then this can restrict possibilities.

Issues – the issues are:

  1. Time – but why and is this because of poor planning? This is not a reason not to look at alternatives.
  2. Lack of procurement strategy – why is this the case?
  3. Lack of supplier involvement – is this because of lack of communication?
  4. The ‘same way’ – because it is easy?

Of the four issues, point 2 can affect the other issues. It is important to keep an open mind and be prepared to question. Ideas can flow from asking questions and provides an open forum. Being ‘closed’ in your thinking leads to same outcomes.

Suppliers have a role to play and can assist if they know that you would welcome ideas and multiple solutions. This is another purpose for being open to ideas and to encourage discussion and solutions.

Suppliers can and do assist. They can probably provide other options if they feel that they will be listened to. We cannot be surprised if they provide what you ask for without providing options if they do not feel their ideas will be receptive. It would be useful to provide a mechanism for discussion.

Useful checklist

  1. Are your procurement outcomes working?
  2. Are you happy/unhappy with procurement outcomes?
  3. Are you looking for multiple solutions?
  4. Are you operating in your ‘comfort zone’?

How to… the first step is to take some time to reflect on what you would like to achieve. So, steps to take are:

  1. Put in place a plan
  2. Put aside time to source
  3. Be prepared to ask questions
  4. Follow research – backtrack if necessary
  5. Contract with suppliers who can add value.

The benefits are

  1. A supplier who can provide solutions
  2. Relevant information to be incorporated into the mix
  3. Confirmation of supplier base
  4. A better way of working.

The major benefit is to consider options and take the time to undertake research. If the solution can work then this is a bonus. If the research does not assist, then you can keep to the original thinking. The work is not wasted as new ideas and requirements can trigger further thinking and direction if not immediately then at a later point.


It makes sense to consider alternatives especially if current ways of working do not reflect what was wanted. We should be open to thinking strategically and finding the best option rather than the ‘same way’.

Procurement is not static – so why should our thinking be? Taking the time is the first and necessary step which can lead to better outcomes.

We often operate in the ‘same way’ and do not look at options as we keep to our ‘comfort zone’. We must consider our organisation needs – not our own – and while time can be an issue this should not be a factor in not looking at alternatives.

If the research does not provide answers/solutions, it was still worth doing from a comparison perspective.

Let us be proactive and to engage with suppliers with the aim to achieve positive outcomes.

It is not helpful to be fixed in our thinking and actions. If we always continue the same track, we should not be surprised we get the same results. We should encourage alternatives, we should not allow for closed ways of operating and for procurement to be relevant procurement staff must be prepared to ‘grow’ and find better solutions. We do not want to stay static – procurement changes and we need to as well.

A question: is the ‘box’ limiting you from the best procurement solution? Are you making it harder on yourself by not looking at alternatives? It would be a shame to think that this is the case.

So, make the time and be prepared to ask questions and find the best solution for the procurement need. It is worth doing and the procurement outcomes will be better off by looking at what is possible. The ‘same way’ is not the ‘best way’.

Lastly, put in place a procurement strategy for mid-long term and have in place regular timeframes for research, ideas and reviewing to see that procurement outcomes are being met.

importantly, that the minority thinking does not increase but also perceived to be permanent and cannot be solved.

  • Margaret’s book ‘Contract Matters: Changing the Buyer/Supplier Conversation: A Paradigm Shift’ focuses on changing the way we manage procurement and to be open to ideas and look at all options. In addition, for us not be ‘closed in’ and be prepared to consider and research alternatives rather than keeping to the ‘same way’. or ($30.00 for e-book and $60.00 for hard cover book).   



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