Most businesses, and by implication, many parts of businesses, suffer from a lack of focus—that laser-like, dead straight, intense drive to go in one particular direction.  When this is transferred to purchasing organisations, we can get quickly to a situation where we are trying to be all things to all stakeholders, with a confusion of message, approach, style and delivery.
Some of this is about the transition of purchasing departments and the misperception of what we do. Even after the length of time that broader purchasing activity has been around, there is still a belief that our role is focused on getting the price down and as such, this is easily understood and accepted as our core role.
Get Price Down, then, is a focused role; it is one we can understand, our stakeholders understand and which we are expected to deliver. The problem is that it is the wrong focus. The issues and challenges we face on a daily basis are not exclusively about price—they can often be expressed in those terms, but we are way down the track of looking at broader issues: risk in the supply chain; total cost of ownership; and strategic relationship development to name a few.
If the focus is not clear, where does that issue come from? In part, it must lie at the door of the management team in purchasing. As the purchasing organisation grows in stature, and delivers more value from more directions, then the difficulty actually becomes expressing what we are about.
The danger here is being far too vague. Using phrases that have room for interpretation doesn’t help others to understand what is going on. Get Price Right is easy to understand and has focus, drives behaviours and perception. Optimise Value Streams (which has been spotted out there) could be a phrase from the engineering department in Star Trek. Perhaps part of the issue is that the new style of purchasing department, which influences a broad range of areas in the business, actually hasn’t settled on its new role in the business and has a hard time expressing it. Looking at purchasing organisations, we see all sorts of initiatives being followed; so perhaps it is no surprise that there is a real difficulty in communication the essence.
Desparate for Value seems to be the summary of the approaches we are taking, but we need to find a better way to define that.
Here’s a thought—what do you think the core focus for a modern, developed purchasing organisation should be? 
Let us know at and we’ll pull the best together and put them into a new post in the next week or so.
Mark Hubbard is very focussed at Positive Purchasing.

About Mark Hubbard

I set up a specialist purchasing consultancy and a business focussing on seeking innovation. I work all over the world with clients, helping purchasing teams develop new ways of delivering value for their businesses. I love thinking about how purchasing works, and how it can be better, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you
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