Can Lean Principles Be Applied to Procurement and Purchasing Processes?

While there are many books written on the basics of the "supply" side of the supply chain (i.e. strategic sourcing, sourcing/procurement and purchasing), however, there hasn’t been much written on those areas from a Lean perspective. That situation was rectified when Paul Myerson published his significant book entitled Lean Demand-Driven Procurement: How to Apply Lean Thinking to Your Supply Management Processes.

I recently spoke with Paul Myerson and asked him: "Why haven’t organizations placed more emphasis on applying Lean principles to procurement and purchasing processes?" Here is his complete response:

While there are a fair number of books, articles, and blogs written on the basics of the “supply” side of the supply chain (i.e., strategic sourcing, sourcing/procurement, and purchasing), there hasn’t been much written on those areas from a Lean perspective. This is quite surprising, considering not only that supply chain costs (primarily procurement and transportation), can range from 50% to 70% of sales, resulting in what is known as the “profit-leverage” effect (measured by the increase in profit obtained by a decrease in purchase spend), but also helps drive downstream quality, productivity, and efficiency.

If you were to ask someone who knew a bit about Lean thinking how they defined Lean procurement, they would probably say that it’s about increasing productivity for procurement staff so they can spend more time on value-added activities rather than administration. While that is certainly true, it is also important to extend the view to how it connects and interacts with other processes, functions, suppliers, and customers, as today, procurement plays an important role in improving the flow of information and materials throughout the entire supply chain.

It is important to establish best practice Lean procurement functions that go beyond contract negotiation and establish crucial operational requirements, utilizing strategic sourcing activities such as market research, vendor evaluation and integration to support Lean activities such as Just-In-Time and Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) programs.

Furthermore, inventory management and sourcing supply chain decisions are directly linked to a company’s financial performance and can, as a result, can affect a company’s cash flow and profitability.

Therefore, a procurement organization must consider:

• The prevention of production disruptions due to inventory or material shortages, while remaining flexible to meet changes in customer demand or cope with market volatility.

• The trade-offs of inventory carrying costs and customer service levels.

• Optimal buying quantities that consider the trade-offs of inventory carrying cost and volume discounts.

• Moving from reactive to proactive procurement operations.

In summary, Lean procurement provides opportunities for process improvements and savings through cost reduction, eliminating wasted time and efforts, and improved cost analysis, and can improve contract compliance and develop better, sustained partnerships with suppliers and other business partners.

What do you think of Paul's perspective on Lean procurement? Does your company apply Lean principles to its procurement and purchasing processes? What results have you seen?