groans as another large batch of envelopes leaves the office. Customers groan as another ton of paper hits their desk. The Procurement Manager groans as the returned pack, now augmented with a myriad of copies of procedures, certificates and evidence, lands on his desk. The Purchasing Clerk decides
to take an early lunch to avoid having to deal with the review process. Joe, in Production, groans as he
realises that the new supplier he needs to order from isn’t on the list of approved suppliers and sends a request for them to be evaluated. And so the process goes on.
Of course many of you will say that the process has been dramatically improved through the use of electronic questionnaires. Granted, rainforests may well have been saved and the Mail Room staff are less likely to suffer hernias, but I’d contend that the process hasn’t been made more effective or efficient through the introduction of e-technology and that for many of us the process is just less paper intensive but still as irritating and time consuming.
The ISO9001:2008 standard requires that we evaluate and select suppliers based on their ability to supply product in accordance with our own requirements.
How often do we sit down and consider what our requirements are for a particular work stream? Do we ever make the link between the processes within production and within procurement? In many businesses which we work with the silo approach is very clearly alive and well with Production, Purchasing and Finance working entirely independently of each other. Surely there has to be a better way?
If we go back to the premise that businesses work better when they adopt a process approach (management principle 4 - a desired result is achieved more efficiently when related resources and
activities are managed as a process) then we need to look at things differently, cohesively and as one organisation all working together to achieve the goal of business improvement through effective procurement processes including supplier evaluation. Let’s look at how this could work.
The business receives an order from a customer for a new product. The Sales team process the order and pass it to Production. Production study the order carefully and realise that they need to find someone to supply a particular component which is an intrinsic part of the goods which have been ordered. They speak with the Procurement team to establish who has the skills and capabilities to enable them to procure the component. It becomes clear that the company don’t currently have anyone who has been evaluated and approved for the supply of this particular type of component. It’s time to send out the dreaded questionnaire again. But wait – before we send out the questionnaire (all 42 pages of it) let’s just review it and see which of the 345 questions posed are relevant to the requirement. Production are probably best placed to do this but will need some input from the Procurement team to make sure that questions relating to business sustainability are retained. The Procurement Manager and the Production Manager sit down together and look at what it is that is required.
They quickly dismiss the majority of the questions but the Production Manager identifies some other questions which he feels are particularly relevant in this instance. The 42 pages are now down to 3 and these are emailed through to the supplier who has been selected for evaluation. The SQE Manager at the supplier groans inwardly when he sees those words ‘Supplier Approval Questionnaire’ pop up on his email system. He makes himself a cup of tea and sits down to spend the next 2 hours filling in another series of pointless questions. He opens up the file and finds that it’s really quite a short questionnaire. Clearly this customer doesn’t understand how many questions need to be asked! The SQE Manager starts to work his way through the questionnaire and his view of the customer begins to change. There may not be many questions but they are all incredibly targeted and are all open, ie they require more than a yes/no answer. Some of the questions are outside of his knowledge and understanding and as a result he needs to bring in other members of the management team to contribute to the response. The team begin to understand a lot more about what this new client may require of them and that they recognise that they need to brush up on some areas if they win the work. The 3 pages of the questionnaire end up being 10 pages when all their responses are input and as the questionnaire is sent back for review the team breathe a sigh of relief.
The Procurement Manager notes that there’s a supplier approval questionnaire landed back in his in-tray and is on the verge of pinging it to the Procurement Clerk when he realises it’s the questionnaire that he and the Production Manager put together the day before for the urgent job. He phones the Production Manager and suggests that they, and their SQE Manager, sit down and go through the responses. The team have a number of further questions and it is agreed that the Production Manager will follow these up by email.
Eventually it is agreed that the supplier is able to supply the component in accordance with the business requirements and an order is placed. The supplier knows what the customer wants and has made the improvements to his business which he recognised were necessary when he filled in the form, the customer has confidence in the supplier because they have seen relevant evidence of their capability and systems and both parties have benefitted from the time spent making sure that they understand each other. They have agreed the stages at which verification of the product will be undertaken in line with clause 7.4.3 of ISO9001:2008 as both parties understand the risk to the end product and they are keen to minimise the effect this could have on the end product but also on their two businesses. The ethos behind management principle number 8 ‘an organisation and its suppliers are interdependent, and a mutually beneficial relationship enhances the ability of both to create value’sits well with this scenario. It is hard to see any degree of mutual benefit from the alternative approach to supplier evaluation of the issue, completion and evaluation of ‘one size fits all’ questionnaires.
Now it’s your turn. In a spirit of continuous improvement here are two challenges for you:
Next time you want to evaluate a supplier look carefully at what you want from that supplier and how you can truly assure yourself of their capabilities. Go through the dreaded questionnaire or audit protocol and make sure every question which is there has relevance and will provide you with information which adds value and understanding and will enable you to evaluate on the basis of the effect that supply will or may have on your finished product or service. Ask yourself how you will use the information provided to develop and improve your own supply processes. If you aren’t going to use the information ask yourself why on earth you are asking for it!
Test your own company against your questionnaire. Go through it and fill it in. How easy is it to answer, how many questions make you scratch your head in bewilderment, how many make you sit up and think about your own level of compliance? If you received the completed questionnaire would you be likely to approve the business? How many questions are there which you simply couldn’t answer because your own business isn’t compliant?
Now go back and revisit the questionnaire and make it work – your
suppliers will thank you for it!