Procurement Problem Solving

TRIZI won’t rehash the full approach here, for that you can read today’s excerpt on our site or on the eSourcing Wiki, but there are three key take-aways worth calling out, and giving more thought to.

1. You can’t solve a problem until you know what it is.

Since TRIZ is a scientific method, the expectation is that all problems will be stated with a very high level of detail and specificity. If you are facing a challenge in a category of spend, being able to drill down to the very smallest and most measurable level best positions you to resolve the issue.

Even if you are facing a tough project objective, this approach may be useful. If you set out with an objective no more specific than to ‘reduce spend’ your actions are likely to miss their mark. How much spend? Over what period? On what categories/items/services? Make sure that whatever project reporting or documentation you put together forces you – and your stakeholders – to clearly articulate challenges and objectives in such a way that everyone will know if goals have been met by the solution put in place.

2. Over 90% of all problems have been solved before.

The ‘father’ of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller, originally came up with the approach by screening patent applications to see how many were truly innovative. What he found is that only 20% of all patents had somewhat innovative ideas in them. When he took his examination further, ranking the somewhat innovative ideas by just how innovative they were, just 4% contained new concepts and only 1% were truly revolutionary.

As difficult as your particular problem seems, the probability that someone else has already solved it is incredibly high. Start working through ever-widening circles of contacts looking for someone with the information that can at least jump you ahead in your project. Start with procurement team members and then extend your inquiry to suppliers, solution providers, former co-workers, and members of your professional associations. You may even find that it is helpful to post a question on LinkedIn or start a discussion in a relevant forum.

3. Look across multiple disciplines looking for possible solutions.

One of the findings from Altshuller’s work is that the reason solutions are not apparent to us is because the answer best answer comes from another discipline. What we see as a difficult procurement challenge may be easily solved by someone in accounting or AP. Realistically, we may need to look even further than that. Maybe we are looking for a new pricing model and have to jump industries to find one that fits our needs.

Think of the first company to formally market a “software as a service” or SAAS cost and delivery model. They needed a way to communicate that you will not really OWN anything, which means that your cost equation changes and your payment structure is altered, but without really changing the functionality you receive. They needed to position it in such a way that it drew on something familiar – like services pricing – to instill confidence.

Questions:

What approaches do you find best when facing a difficult challenge? Who in your organization to you go to looking for a solution or a brainstorming partner? Have you been part of a team where a truly new solution was needed – and found?

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