2023.06.15: Don't Cover the Stove in Caution Tape

Original article published on Linkedin by Dustin Lanier, CPPO

(This article was also recorded as a podcast, give a listen here!)

At the Government Financial Officers Association conference, I had the opportunity to weave in one of my favorite analogies when it comes to procurement. I talked about aligning procurement with guiding principles, as opposed to "covering the stove with caution tape."

What is that about? It's understanding that procurement is a tool that if people become afraid of, they will treat it in a particular way - or if they understand it is a tool that has a strategic role, they might run it a different way.

So let me let drop in a live transcript from my panel session related to running a small procurement shop from that conference, then I'll pick up a few additional comments at the end.

"Don't have [end users] making up RFP's individually and tossing them out to the street - because you don't know what's in them."

Your lawyers aren't going to trust them so once one of them messes up once, then your lawyer is going to want to see every RFP for the rest of the time - which means everything is going to add two weeks.

Then if a financial encumbrance messes up, the CFO will want to see everything, which will add three weeks.

So if you wonder why procurement ends up going slow, it's because people end up not trusting it.

But in the same way that if we burn our hand on a stove, we don't cover the stove in caution tape, we teach people that the stove is a tool that is dangerous, but it is for purpose. It does things. So don't use the stove to burn hands, use the stove to cook.

So [it is important] to explain to people how to use tools so that it is not terrifying - and if we don't have three people to have to agree before you can approach the stove in the future - you will accelerate the ability to drive procurement."

So I'll briefly extend that analogy.

In our modern world, we have tools all around us that have the ability to do great good - from stoves to cars to chainsaws - but we need to learn how to use them and not be afraid to use them and teach people how to responsibly and effectively use these tools.

So to come back to procurements, we shouldn't simply layer governance and steps onto procurements in order to protect ourselves from the potential poor use of procurements.

We should train professionals to help wield those tools with precision and mastery, and not make it impossible to use the tool.

So thinking about it this way can maybe help take a look at whether the processes that we've put around procurements are appropriate if we train people how to manage risks.

And most importantly, how to use the tool for the purpose it was created for in the first place.