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Navigating Supply Chain Success with Clear Objectives

In my consulting practice, I consistently engage in projects centered around optimizing the Mobility Supply Chain. From governance and implementation to contracting and supplier management, my expertise lies in driving efficiency and effectiveness throughout the supply chain. A significant aspect of my work involves leading projects that navigate the intricate landscape of supplier selection within various mobility specialties, including immigration, technology, and comprehensive mobility management.

I have an extensive list of best practices that are useful for these kinds of projects to ensure fairness and transparency, get the best understanding of what suppliers will deliver, get the best cost or pricing, and other essential criteria. The number one recommendation, however, is to be clear on the objectives of the project. 

In most projects, establishing clear objectives is the first task. Why are we doing this? What are we trying to do? It’s basic. In my experience, these objectives tend to get lost in supply chain projects. This is particularly true when the project involves a long or complex RFP. The complexity of RFPs, selection criteria, and moving parts seem to lead to muddiness around objectives. RFPs within the mobility space leads groups into all the selection elements quality, services, scope of work, pricing, metrics, compliance, technology, culture, and other areas of evaluation. 

All this is good stuff, but often it separates groups in this process from their primary business goals. In some ways, the sales and marketing people have done their job well in these circumstances. They’ve shown us so much shiny pretty stuff that we’ve forgotten what we are there to buy in the first place!

Objectives Setting:  Clear, Concise, Measurable

Like the much-quoted late Yankee catcher opined” “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Having a well-defined roadmap is indispensable for any expedition, and in a supply chain project, clear, concise, and measurable objectives are that map. 

I recommend building three to five objectives derived in collaboration with all stakeholders. A quick acronym to use is Doran’s SMART framework, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  Understand, I am not just thinking about objectives for the success of a project or process, though those are important. But rather, these are about the ultimate business objectives that indicate the goals for engaging in the project. These might be obvious such as “Save 20% on service fees on immigration within the first twelve months of implementation” or “Reduce service failures to five per-quarters and improve employee satisfaction by 10 points.” 

Objectives can also be more strategic, complex, and subtle such as “reducing the demand of internal staff engagement in transactional work,” “providing better-administered benefits,” “creating an avenue for strategic talent guidance,” and “assuring supplier governance” are all common and worthy objectives. But remember to take the time to define these as closely as possible in the SMART framework. The investment pays off in the end. 

The Process: Driven by the Objectives

Having these objectives clarified makes all the following steps much clearer. They will drive the process you follow, the questions you ask, the evaluations you perform, and the people you involve. It also clearly dictates what suppliers to invite to participate. 

In any vendor selection process, there are two kinds of criteria to look at. The first are the baseline requirements. Any supplier must have these capabilities or commit to these requirements. Without possessing the baseline requirements, the supplier cannot be considered.   The second are the variables or extras. These are the wows, the nice to haves, the “specials,” or differentiators of one vendor to another. Going back to our objectives, if these are well defined, we can easily separate all of the shiny objects that help us reach our goals from those that may be super cool or exciting but do not really help achieve goals. 

Understand, I am not saying we don’t learn in this process. I have found the process of running RFPs to be one of the best and most exciting ways to learn about our industry, the trends, what’s happening, and all about the absolutely wonderful, creative, and inspiring people that populate it. At some point, we do have to make decisions, occasionally very hard ones, and having the objectives in front of us makes that process much easier. 

Clear Sites and Clear Queries

The temptation in any RFP is to ask every question that can be asked. You want to know everything, right? I’ve been involved in RFPs, some recently where indeed that has happened. But that strategy comes at a cost. At the end of the day, your team, whether that is a team of stakeholders or an outsourced consultant like me, must read and evaluate all these responses. Then, these need to be compared to one another. This is time-consuming, true, but more importantly, this risks the integrity of the process and may lead to results you do not want. 

Instead, our objective lead approach takes us to a place where we separate the content and style of our queries in an RFI, RFP, or in interviews, into the two buckets we described above. Baseline requirement questions are best asked as Yes/No, True/False, and “prove-it” queries. For these questions, we are not really interested in the quality of the response. We want to know if the vendor candidate meets the criteria and if they can prove it. That’s it! These are really qualifying questions, and in most circumstances, the vendor qualifies and is in or is out. 

That frees our time and efforts for the qualitative analysis needed to determine how this supplier candidate will help us reach our goals. Sometimes these questions become an iterative process. As suppliers learn more about what we need and the circumstances for providing it, they can provide further information and even creativity to help us get there. 

A Crew United: Stakeholder Buy-In

In my career, I’ve been involved in hundreds of RFPs and other vendor selection efforts. I’ve been involved in hundreds more on the other side of the fence as a vendor selling services. One of the things that everyone fears in this process is “the impasse”, two stakeholders diametrically opposed on the selection of the vendor and digging in. 

While this does happen, in fact, it is something I’ve rarely seen. With objective-driven processes leading to objective-focused questions and evaluation criteria, in the end, objectives act as the rallying point for all stakeholders involved in a project. Conversations may be lively. Indeed, they should be. Sometimes disagreements happen, and these can be great learning experiences. But this approach allows everyone to point to the same place on the horizon and make judgments on how to get there. 

Like the compass and charts on a sailboat, they foster a collective sense of direction, inspiring a cohesive and cooperative approach. Clear objectives provide a unified vision, making it easier to communicate with stakeholders, align their expectations, and garner their commitment and support for the project.

At the end of the journey, every participant can point to the clear measures for the success of a project. The answer, again, lies in the objectives. The degree to which a project’s outcomes align with its initial objectives stands as the most authentic gauge of its success for all involved. 

Thus, clearly defined objectives not only guide a project’s journey but also provide an unbiased measure of its success or failure. Global Mobility has complex supply chains and sometimes difficult-to-understand pricing and service models. The setting of clear objectives prior to embarking on supply chain projects is not just an initial step; it’s a continuous compass, steering the ship towards success. So, before setting sail, set your sights properly and clearly. Your project’s success depends on it.

Michael Ray has advised many of the world’s leading organizations on Global Talent Mobility, helping organizations build a globally mobile workforce with solutions, strategies, expertise, and advice. To learn more about global mobility and navigate the complexities of international talent management, visit www.globalmobilityadviser.com.

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The following article concerns Global Mobility and Relocation related supply chain planning and considerations for managing supplier selection projects. 

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