More often than not, if an issue arises during a sourcing process, miscommunication or a lack of any communication for that matter is the root cause.  Suppliers invited to an RFP will likely not participate if the conversation does not begin with a phone call.  Overall, internal and external communication checkpoints need to occur during a sourcing initiative in order for the process to generate positive results.  And these days, the various modes of communication allow for these checkpoints to happen easily.

Written communication can consist of a letter, but most of the time is in the form of an e-mail or text.  Verbal communication can be a face-to-face discussion, a WebEx conversation, or a phone call.  Other channels exist as well and regardless of the method used, communication is critical when working with others to reach a certain objective.

Internal discussions that take place among a project team conducting a sourcing process should clearly outline each team member’s roles and responsibilities and establish a primary contact that will communicate directly with suppliers during an entire sourcing engagement.  In the event that this contact will be unavailable at times, other team members’ contact information should also be shared with suppliers.  Depending on the sourcing process timeline, frequent internal checkpoints should take place to ensure that the process as a whole is on track.  Any challenges that the primary contact is facing while working with suppliers should be relayed during these status meetings and the internal team should collaborate to determine how to address each one.  Also, depending on the scope of the project, the amount of suppliers involved, and the timeline, the project team may need to ramp up and ramp down.  If this is the case, each team member must fully understand their roles and responsibilities and what is expected of each throughout the process.  And overall, delegation of tasks should be clearly outlined as well.  The breakdown of internal communications is commonly known, but in some cases, is overlooked when assumptions are made and certain team members are also assigned other projects. 

In terms of external communication that takes place during a sourcing process, there are certain milestones in which a phone conversation with a supplier is more appropriate than an e-mail.  As mentioned earlier, the initial conversation with a supplier should always take place over the phone and most communication that follows should entail additional phone conversations.  Aside from the initial conversation to introduce a sourcing opportunity, project updates, negotiations, and feedback discussions/award notification calls are a few examples of where a phone call should be arranged with a supplier. 

I usually make the statement that there is no such thing as over communicating.  However, Fred Zimmerman, a contributor to the StarTribune, has some interesting thoughts he shared earlier today on some instances where there may be such a thing as “too much communication.”  Zimmerman states that “companies do need some communication, of course. But successful and unsuccessful companies handle communications differently. The formula isn’t magic. Successful companies insert more work between meetings.”  Along similar lines, there also may be too many people involved in the conversation.  Therefore, it is important to determine at the beginning of an initiative who should weigh in with approval and when.  Checkpoints may not be needed as often as some may think and more work can get done before touching base again.

Zimmerman continues to expand on his insights stating that “after a while, large fractions of an organization’s employees spend nearly all of their time communicating with one another. Little actual work gets done.  This is why companies, governments, universities and other organizations flounder and often ultimately fail — too many people are communicating.”  The involvement of “dignitaries” in each team meeting may also slow up the process; therefore, make sure the team members make sense and represent all the different angles that need to be considered when carrying out a particular project.  Certain individuals may need to stay informed but they may not need to be included in each project discussion.

Zimmerman then closes with the following statement that rings true when it comes to internal and external communication: “The major goal is to systematically accomplish work between meetings. Otherwise there is nothing to talk about.  Gauge the time lapse since your last conversation with a supplier.  Maintain a tracking sheet that details the last touchpoint with a particular supplier.  E-mail threads help with this as well.  Recurring meetings on the calendar are crucial for internal team meetings; however, make sure the frequency makes sense.
Check out some additional thoughts shared by Zimmerman, he goes on to walk through five (5) reasons that may lead to too much communication tied to too little results.
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Kathleen Jordan

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