A lot is said about how much stakeholders should be involved in the strategic sourcing process. You hear that early engagement will generate buy-in and ongoing communication will likely generate alignment around supplier selection and negotiations, and ultimately enable a smooth implementation. While this is all true, where do we draw the line between an adequately engaged stakeholder versus a stakeholder that ends up dictating the sourcing process?

As a strategic sourcing professional, I have had the opportunity to work with all kinds of stakeholders, from those who engage too much to those with whom I barely even get to speak a few times. Even when the process or the job at hand is similar, no matter what you do, you will always see different levels of engagement. Now, a lot of folks will have an opinion on how to engage those stakeholders who don’t participate enough or tend to be inconsistent. I’ll let them speak to that. But, what happens when the stakeholder actually wants to take over the whole process? That’s what I want to know.

Let’s start by saying that the roles should be clear, especially yours (assuming you are a sourcing professional). While stakeholders will typically own subject matter expertise in their field, they will likely lack skills that the strategic sourcing professional will have. They may lack your ability to navigate the market, to negotiate with suppliers, or to capture overarching strategies that the stakeholder alone may not see; you should identify those threats early on and communicate them to the stakeholder.

The second very important aspect is the process itself. Strategic Sourcing should and must drive the process; otherwise, a few things are very likely to happen, such as scope creep, stakeholder bias, and supplier confusion. The main issue with an overly engaged stakeholder will begin with mixed messaging; for instance, the stakeholder may start follow-up conversations with those suppliers whom (s)he likes or place additional requests and questions without following a formal communication process. The bigger problem with this is not that an innocent question to one supplier (under qualification) will harm anyone. The issue is that what that supplier may be hearing is “the stakeholder is engaging us directly, that means a great deal of interest.” Whether that’s true or not, the notion may hinder your negotiating leverage with that supplier or diminish the credibility to your process. That’s not to say questions should not be asked by the stakeholder, but rather that the form and the channel of communication will matter in order to maintain the status quo. That form and channel should be dictated by sourcing.

This is also true for any and all steps of the sourcing engagement. Typically the best time for a stakeholder to actively engage with suppliers without the direction or support of sourcing is after the implementation has occurred. Before then, stakeholders should synergize with sourcing in a way that enables the sourcing professional to capture all the stakeholder requirements and facilitate a creative process that maximizes the return value. The lesson here is that when it comes to sourcing, you own the process, and stakeholder over-involvement may be as risky as stakeholder indifference. The good thing is that the solution to both involves the same: prompt communication and diligent attentiveness.

Photo courtesy of Icosystem Corporation, copyright 2010.
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Diego De la Garza

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