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SCRUM for supply chain management.

2021 saw a massive amount of challenge for procurement teams; supply chain management challenges, political changes, trade barriers, COVID related staff shortages in all areas, blocked ports and working from home have thrown it all up into the air.

A rapid acceleration of COVID suggests that we might be seeing a repeat of the supply chain management challenges ramping up into the early part of 2022, alongside more staff shortage and more working from home – a return to ‘normal’, or to whatever normal is likely to become, seems some distance off.

In 2021, procurement focused on responding to the supply chain challenges while embracing continued distance working. In 2022, we will need to look at how to be even more effective with continuing challenge levels focusing on a different, leaner, lighter approach.

The tools for this do exist around us and making sure we understand how to apply them to the most significant effect is where we need to go. Along with several seminal techniques (Kraljek and Porters 5 Forces first appearing around the same time), SCRUM approaches originated in 1986, described as a ‘lightweight, iterative and incremental framework’ for new product development. However, it is equally applicable to the resource-constrained and task rich environment we find ourselves in today.

It originated to cope with the idea that requirements frequently change and that there will be unexpected challenges – which seems to describe today’s world in supply chains perfectly!

At its heart lie a few easy to apply concepts. One is the concept of an agreed list of tasks and activities which need to happen to complete the project in mind – the backlog. The second is a way of demonstrating which tasks are still to be completed, which are ‘in play’ and which are completed – typically, three sub-lists, preferably visible to everyone participating. Lastly is the idea of a short daily meeting that tests for progress on the in-play tasks and rapidly agrees which new tasks need to be ‘in-play’. The aim is to maximise a teams areas of focus in any particular period.

There are more refinements available. Periods of activity are referred to as ‘sprints’, and each sprint has a focus for delivery and an agreed duration – which may be a couple of weeks. Sprints have a short planning phase and a review phase at the end to look at effectiveness. More mature teams will develop and adopt deeper techniques.

The SCRUM approach is really at the heart of this – redirecting resources, testing for blocks, and generally maintaining momentum. Making these meetings very short and impactful is essential – focusing on the output and not the meeting.

There’s a lot of refinement of technique available and complexity that can be added. However, keeping it simple and directed and being agile and getting to outputs is an excellent place to start.

In this remote working era, getting a group of people to stand around a planning board seems unlikely. There is software that can help, even within the boundaries of MS Teams, where shared task lists can be set up using a card system, replicating the analogue approach of moving post-its around.

The appeal of the approach is that we can use it in a whole range of procurement environments: supply chain management, implementation planning, SRM, systems integration and more.

The challenge is to let go of less flexible working styles, and working out how it links to strict objective setting approaches can be a challenge. However, it is all worthwhile when we can deliver more because we adapt flexibly.

SCRUM – try it in 2022; you’ll like it!

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Related case study – Procurement strategy and skills building

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