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The surprising power of creativity to drive better procurement outcomes

September 20, 2021 | Bonfire Interactive

Creative architecture representing creativity in procurement

Over the past 19 months, public procurement teams have been challenged to get creative with how and where they source goods and services. For better or worse, supply chain disruption, economic instability, and skyrocketing demand have all been drivers of innovation. But, according to Darren Tompkins, that’s nothing new. Procurement has always been an arena where creativity is essential to success.

In this episode of Inside Public Procurement, the Manager of Purchasing for the City of Kelowna sits down with us to share valuable insights from 20 years of experience in K-12 and municipal purchasing. We chat with Darren about what creativity in public procurement looks like and why it doesn’t have to come at the cost of compliance.

Keep reading for all the highlights from our conversation—and discover even more in the full episode. You can find it on our website or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Why public procurement needs creativity

Public procurement teams tend to focus on driving efficiency and standardization to manage the many projects, stakeholders, and vendors they’re juggling at any given time. But Darren says falling back on standard processes isn’t always optimal. “There are times where, if you’re trying to fit that square peg into a round hole, you need to be a little more creative.”

That’s where thinking outside the box becomes essential—because there will always be procurement challenges that demand new and novel approaches. So what do those approaches look like? Here are four big ideas Darren shares on the podcast.

1. Rethink repetitive tasks

In certain purchasing areas, there’s a much higher transaction volume and that “takes up effort and time.” In those instances, “you really want to get your buying team using their critical thinking skills and adding value to everything they touch.”

Darren suggests automating as many low-value transactional activities as possible, such as using P-Cards or standing orders with certain suppliers for low-value repetitive spend. “And then really get your buyers immersed in the files they’re working on… getting good long-term agreements with suppliers to provide what we’re looking for and leveraging their expertise.”

2. Tailor the selection process to your project

Few procurements are suited to a one-size-fits-all selection process. Darren says, although it’s often the go-to approach, using a price-based tender isn’t always ideal—for example, when buying professional services. “When you’re buying knowledge, when you’re buying expertise… you really want to engage with the service provider that can provide the best outcomes for you.”

Using a quality-based, rather than price-based, approach in those instances allows Darren’s team to make sure they’re always finding the best vendor for the specific goals they need to achieve. Ultimately, that’s the best way to use taxpayer dollars efficiently.

3. Explore creative methodswithin limits

Every procurement professional knows that public agencies in Canada are bound to strict purchasing regulations. And Darren says encouraging creative thinking on your team doesn’t mean throwing out the rule book. “I think one of those things that we need to satisfy is transparency in our process… Within a procurement, you can do a lot of things, but you need to say what you’re going to do ahead of time and it needs to be in your document.”

Creativity within limits—and with full transparency—isn’t just important for process improvement, it’s also critical for your team’s career development. Darren recommends taking low-risk opportunities to experiment with pilot projects as a way to try new approaches and get everyone in the organization on board.

4. Reframe the RFP ask

Another area where Darren says teams can think more creatively is the RFP. “At times, we don’t necessarily have the internal expertise to describe, in fact, what we want to buy or what we need to address a problem. And so, in an RFP, I encourage our teams to think about presenting a problem rather than presenting the solution.”

“Let the marketplace, which are the experts in this area present a solution to you, present what you’d like to see as an outcome, or present the problem and ask them for answers… And that’s really where an RFP can produce innovative solutions.”

Get ready to be inspired

The greatest opportunity that creative thinking gives procurement professionals, Darren says, is the ability to make a difference. “If you’re not feeling as though you’re making a difference right now, find a space where you can be an influencer and a champion.” 

Inspiring, right? There’s lots more where that came from on the full episode of Inside Public Procurement. We cover topics like social procurement, bringing more value to your organization, and strengthening relationships with vendors through the power of feedback. So be sure to bring us along on your next lunch break or evening commute.

Hungry for more tips, insights, and inspiration you can use to level up your procurement strategy? Head over to our website, or find Inside Public Procurement on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts!

About the author

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Bonfire Interactive

Bonfire helps public procurement teams reach better sourcing outcomes through an experience that’s blazingly fast, powered by peer insights, and so easy to use—vendors love it just as much as buyers do.