We have been talking a lot about design thinking in procurement lately. Although not a new concept, design thinking does require a mindset shift from the traditional approach most procurement practitioners take when they tackle a new project.

The heart of design thinking centers around crafting the simplest, most user-friendly solutions to challenges. It first requires doing a deep dive into the problem to understand it from all angles. Design thinking doesn’t have us working solo at our desk coming up with processes and procedures in a vacuum. Instead, it depends on in-depth discussions with key stakeholders to better understand the issue. Some questions include:

  1. What are you trying to achieve and what are your priorities?

  2. What frustrates you about your current process?

  3. What is the biggest problem you would like to eliminate?

  4. What would be the biggest benefit you could imagine from this project?

Asking questions such as these from multiple stakeholders helps get at the core of the problem to generate ideas that address actual needs and pain points.

I recently participated in a virtual discussion on design thinking in procurement with Shahid Bhaty and Scott Furlong from ISG where it was noted that a LinkedIn poll found about 56% of procurement professionals have not yet applied design thinking to their work. To shed light on how using this approach could help yield success, we shared real-world examples of design thinking at work, particularly as it relates to the digital transformation of procurement.

  • Simplifying Engagement Access for Stakeholders: So much of what procurement does is interconnected from your stakeholders to your suppliers to your internal functions. For one client, we looked at the entire procurement ecosystem and noticed that there were about a dozen different entry points to engage with procurement. This made prioritizing, organizing and tracking projects more complicated than necessary. The solution, after convening focus groups to better understand the issues, was to develop a simple intake platform – ProjecTRAC – that offered one place to engage with procurement, as well as the ability for stakeholders to gain transparency and visibility into the project’s status and progress. Taking a look at the issue with a design thinking-lens allowed us to simplify the process and increase engagement with procurement, which was a positive for all involved.

  • Streamlining Supplier Onboarding: For this same client, we uncovered another area that was more complicated and time-consuming than it needed to be for suppliers. Every time a new project was on the table, suppliers had a lengthy list of questions to address. Not all of them were relevant and often they had been answered multiple times previously. We helped develop a digital tool to keep the core answers for each supplier on file, so that only novel questions specific to the new project needed to be asked and answered. The result? Quicker cycle times and less duplicative work for the suppliers.

Get Started on Incorporating Design Thinking Into Your Next Project

Design thinking workshops are a great way to dip your feet into what is possible for your procurement organization. Pick a problem you want to solve for and then gather a diverse group of stakeholders to brainstorm potential solutions. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Consider developing a WOW statement – a simple, crystallized form of the ultimate end goal (i.e., everyone will have the ability to order anything from anywhere in the world in 90 seconds).

  • Create an environment conducive to interaction and free-thinking. Hold your workshop in a room with several white boards, lots of sticky notes, and no desks. Keep it fast-paced and encourage idea builds.

  • Develop prototypes of potential solutions that come out of the workshops, but don’t expect a one-and-done prototype. Solicit additional feedback from end users and revamp, revise and improve until you develop a winning solution.

For help in holding your own design thinking workshop, I invite you to check out our interactive “Design Thinking for Procurement” handbook for tips and suggestions.


About the Author

Alpar Kamber
Corporate Executive Vice President & Head Procurement Services

Alpar Kamber Alpar Kamber is the Head of Procurement Services at WNS. He was the Founder and CEO of Denali Sourcing Services (now a part of WNS), a next-generation procurement services provider that enabled procurement organizations to influence more spend, and execute more effectively and efficiently. Prior to Denali, Alpar developed his cross-industry expertise in procurement value chain while in management positions at Ariba, FreeMarkets, Diamond Technology Partners and E&Y. He holds an MBA degree from the Tepper Business School of Carnegie Mellon University.

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