Encounters of the tech kind: Agile Procurement unconference
This Monday we went to Agile P.1 unconference - a topic close to our hearts! Our Client Exec Ella brings you the latest.
Despite the recent weather affecting trains and willpower, there was evident enthusiasm for the show to go on – the Agile P.1 unconference, organised by BeDifrent! BeDifrent is passionate about disrupting the status quo and delivering user-focused solutions. Having two-thirds of its leadership being prominent figures in the digital public sector space (Rachel Murphy and Karen Cleale, alongside CEO Steve Dhillon), they are also pushing for an Agile Procurement Model that is people and outcome focused.
Agile Procurement was the central ethos of the day. Quite simply, we need to talk about the challenges facing the public sector today, because if we don’t address them, then our public services won’t be able to meet increasing demand. It’s not just about procurement or technology folk anymore – we need a more holistic approach to tackling the issues we’re facing.
In reality it’s not that simple
As David Kershaw said to me over a sandwich, the public sector is “a beast.” As attendees of the unconference begun to pitch their ideas for sessions, it became clear that there is much to talk about and much that needs fixing. But while the sector is complex and beastly, there are people at the heart of it (buyers and suppliers alike) who are willing to try. “We’re all human first and foremost,” said Karen.
The sessions were split across 4 areas and in 3 rounds. They were all centered around how we can make procurement better – better behaviours, communication and organisation. People shared their ideas and experiences of working in multi-discliplinary teams, upskilling and training public sector staff, tackling complex change and bid writing. There was also a member of the public in attendance, who hosted their session around responsibility – which speaks volumes.
Agile Procurement is about collaboration
My main take-away from the day was that procurement people shouldn’t be siloed and sidelined, seen as the department who say “no.” Organisations need to engage procurement teams from the beginning of their projects and collaborate so that they can understand the requirements and help to make the project a success. Meanwhile procurement teams need to be flexible in their approach and find the best ways to ensure that their colleagues and citizens get the products and services they need. We should work towards overcoming the “us and them” mentality.
To achieve this, the terms ‘capacity’ and ‘capability’ arose several times. Procurement knowledge needs to be spread, even if only thinly, throughout the whole organisation. People need to know about the frameworks available to them – which are relevant, how they work and how to use them efficiently and effectively. There also needs to be space for better engagement between buyers and suppliers to understand each other’s challenges.
We heard examples of when procurement has gone bad. Organisations have suffered with supplier issues and contractual disputes, or multiple barriers and push-backs have meant projects stagnate. Some get locked in to incredibly long contracts and don’t have an economically viable exit plan. Things can go wrong.
But there are lots of people at AgileP who have ideas and beliefs about the best practices needed to ensure that buyers can continue their digital transformation projects unscathed. And, that suppliers can get a reasonable chance to sell their solutions to the public sector. I have touched on a few of these ideas here, but this is just a glimpse into the diverse conversations that were being had. This is just the beginning of a journey to transform public sector procurement to become better understood, upheld, inclusive and importantly, more Agile.