Monday, 6 June 2016

Which savings? How do we prioritise?

Last week I was in Germany, working for a multi-national engineering manufacturing company.  Great place and great people.  The Procurement Manager took us out to dinner, and I took the opportunity to ask him what his major problems were.  He took a few seconds to think (a sensible man), and then described his situation.

All the business units have to make savings - everyone is clear about that (although margins and profits are up across the board).  However he is locked into his approach.  Effectively there is a triple lock;
1. Price reductions
2. Working capital reductions
3. Zero inflation.

All laudable goals, but of course the interaction of them leaves him very little room to manoeuvre with suppliers.  A contractor cannot be award for good performance on a 3 year contract with a say 0.5% increase, regardless of the changes in their input costs.  Higher stock levels and fewer deliveries or longer lead times cannot be used to incentivise the agreement.

To make things even worse, the product mix is highly variable and unpredictable and sales are not located on site.  So if they sell in the EU working capital can go down when the manufactured item is invoiced to the customer.  If the customer is in China and terms are DDP, then it will only leave stock (accounts) 5 weeks after it has been dispatched from the factory when it arrives at the customer.  The procurement department has no input to that, but of course has to deal with the WIP issues.


So the Manager has to achieve all of his targets both individually and collectively, and there can be no trade off.  He was very unhappy when I raised the sort of tricks that business managers often use to make those targets - he is going to do it properly.  I am sure he will, but it is a situation where a little more flexibility might actually help achieve the overall targets.  In particular I worry that Quality is at risk if they have to switch to new suppliers rather than stay with established ones simply in order to gain lower prices.

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