Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Wishes

PAWA consulting is closing down the the Christmas and New Year break. Best wishes to all our customers, associates and other readers.

Let us hope that 2011 is the year for a stronger economy after two difficult years.

all the best

Monday, 6 December 2010

Project Management Course

At fairly short notice, I am running a Project Management course for the University of Bradford School of Management SME Knowledge Network on Thursday 9th/Friday 10th December 2011.
This is a 2 day modular course targetted at SME and micro-businesses. The first day is an introduction to Project Management, and the second day goes into more detail of some of the tools and techniques and the problems that arise - dealing with variances, team managment, completion dates etc.

If you are interested, drop me a line and I shall get someone to sort out the details.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Tensions in UK Public Sector Procurement

I recently ran a day long seminar on Category Management for 23 public sector buyers from a wide range of organisations (on behalf of BIPSolutions).

It was an opportunity to take the temperature of public sector buyers – but naturally we should not assume it is totally representative.

First, I have noticed a couple of quite predictable trends in public sector commissioning following the Comprehensive Spending Review by the coalition government. Firstly the overall level of tenders being advertised seems to be lower than previous years – reflecting an anticipated drop in public sector spending. Secondly, some authorities appear to be spending budget in this financial year, with the clear expectation that there is no point in keeping it for next year - and that there will be no money to spend next year. An example is a council who are looking to arrange 18 one day training courses between January and March 2011 – clearly spending money while they still have it.

My delegates reported extensive pressure on budgets and costs. In some cases this accounted for their presence on the seminar – their authorities were looking to reduce spend by introducing category management. However they were also looking to reduce headcount in procurement, which is very contrary to the approach needed for good category management – rather than fewer people you tend need at least the same number of higher skilled staff (probably more). Given that one authority was looking to introduce category management with only 3 procurement people, they will be lucky to get the sort of improved quality and reduced costs that can be achieved.

There was a lively debate about the priorities for public sector commissioning – one view point was that we are going to be focussed only on lowest price. Another viewpoint was that with authority budgets under pressure there was unlikely to be money available for local economic development, inclusion and sustainability projects and these are potentially going to be pushed down to suppliers in the form of the “Economically Advantageous” element of tenders.

All of this highlighted the continuing tension in public procurement between meeting the EU required objectives of open and fair competition, whilst ensuring Value for Money. Category Management whilst capable of achieving good VFM, may be seen as restricting (managing) competition and therefore clashing with the open and fair agenda. And meanwhile it is likely that procurement will be trying to do more with less (or to be more precise fewer). The case for investment in procurement is understood by the Buyers, but there was a general feeling that it was not an argument that at the moment was going to cut ice. However there was a general feeling that their organisations had good and strong management – which is reassuring in a time of great change and turbulence.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Unusual Key Performance Metrics

The writer Terry Pratchett has a word – Substition. It is the opposite of superstition. Superstition is things that everyone thinks work, but in reality don’t – like crossing your fingers for luck. Substition is things that no one thinks work, but in reality do.

I’ve just been reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which to me is about substation. He writes about a baseball team, the Oakland A’s, who in the early part of this century were successful on a very modest budget because they had developed metrics for measuring the worth of a player that were different to everyone else’s. Rather than focussing on the outputs, they were focussing on the process. Players who did the right things at affordable prices, rather than the stars. Rather than RBIs (runs batted in) they evaluated players on their ability to get to first base (i.e. not get out). I suppose in football terms it is like picking players who have a good record of winning corners or drawing fouls rather than scoring goals – the goals will come from the corners if you get enough of them. In cricket maybe it would be bowlers who bowl very few no balls in 20-20 rather than take a lot of wickets.

Terry Pratchett also coined the word “narrativium” for the fact that sometimes the world seems to be driven by a good story rather than anything else. People love a good story, and in business and in sport, we are sometimes guilty of wanting to believe the story rather than the facts. Indeed in Moneyball there are times when the “good story” element dominates over the business lessons.

I’ve read a couple of Michael Lewis’s books – Liars Poker, the New New Thing – and he is always extremely readable although you should always remember that he is writing as a journalist rather than an academic. His books make you see the world in a slightly different way, and make you think about what else you might be missing.

In this case it has made me think a couple of things about business in general. Firstly, I wonder whether there might be novel metrics in business that we could use that would better track business success rather than the traditional ones of turnover, return on assets. Rather than customer satisfaction, perhaps ease of doing business? I don’t know. If anyone has any ideas, I would be most interested. The key point from Moneyball is that these should be measurable so that they can be proven, rather than just a “gut feel”. My first thought is that there is a huge (and sometimes contradictory) set of knowledge held by Business Schools and Academia, that most small businesses just don’t know about. How do we get it out there to where it can be used?

The other thought was to wonder about the superstitions and substitions of business. What are they? What are the things that work, though no one thinks they are important, and what are the things that everyone does but don’t actually work? Again, any thoughts and ideas gratefully received.

Monday, 4 October 2010

OECD Trade and Innovation: Chemicals Sector

The OECD has just published a report on the linkage between Trade and Innovation in the Chemical Sector. You can read it here. I was one of the contributors to this study, along with Dr. Harry Ziman of PHS consulting.

I hope you find it interesting.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Business of Social Media

At the SME Conference North West on Thursday, we had a very interesting presentation from Chi Chi Ekweozor of in Manchester about the increasing use of social media in business. At the end of that I asked the audience, mainly smes, how many of them used various social media. Bearing in mind that it is a bit difficult to be accurate counting hands when you are standing at a podium chairing a conference, I think the split was roughly;
- had a website - 90%
- had a blog 40%
- used Twitter 30% (that is just a few fewer hands than for a blog).

I found that very interesting. Like many people of my generation I find Twitter somewhat alien, and struggle to find a business purpose apart from customer service. A Blog I can understand more as a sort of informal newsletter. What this showed me is that Twitter use is already higher than I imagined, and there is a possibility that it is already more imbedded in business than is clear to the late majority/laggards of the business world.

Certainly it makes me think again about the use of Twitter. And I think you should too.

I am wondering about Twitter as an interactive tool. Would it have been useful to have had a Twitter feed at the conference? Could we have got feedback on what was going well, what was overstaying its welcome? (nothing I think, but how to be sure). Could I have taken questions that way? What about use in training courses?

Friday, 17 September 2010

September/October 2010 open courses

Apologies for the lack of updates - September is full of unmissable deadelines.

There is a also number of open training courses, run by BIPS Solutions and presented by me.
The next is two sessions in Leeds on Wednesday 22nd September in Leeds, the first 2 modules of the SME engagment programme - 1. Understanding the Tender Notice, and 2. What I need to tender. You can add one or both, and there are 2 more modules to come on 30th September 3. PQQs, and 4. Effective Tender writing. These 2 modules are also due to be run on 28th September in Manchester, but not by me.

Then there is the SME National conference, at which I shall act as master of ceremonies, on Thursdsay 23rd September - see below.

On 7th October I shall be running a half day procurement training module in Solihull for Business Link (through BIP solutions).

Then starting 17th October I shall be running the Advanced Purchasing event in Amsterdam. This is a 5 day event which as the title indicates aims to cover some of the newest and most advanced topics in Purchasing.

November and December should have include open courses in London and Kuala Lumpur, but I shall list those when they are confirmed.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Supply conference North West 23rd September

I will be acting as Master of Ceremonies at the Supply Conference North West on September 23rd at the Hilton Deansgate in Manchester. I have not been there yet, and am looking forward to finding out what it is like.

I shall also be giving a short session on best practices in tendering and tender evaluation, in which I hope to use some examples from a couple of tender evaluation processses I am involved in for UKTI in September.

Full details are here. Not a flattering photo if you don't know me.

More courses are being arranged and I shall list them in the next couple of days.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


Apologies for the lack of entries. It is tremendously busy at the moment. Much of which I am not able to write about.

What I can talk about though is that I recently had the opportunity to visit OPEC in Vienna. A very interesting event, and there were 3 key messages that they put out.
First, they are not a Cartel
Second, $70 a barrel is a reasonable price for oil, and
Third, better that countries set the price of oil than the British Army

Interesting key messages. Their argument on Cartels is that this is an association of willing participants. There are oil producers not involved (such as the USA which does not export), who are free to set their own prices. Any OPEC member is also free to disregard anything agreed and go their own way with no consequence. They do not set prices as such.

The price for oil is not going down to $25 again in the near future, and if they have their way not at all. The world recession was caused by banks, not the price of oil so they feel confident that they can leave it at $70. The price anyway is set by traders and speculators, who were the ones who drove it up to $150 - not OPEC. This relatively high price will allow them to invest in extraction capacity for the next 20 years.

Finally, as the USA seems to line up to attack BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and the Lockerbie bomber and Libya, it is worth remembering why the comments about the British Army were so forcefully made. BP of course used to be Anglo-Iranian oil, and was implicated in the establishment of the Shah of Iran and the overthrow of a democratic government. The UK has in the past 100 years had some role in overseeing most of the OPEC members, and as far as oil goes we ran them as pretty much client states. The UK and other western powers did dictate the price of oil, and backed it up by force of arms. This still rankles. Well naturally. I believe the UK spy is a stock villain on Iranian tv to this day. It may not suit us, but you can understand their point of view that it is their economic asset, and how it is used should be determined by the owners of that asset not by the users through use of force. Those days are long gone, despite what people think about the invasion of Iraq, but the worry is still there. We have many bridges to build to overcome that history (which is largely forgotten in the west).

And in the meantime, I suggest we put a lot of resources into alternative energy. In purchasing terms it is never a good idea to be beholden to a key supplier with a grudge.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Government Opportunities FAQ: Supply Chain Management

I was asked to contribute a few words on Public Sector Supply Chain Management to the latest issue of Government Opportunities Magazine. With their permission, the article is shown above. The whole magazine can be read as an e-document here.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Change of dates

There have been a few rearrangements to the training schedule, with a number of events put back to later in the year.

Understanding Public Procurement in Newcastle is now Tuesday 14th September, and the Manchester date is Thursday 16th September
The Leeds SME workshops are now on Wednesday 22nd September 2010.

By that time we might also have more details about any changes in the public sector that could impact on public procurement processes, but given that they are all under the EU frameworks these changes will only be relatively minor.

The European Purchasing Masterclass is confirmed as going ahead in Vienna from the 5th to the 9th July 2010.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Twittering Meetings

I was talking to a colleague who described a recent meeting between two rather traditional multi-national organisations. On the face of it there was an imbalance in the meeting between the host company who had 6 people in the meeting, and the visitor who only had 4. You would expect therefore that, allowing for individual skill and experience levels, that the hosts would be in the stronger position – being in their own offices and having greater resources available.

In fact the opposite applied. The reason? The visitors were live twitter feeding the meeting back to their colleagues in offices across Europe. So while the hosts were drawing on the 6 people in the room, the visitors were able to draw the experience and knowledge of about 20 people all across Europe.

Now, there are a number of issues raised by this. One is a certain level of politeness, because while the hosts were talking the visitors were busy tapping away on Blackberries sharing information with other people (and no doubt doing other things). This could certainly be seen as rude. But then again I am of a certain generation, and I am told that to people in their 20s this is actually perfectly normal. There is also a question of whether the visitors were paying due attention to the discussion going on around them while they fiddled with their technology.

Another issue is about security, and whether confidential information about a high level meeting was accessible to third parties if they were in some way able to access the feed. An important issue, but one that is increasingly common anyway as use of ICT becomes ever more prevalent.

Certainly the consequence of the meeting was that the visitors were able to draw on evidence not actually available to the people in the room, and were able to have suggestions and ideas tested live by a wide community of people who would be effected by the decisions. In previous times, the decisions would have been made in the room, carved in tablets of stone (or at least memos), and then distributed to the masses. Now the people involved could have an input and course correct the meeting as it happened, without having to take time out from their daily activities. As a result, not only will the decisions made be more robust and tested, they are also more likely to be implemented because the people delivering them have been involved in their construction. Action started the moment the meeting wrapped up, rather than sometime after the minutes were written, circulated and then forced through by the project leader.

Now this is in a staid, traditional industry – not media, ICT or creative industries. As my colleague said, one party was in the 1980s, one party was in the 21st century. There are issues to be worked out, but I think we are going to see a lot more of this style of working. Of course one of the drawbacks is that only the people in the room were able to go on the post meeting celebratory bar crawl….

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Training Course Schedule

We are involved in an extensive schedule of training events over the next couple of months.
Firstly, our own Market Research in the Chemical Industry was a great success on Monday 10th May
16th to 20th May I shall be running the Complete Course in Purchasing Management in Cairo for Aztech
26th May I am running an event on Supply2gov for BIP Solutions in Leeds
27th May is an event on the Competitive Dialogue process in Manchester for BIP, repeated 10th June in Birmingham
I shall be running the SME Engagement programme covering Tendering and PQQs on 3rd June in Newcastle, 8th in Manchester, 16th Derby, 17th London, 22nd West midlands, and the 30th in the Black Country. So lots of opportunities to attend those.
As well as those there are a couple of in-house events before we move along to
the European Purchasing Masterclass in Vienna 5th to the 9th July.

I hope to see you at one of these events. For more details, leave a message or drop me a line.

Monday, 19 April 2010


Buy one get one free. Or in this case, enforced. I am currently in week two of a one week holiday in Sharm El Sheikh, courtesy of the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Due back in the office last Friday, I now have no idea of when my family will be able to return. But it could be worse.

The situation created a few thoughts on customer service. This is the sort of thing that sorts good customer service from poor - and the reprocussions will go on for long time.

So, let's look at my personal situation - on holiday with 2 young children and my wife. At totally unexpected event means our flight has been first delayed and then cancelled. What did Thomas Cook do, and what could be improved? (It was mostly good).

Thomas Cook moved us from our all inclusive hotel to another (rather less fancy) all inclusive hotel and are putting us up at their expense on an all inclusive package. Ok, it is not as nice as our just out of sight hotel round the corner, but it is free. A Bogof holiday. We are now here until at least Wednesday, and it is a good resort. All the people from the Manchester flight are now billetted together.

What could have been improved was the initial stages of the crisis when the passengers were considerably better informed than the rep. Thomas Cook, whilst admittedly facing a totally off scale problem, seemed to be a bit slow in getting to grips with the scale of the problem. Thompsons appeared to make the decision that we were staying and not just delayed about 6 hours earlier than Thomas Cook.

Secondly, Thomas Cook made one of the fatal mistakes in communications in setting deadlines for reporting back, and them missing them and extending the deadline by another hour. Clients want certainty. They should either have set longer deadlines or shown more of their thinking at the hourly reporting sessions - that way people could plan their day rather than just hang around the airport.

Thirdly, I was quite surprised at the low tech nature of the interaction - a poor, long suffering rep getting personally slammed by customers who knew more than her. I was thinking that this was perfect for a Twitter feed, and if they took all of our mobile numbers they could have mass texted us every hour or so. As it is the rep would have to text herself, rather than TC.

Interestingly the people on a package have been treated very well, while those who booked flight only have had to pay for their ongoing accommodation and claim it back on insurance, which is a strong incentive to buy a package in future.

Apart from those minor gripes (or opportunities) we have been very well treated, and it is almost like a second holiday. I am itching to be back at work though.

So, learning to date:
1. The world is globally interconnected - even physically
2. Customers often know just as much as sales representatives
3. Make the customers happy and they will come back (we will buy a package from TC again)
4. Use Twitter and texting to keep customers in touch with rapidly changing situations
5. Egypt is very hot.

Ok, the last is not terribly insightful. Time to go.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The outlook from SMEs

I have been running a number of workshops for SMEs in the North and Midlands this month, around Tendering, PQQs and the opportunities from London 2010.
As part of that I have asked how many businesses have seen their turnover increase over the past 12 months, during the recession. More than half indicated that it had, and I would guess about a quarter said turnover went down. That is better than I expected, and certainly better than you would expect if you took the media at face value.

Now this group of businesses is hardly a fully representative sample of the sme community - they are ones prepared to invest time and money in attending seminars about business opportunities and how to improve. So maybe I should expect them to be doing well even in difficult conditions. However they were not insolvency practictioners either, so they have got there despite the economy not because of it.
It made me feel more confident about the strength of the UK Small business sector. I hope that I am right.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

SME business, public sector procurement and recession

Last week I ran a couple of sessions for SME businesses on PQQs and Tender writing for public sector contracts. We had over 100 businesses over the 2 sessions (which are running again in Leeds at the end of the month), and they were a lively group with lots of interesting questions and points of views.

Two points stood out for me. The first is the one that I have raised many times before of the need for a standardised PQQ form for all public sector contracts. The OGC template is fine as long as all public sector bodies use it in the same form. Ideally the information would be centrally held, but let's not be too idealistic. But the use of a standard form would be simple and easy.

The second issue is the impact of the recession on company turnovers. It has been a hard year or two for many companies, and turnovers are often down on previous years. There is a concern that this may be a negative for some public sector buyers, who will be worried that the companies are not financially secure. If it is a universal downturn (and it will not be) then everyone will be in the same place, but realistically good companies may also have had a deterioration in their trading position and it may make them look weaker than they really are. The second part of this is that for many contacts there is a requirement that the bidders turnover must be a multiple of the contract value i.e. the contract can make up no more than say 25% of turnover in any one year. If turnover is down, then the value of contracts that a company can bid for will be lower, which will in turn reduce the potential turnover in future. A tricky cycle could be established. It may not be an issue for most companies, but it will surely effect some. A little leighway may be necessary when drafting requirements - when the PQQ and ITT are written it is too late.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Supply The National SME Engagement Programme - Workshop

I shall be delivering 2 seminars on Wednessday 3rd March 2010 on behalf of BiP Solutions. These will cover Effective Tender Writing, and Understanding Pre-Qualification Questionnaires.

The venue is the Stuart Hotel, 119 London Road, Derby. Details are here. The cost is £75+VAT per delegate for each event.

I shall be presenting the same two seminars at the Jury's Inn in Leeds on 24th March 2010. Same price, details are here.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Course: Market Research in the Chemicals Industry

We are due to run the above course on Monday at the Heath in Runcorn.
We have been asked by potential delegates to consider an additional date - 10th May 2010.
If anyone would be interested, please could they let me know. The content and timings would be as advertised, but the venue is not yet fixed.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

New Product Development (two day workshop) 22/23 March 2010

I shall be running a 2 day event for the SME network at Bradford University School of Management at the end of March 2010.

All businesses need to develop new products and services in order to keep up with changing customer requirements and to beat the competition.
These can be new physical products, new services or even just new ways of delivering your existing
products. The path from idea to successful delivery and profit can be long and difficult.
This two day seminar will go through the process with case studies, worked examples and exercises to allow
you to create a template for new product development for your business.

· Why NPD?
· Stages of NPD
· What products/service?
· Generating ideas
· Research and development
· Stage gate processes
· Market testing
· Launching new products
· Feedback and continual improvement

If you would like to sign up to this event please contact us on

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Research into Innovation

PAWA consulting have been asked by UKTI Northwest to provide an independent evaluation of an project supporting innovative R&D based companies to export. The aim of this project has been to stimulate both exports and further R&D in the UK.

Having just completed a study into links between Innovation and trade (about which we sadly cannot give details), it is clear that in technology industries it is essential that UK companies continue to develop their R&D in order to maintain the commercial advantages we still have over developing regions. The UK has a real advantage because of the existing knowledge base within the country, which we can retain if we continue to innovate.

Friday, 12 February 2010

NPD - slides

As promised.

NPD - a personal case study

On Tuesday night I gave a personal case study on New Product Development at the SME Network at Bradford School of Management. Apologies for the delay in putting the slides up.

I am experimenting with using for hosting these files, so please forgive any unusual formatting. You should be able to access a PDF file by clicking here, or on the title. And just to be sure I shall attach the slides as Jpegs as well.

NPD case study presentation -

Monday, 8 February 2010

Evening Master Class – New Product Development – 9th February 2010

I shall be speaking at the Bradford University School of Management SME network event on Tuesday 9th February 2010. The event is supported by a range of funds, and so is free to attend.

Dr Rana Tessabehji will be presenting before me, with an interesting talk entitled : Killer Ideas, developing new products and services. I will then be talking through a case study from my days in the chemical industry

The event kicks off at 5pm for coffee, with presentations from 5:30 to 7:15pm, followed by networking. Directions to the venue can be found by clicking here.

We hope to follow this event with a full day event later in February or March 2010.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Business Basics 6: Leadership and Management

I have been reminded this week that so much of business comes down to leadership and management at the top level. In particular the way in which senior people set the values and tone of an organisation. You might call it the predominant meme of the business.

By leadership, I am not thinking of the sort of problems that have been in the papers recently about the role of John Terry as Captain of the England team – whatever the ethics and morals of that situation the management issue there is about relationships within the team.

When I started in consulting one of my drivers was to help improve the status and delivery of purchasing within businesses. My view was that this important function was undervalued, under resourced and misunderstood in many organisations.

This week I was at a seminar at Bradford University on Innovation, which emphasised how easy it is for management to accidentally prevent innovative behaviours in their organisations by not showing behaviours that will encourage innovation, such as experimentation, broad thinking and (that most difficult thing to accept) failure.

It is quite easy to see both of these as functional issues, and indeed tackling them functionally is part of what we do as a consultancy. However it is also clear that the problems of both of these vital business activities can easily arise from failures in general business management and leadership.

Senior managers have difficult and demanding jobs, and naturally they tend to pay the most attention to the areas that they understand in detail – which are usually the areas that they previously worked in. Which is only natural, but some functions then get stuck in a catch-22 like cycle where they get little attention because they are not a route to senior management roles, and therefore no senior manager understands them and gives them special attention.

The senior management also set the tone for communication within the business. A positive outlook can be essential for success in a business, but if that slips into a refusal to listen to negative comments a business may lose the opportunity to solve problems quickly at an early stage. A focus on improving standards may stifle trying out new concepts and ideas. A culture of success may actually encourage staff not to do anything untested in case it is not successful.
It is difficult to get the balance right, but senior managers have to be aware that they set the tone for the business, and that although company culture is a very difficult thing to pin down and measure, it is vital to the success of a business.