Can’t We Just Blame Bureaucracy?

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on how both bureaucracy and supply chains react to black swan events.


The results staggered across a spectrum of situational circumstances and legal constraints; leaving the best of bureaucrats and supply chain experts trying to catch their breath over the last year and a half.

Read about public procurement’s response to COVID-19 in this NASPO White Paper.

Job duties have never been expanded in a bureaucracy as they have in the response to the ongoing pandemic, and that kind of bandwidth weight just isn’t sustainable long term. How can procurement officials continue to deliver? Can’t we just blame bureaucracy?

Have no fear, Pulse is here.

Take these principles of project management and apply them to each of your procurements, they are projects.

Principle 1: Define the mission and scope of your project

Take it from this project manager, the conversations you will have with stakeholders about their needs from a procurement aid in clarifying what the end deliverable is. I cannot stress this enough, defining what a project’s mission and scope are NOT, is just as defining as what it is.

  • Clearly outline what the deliverable should be, and what it should not be as a group
  • Write it down
  • Hold the line on what is expected

 There are templates and tools to help guide this conversation.

Principle 2: Set due dates and milestones

Let’s face it, if you don’t put a due date on it—even if it’s flexible, you’re never going to get it done. It’s happened too many times, you take a meeting with a coworker or stakeholder and you just need them to contribute their part. You may or may not know this person on a direct day-to-day level, but you don’t really need to. Set a due date or milestone upfront when it comes time for task items to be accomplished. If you’re having trouble getting a commitment on a due date, try communicating the priority of the work needed and build from there. Do you really need it right now or can it wait until Friday?

Principle 3: Communication should be regular and transparent.

You should be regularly scheduling stakeholder status update meetings. Now, before you roll your eyes at the thought of adding another meeting to the calendar, I want you to ask yourself something: what if you could fix it before it was broken? Project status update meetings help keep everyone on the same page. Revisit your agreed-upon mission and discuss accomplished and upcoming milestones. Do not be vague or overconfident, just speak directly to what has been accomplished. Point to the agreed-upon deliverable at the end of the project and show how you are accomplishing it. Discuss hurdles you have encountered or newly identified ones. Your stakeholders may be able to assist or advise on the best route to take in the next steps and help push the project forward.

For tips on running project status meetings that WORK, read here.

Principle 4: Schedule a Lessons Learned debrief

If you are not taking the time to reflect on what you learned from the project, you are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Once a project has concluded and success has been declared, immediately schedule a Lessons Learned or project debriefing session. The meeting should focus on what went right, as well as what went wrong. Could a hurdle have been identified earlier? Was the status of the project not communicated thoroughly? Taking the project management approach means accepting failure on some level, upfront, each and every time. Messing up is going to happen. But it’s okay. If you will approach your project with an “Everything is a pilot” mindset and set that standard for your project team, your work will take a more objective and solution-focused approach.

You’ve heard it before, the wheels of time move slowly, and bureaucracy moves slower. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Procurement specialists are primed project managers and applying project management principles to the regulated work of procurement produces winning results for the state.

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