Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive that getting potential suppliers involved early will help shape a procurement yet it is beyond doubt true. So many requests for goods and services are issued without much thought as to whether the market exists to realise them and this will ultimately result in either poor purchases or dissatisfied customers.
I was reminded of this once again when working with a client. We were trying to find the best way to solve a long standing issue with limited public funding and decided that engaging with potential suppliers would help with our ideas. Under current procurement legislation this is permissible as long as it takes place before the procurement starts and does not commit the purchaser to any contractual arrangement. We were in the clear.
We met with three companies and, after the niceties, we described the opportunity that we were hoping they could help resolve. Interestingly their responses were all different, from the fairly straight forward to the nigh on impossible, yet each discussion contained nuggets of useful information. By the end of the day we realised that the approach we had expected to take to market would not have worked and that our best approach would be to turn our original idea on its head.
In essence rather than influence supply we needed to stimulate demand. This is the same opportunity but with a different perspective.
If we had stuck to our guns we would have ended up with a procurement exercise that would not have been of interest to the market. This would have resulted at best in companies trying to force fit their products and services into what we had asked for. This would have lead to greater cost, delayed timescales and frustration all-round.
In a way our original idea was a Minimum Viable Product and only through contact with the potential market were we able to pivot it into something worthwhile.