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The Art and Science of Procurement

“To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see.” – Leonardo Da Vinci, Artist & Scientist

The idea behind the theme (and subtitle) of this year’s CPO Rising 2016 report was not to pose the question of whether procurement is an art or a science.  Rather it is to examine how the unique elements of each field can and should be applied in the pursuit of procurement mastery. Procurement is a blend of art and science, combining business, category, and supply expertise with leading technology, data analytics, and associated value-based decision support capabilities. (To be fair, the survey did ask the question and 94% of CPOs agree that procurement is a blend of both art and science.) Procurement is a science because it deals with process and application and it studies and tests its results; quantitative analysis and precision are valuable tools of the trade. Procurement is also an art because it involves the knowledge and insight from the humanities and the social and behavioral sciences; nuance and negotiation are critical to the craft.

Today’s popular education narrative has, for some reason, polarized the two disciplines in an unnatural way. The reality is that, as was clear in ancient times, the two coexist across life’s pursuits and serve each other far better when viewed and used as complements. Music, after all, is a mathematical equation and the DNA double helix is a work of art. That is not to say that individuals do not possess strengths in one area versus the other or that they should never be classified as either a scientist or an artist. The point is simply that in business and procurement, successful leaders are able to tap into both sides of the organization’s “brain” to make decisions that use both data AND insight, logic AND instinct, and rigor AND creativity. Of course, the different capabilities and skills must exist within the team or at least be accessible to it. This makes it an inescapable fact that building the right team and enabling it to perform is the Chief Procurement Officer’s key mission.

This will be an ongoing topic as we advance into fall….

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