Identifying uncertainties and opportunities in purchasing with an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary team

Just hearing the words cross-departmental and interdisciplinary probably raises the hackles of some in management. "The next thing is that we have to work even more agile in purchasing", they may say in one place or another. But agility does not mean that everyone can do what they want. Agile means that you can react quickly. In this respect, cross-departmental teams that also work interdisciplinarily offer a great opportunity for purchasing in the future. | Ground Picture

When it comes to a stable future for companies, every department that interacts in a project is affected - this ranges from development to the project buyer to quality inspection. In the electronics, automotive and aerospace industries or in medical technology production, for example, the issue of "product buyers" is becoming ever greater. As a result, an incredible number of product or project buyers are being sought on the market. What does such a cross-departmental and interdisciplinary project team look like and what special demands are made on the project buyer?

A practical example of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary teams

To get a better idea of how a project team works together, I will use an example. Let's say an electrical enclosure manufacturer wants to build a system where the final product requires cables, circuit boards, metal enclosures, a certain paint finish and certain safety features. A cross-departmental team is set up for this project, which also works together spatially. There are many technical drawings on the wall that give an overview. There is also a Kanban board that shows the status of the project and a backlog on which all to-dos are noted. Everyone can see what still needs to be done. In this project team, the project buyer acts as a part and is strongly interlocked with the other team members. Usually, these are particularly demanding and highly interesting projects.

The tasks of the project buyer in the interdepartmental team

On the one hand, the project buyer has to answer questions from his colleagues in the commodity or strategic area, as well as from his own team. He has to pass on tasks and, for example, request a list of bidders, which is needed because the cable will soon be requested. Thus, he has to keep an eye on every buyer who is responsible for the respective commodity group and know when what is requested where. In addition, the project buyer works closely with development, design, production, quality, controlling and sales. Each team member wears the hat for his or her area of expertise, but everyone pulls together to complete the control cabinet that the customer ultimately needs.

Meetings and milestones

Of course, a project team always has a leader who is responsible for the project and ensures, for example, that the target costs do not get out of hand, that deadlines are met or that the members receive the necessary information from the customer. This person is also responsible for reporting regularly in meetings with the management on how the project is progressing. The project team itself usually also meets regularly to record the status of the project and to set milestones. The goal is to achieve these under the given guidelines. However, if this is not the case, then it should be looked at exactly what the reason is. Are drawings still missing, is information from the customer needed? The project buyer is in demand when it comes to finding out why, for example, not all suppliers have yet offered or been asked.

Responsibility and interlocking

If a milestone is missed, then it is also the responsibility of the project buyer to talk to the colleagues from the commodity groups to clarify what the causes are. In my opinion, this kind of interdisciplinary and interdepartmental cooperation, in which the team also sits together spatially, is an absolute benefit for every company that wants to position itself for the future. The project buyer can go directly to the colleagues from the other departments and thus achieve much more than through detours in normal everyday business. This does not mean, however, that the actual purchasing function in the organisation is eliminated - operational buyers and commodity group buyers will always be needed. Rather, it leads to an interlocking of the individual buyers.

Not everyone does what they want

In many people's minds, there is often still the assumption that everyone in the project teams does what they want. The word agile leads many to believe that things then go haywire and that there is no longer any structure. In principle, however, it's similar to any other team: people meet at the Kanban Board, work out action plans, etc. It is only logical that in an agile project team not everyone does what they want, but everyone contributes the best they can with their expertise to lead the project to success.

Don't forget common sense

Some time ago I had a discussion with a colleague about this. As an absolute fan of project teams and agility, I met with his opinion that it was all a bit too much, and what was actually new, because project teams had always existed. In the end, we both smiled and realised that it is also common sense that leads us to success. What exactly we call it is not so important, but the focus is on achieving the goal. And that we are fast on our way to defying the ever-increasing competition.

Do you also work with interdepartmental project teams in your company? I would be interested to know what experiences you have had with this and what you see as the advantages and disadvantages. Let's get into an exchange about this. Gladly on LinkedIn or in a personal meeting.

You can also listen to more on this and other topics for future-proof strategies in purchasing in my podcast.