If supplier and partner agreements cripple agility, why isn't lean agile procurement everywhere?

17 May 2023

Example of resistance to change

In 1966, athlete Dick Fosbury did something that the world had never seen before.

Instead of using the most common high-jump technique of the time, the scissors, he instead ran up to the bar and floated over the bar BACKWARDS.

A technique that proved to be far superior to the traditional ‘scissors’ technique.

In the 1984 Olympic games, a significant number of the high-jump athletes were still using the scissors technique despite the overwhelming evidence that scaling the high-jump bar backwards was far superior.

We’re not talking about common, run-of-the-mill athletes. We’re talking about elite athletes who stood to gain a significant amount of money, endorsements, and opportunities if they won an Olympic medal.

People who had a LOT to gain and very, very little to lose if they adopted the superior technique.

So, change is hard for individuals, and when we have a group of people that need to change, it gets even harder, even if there is significant evidence that supports change.

Barriers to adopting LEAN Agile Procurement.

There are two primary reasons why organizations have failed to adopt LEAN agile procurement.

  1. Fear
  2. Inertia


Procurement requires a great deal of risk management.

There are a lot of moving parts and many things that can go wrong. There are often significant costs associated with making mistakes in this environment, and for many organizations, significant risk attached with not being able to supply their production or manufacturing environments with the products, features, and services they need.

It isn’t traditionally an environment where people will experiment because the stakes are incredibly high.

There is a beautiful quote from procurement teams back in the 1990s, and that is ‘nobody gets fired for buying IBM’. At that point, even if someone else could PROVE that their product or service was far superior to the IBM product or service, management teams still valued the safety, security, and continuity that IBM promised.

If you bought a Dell or Apple Mac, and something went wrong, there would be hell to pay for moving away from a known, trusted brand like IBM and taking a risk with a new supplier.

Procurement environments tend to be very traditional, conservative environments where people LOVE following a tried, tested, and proven path to success. It isn’t an environment that embraces change, nor is it known for experimentation and innovation.

Its execution focused.

Very few people in procurement are willing to colour outside the lines and risk their job, promotion opportunities, or retirement safety net because they want to explore a better way of doing business.

That’s a decision for the leadership and executive teams to make.


Scrum, as a lightweight product development agile framework that supports and enhances business agility, has been around since 1993.

It has been tried, tested, and proven in multiple geographies, applications, and industries.

There are very few product development environments, especially in the context of complexity, where Scrum has not proven itself as the preferred agile framework to navigate uncertainty and complexity.

Yet, it is only now – 30 years later – that the majority of traditional organizations are looking to explore what scrum can do for them, and how it might aid them in building complex products and solutions.

Thirty (30) years of proven success before traditional organizations consider it safe to explore.

Mechanical implementation.

Despite its proven success, we are still seeing people struggle to effectively adopt and implement scrum in corporate environments. Agile and scrum are such radical shifts in culture, mindset, and behaviours that many people struggle to make the transition.

So, they treat scrum and agile as a new tool in the shed.

A tool to be deployed when you come across a nail, rather than a culture of discovery of innovation and a set of values and principles that underpin what you do, why you do it that way, and how you approach both the problem and the solution.

Simply put, it takes time to build momentum and capabilities.

It takes a great deal of time for a traditional organization, filled with conservative individuals, to make the transition from ‘command-and-control’ behaviours, to agile processes and behaviours.

LEAN Agile Procurement

So, LEAN Agile Procurement is relatively new in the context of agile and scrum, and there are fewer people who truly understand the concept, the value it contributes, and how effectively it enables organizations to transition to true business agility.

There aren’t as many case studies, such as scrum, to support the desire and need for change, and so many people adopt a wait-and-see approach.

At this stage, whilst the innovators and early adopters mop up all the benefits of transitioning to LEAN Agile Procurement, the early and late majority of organizations would rather continue with business as usual until circumstances become so painful that they are forced to change.

That said, in complex procurement environments, we are seeing traditionally conservative organizations, such as Barclays, embrace LEAN Agile Procurement and achieve significant competitive advantage in their environments because of that shift to business agility.

So, it’s simply a matter of time.

The innovators and early adopters will forge new ground, create competitive advantage through their procurement partnerships, and lead the way with curiosity and agility, whilst the majority of organizations will want to gather as much information and evidence as possible before committing to something new.

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If you have identified Lean Agile Procurement as a great opportunity to enhance #agility within your organization, visit our Lean Agile Procurement page on https://www.apd.coach/training-courses/lean-agile-...

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