What Comes First: The Egg Or The Chicken?


Money. Fine, I am joking. Customer first. Then – money. And then – either egg or chicken. Or both. But ultimately it is all about money. In medicine, though, it can be a question of life or death. Sounds very cheap. Sounds like an attempt to scare. However, that is just a simple reality. Thankfully, only the brightest of us get to be doctors with knifes. Coming back to the life of “simple” people… how do you ask the wrong question and what might be the consequences?

5 Why’s many How’s

Sakichi Takoda was a very curious man. He wanted to find out all root causes of processes he was dealing with in Toyota. And yes, he is the man behind “5 Why” methodology to explore cause-and-effect relationships. There were other smart people, who developed the model (or, let’s say, adjusted) and made it only “3 why’s”. Some other models added the next steps: once you know what is wrong, you should be trying to figure out “How” to fix it.

Examples of questions

Let’s start with explanation, what I mean by “question”. It does not need to have a question mark at the end of the sentence. There can be a lot of situations in business daily life:

  1. I have production process wastage. How do I dispose of it in the most profitable way?
  2. Personal development plans, goals, objectives. A goal to “leverage benefits from different areas”, “use data proactively”, “strengthen resilience and realize potential”.
  3. Procurement KPIs: we need to achieve 100% process compliance. Or, another example, £1 million of price reduction savings. How are we going to do it?

Expert judgement – it’s what managers get paid for. You do not need to see a question mark at the end of a sentence to trigger the smart questioning process in the brain. Recognizing the situations and questions is a skill!


Why are the questions “poor”?


I know, first of all – “are they poor?” and only then – “why?”. Let me answer the second one first:

  • Because some questions do not encourage you to think.
  • Some questions are very strongly leading and restricting.
  • Some questions, on the other hand, can motivate someone to become extremely inventive. There are serious books which call some forms of extreme inventiveness criminal activity.

Let’s analyse the examples given above. A mind-set like in the first example can lead to the whole team wasting time, resources and effort looking for an answer. The team might come up with something. BUT! You know what is the secret? Maybe the focus should have been elsewhere? Maybe, first of all, we should have analysed the reasons of having the waste and addressed them?

Second example describes very restrictive thinking. Especially, when the goals are given from the “top” (management of the company). People get goals, that they do not believe, that do not motivate them (you know, objectives, which are not SMART), and ask a question: “so what do I do now?” And, as you can imagine, there are many alternatives:

  • Not even attempting to achieve what they are asked;
  • Cover up in excuses “I tried”;
  • Leave the company…

And the last example given above… A very smart CPO draws up best-in-class procurement processes. Implements them. And, to his (her) surprise, starts getting reports, which show big non-compliance. Let’s call the person Ryan. Ryan spends few sleepless nights and comes up with policy enforcement tools: reporting, grievance and all the rest of it. The KPI improves. Furthermore, Ryan implemented interesting price reduction targets. Now his team members are whispering. They know, that bringing the function in-house (making vs. buying) would cost less overall. But if they do that, they will not achieve their targets – price savings. Therefore, they keep on buying the same things over and over again. BUT! Every story has a “but”, right? At the same time, the CEO notices sharply increased spend in other areas, lost clients and, overall, reduced business results… What happened? Ryan asked “How?” before asking “Why?”…

What came first – the egg or the chicken?

Not sure if that question is “the right” one, but it makes you think. And that is the main purpose here: right questions make you think. I think biggest issues are not with the questions themselves. All questions are good. It is much worse when you do not have questions. Most important thing is – sequence (or timing, if you like). To first of all understand the causes and only then address them. Whether it’s procurement or anything else.

The main goal of the business is to satisfy customers and stakeholders. For customers – it is the right products, the right services. For stakeholders (shareholders) – it is about profit, and sustainability. As a part of that comes cost control, cost reduction, best items (services) to be bought. Well, simple (???) procurement’s job.

So, to sum up, what can you do better?

  • Recognize (identify) questions.
  • Take time to think about the real needs and root causes.
  • Speak up.
  • Ask questions about the questions themselves (challenge them).
  • Use expert judgement and critical thinking.
  • Resist to prioritize small and urgent tasks over long-term, strategic work.
  • Know the rules, but improvise.
  • Make decisions and fix the wrong ones.
  • Try. Again and again.

And yes, it is valid to procurement (because, as the t-shirt sellers say: Procurement manager – because a miracle worker is not a profession). Cheers to us!

What Comes First: The Egg Or The Chicken?