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Incorporating Project Management Principles Into Supply Management Practice


Jo Anne Zingo

July/August 2008, eSide Supply Management Vol. 1, No. 4

In a team-oriented environment like supply management, applying project management principles can lend credibility and provide organization and direction. This article explains how to check your own leadership skills against the characteristics of a successful project manager for more effective, efficient supply management processes and team dynamics.

For many supply management professionals, project management is a discipline from which they can draw to gain skills that compliment their own expertise. If your organization is team-oriented, incorporating project management principles into your supply management practices lends credibility; it provides organization and direction in a format your internal customers can understand.

A Balanced Sheet

Check your leadership skills against the characteristics of a successful project manager. They provide leadership and direction, are effective communicators and know how to motivate their teams. They roll with change, showing flexibility, ingenuity and resourcefulness while maintaining an unruffled, decisive and responsible approach to every task. They are politically astute facilitators who coax their teams to consensus and influence outcomes on many levels.

Project Management

In most organizations, all these qualities are also desirable in a supply management leader. Additional characteristics bear an eerie resemblance to the “desired proficiencies” section of a job posting for a supply management professional. He or she should be:

  • Enthusiastic, with a high energy level;
  • Action-oriented;
  • A self-starter;
  • Able to manage stress;
  • Easily adaptable, tolerant of ambiguity and good at managing change;
  • A certain kind of tough, as well as resourceful;
  • Courageous and mature;
  • Tenacious, assertive, decisive and willing to make decisions — and to accept the ramifications when necessary;
  • Ethical;
  • Able to think outside of the box and encourage new ideas and thinking; and
  • Self-assured, with high self-esteem and poise.
A Balancing Act

The project manager maintains balance — and so do you. Maintaining balance includes (but is not limited to) managing conflict; aligning process, project and program issues; and dealing with learning curves. Potential sources of conflict include schedules, priorities, resources, technical issues, administration, personalities and cost. These can be generated from inside the team or outside, and they can affect one another.

In supply management terms, if a supplier is missing a component provided by one of its suppliers, it is likely to affect your product delivery, project schedule and item cost, both in dollars and lost time in the event you are forced to expedite.

Or maybe your supply management team's technical guru has been called away to support a higher-priority project. Loss of this (human) resource could leave you high and dry in the middle of refining the RFx scope requirements, and almost certainly will affect your ability to keep the RFx on schedule.

Process, project and program orientations have the potential to be at odds with one another. It is the project manager's job to help dovetail issues surrounding those elements while being attentive to how they are interrelated. Proponents of each aspect might need to be persuaded to respect each others' requirements in a compromise.

Case in point: The supply management end-to-end process typically takes 60 days. The project schedule calls for orders to be placed in 30 days, and the program schedule calls for the product announcement based on a delivery that does not consider either factor. As such, the supply management professional — as team leader — must foster collaboration to come to a workable solution for everyone.

For a myriad of reasons, a team member might possess a learning curve which could slow the project; still, he or she is recommended to the team as a contributor. The project manager must learn what that person brings to the project while helping them to gain some of the knowledge he or she lacks.

Suppose, for example, your latest RFx requires a technical abstract, and the person best qualified to write it is a new employee who knows nothing about company policy. Two options arise: 1) Lead that person to information that will expand his or her knowledge, or 2) Ask for or assign a mentor/partner on the team to bring him or her up to speed.

Teamwork Is an Individual Skill

Whether or not you are team leader, knowing yourself and how to best interact with a team is key to your professional success. Stephen R. Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People gives great advice in this area:

  • Learning to understand should take priority over being understood. Covey emphasizes the importance of listening to, and being empathetic of, team members' situations, as well as valuing difference and building on divergent strengths.

  • Cultivate a win-win mindset. According to Covey, seeking mutually beneficial solutions that satisfy the needs of project — or, in the case of conflict, all involved parties — is of utmost importance.

  • Synergy matters. Effective problem-solving and collaborative decision-making skills are central to Covey's advice. He also emphasizes leveraging creative collaboration and embracing and leveraging innovation.

When you effectively use your understanding of a project and team dynamics, people will notice, and your sphere of influence will increase.

As a supply management leader, you bring company policy and process to the table, along with knowledge of the market, commodity, supply base and more. Be confident. Identify your stakeholders, sponsors, influencers and detractors. Listen carefully, and put on your negotiating cap. Get agreement for your plan, and then share updated information as often as necessary to ensure that plan remains viable.

Common sense is imperative to project management. When applied to your supply management role, it is a winning combination — and everyone loves a winner!

Jo Anne Harris

Jo Anne Zingo has worked in supply management since 1991. She holds a master's degree in project management from the Stevens Institute of Technology and has been a proponent of incorporating project management principles into supply management since 1999. To contact the author, send an e-mail to

For more information on supply management leadership, visit the ISM articles database.

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