One of my favorite pasttimes is coaching purchasing teams.

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Another is coaching hockey teams.

The first I’ve done successfully in the real-world.

The second…well, not so much. Unless you count coaching from my game room couch.

But I still couldn’t help seeing parallel principles between purchasing and hockey as I watched and analyzed the first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals this year.

My hometown team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, lost the first two games of the series but rebounded last night to make it a 2 games to 1 series. The first two losses were frustrating to watch, but did inspire many principles from the aforementioned game room couch. Here are a few of them that apply to both hockey and purchasing…

Principle #1: There are times to experiment and times not to experiment

The Penguins were 12-2 in the playoffs going into the finals. In amassing this impressive record, they were consistent in that: (a) they played four lines and (b) those lines were kept intact with the first line being Crosby-Hossa-Dupuis and the second line being Malkin-Sykora-Malone.

Well, what does Michel Therrien do in Game 1? Change the formula with which they have been so successful.

Aside from the first shift or two, the lines were all mixed up. Players playing with players that they had not played with before. They had no chemistry and couldn’t penetrate Detroit’s defense nor, in some cases, even complete a pass. In addition, Therrien kept the fourth line on the bench for the most part.

The result? An embarrassing 4-0 loss.

So what does Therrien do for Game 2? Mix the lines up even more and give even less playing time to the fourth line.

The result? Another shutout loss – 3-0.

The Pens returned home last night. What did Therrien do? Go back to four lines and reunite the top two lines.

The result? A stunning 3-2 win that included a goal from fourth liner Adam Hall. Still, the Penguins are behind in the series and the best they can hope for is a tied series going back to the challenging-place-to-play, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

There are times to experiment and times not to experiment. The first two games of the Stanley Cup Final is not the time to experiment.

This principle applies to purchasing as well. If you’ve never implemented a certain advanced purchasing technique – like JIT inventory – don’t start with your most critical, challenging category that can bring your company to financial ruin if your efforts don’t get off to a good start. Prove the concept on less risky categories, work out the wrinkles, and then evaluate the use for more critical categories.

Principle #2 – Even when things are going smoothly, look for small opportunities to improve

After reading Principle #1, you may think that I am a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of guy. That’s not the case. Principle #1 applies to big changes in risky situations.

But there is always an opportunity to make a good thing better. Though the Pens won last night – and traditional wisdom is to not change anything when you’re winning – I think that there is an important change that can be made to get an even better result.

Jarko Ruutu, who I am generally a fan of, seems to be on the ice every time the Red Wings score a big goal. Though he is a good agitator that can help get Detroit off their game, I view him as a defensive liability who hasn’t positively contributed at all in this series.

George Laraque has been scratched the last two games. He is great at cycling down low in the offensive zone. The Pens did a good bit of this last night and had great results with wearing down the Detroit defense. Laraque can help in this type of game.

So I say scratch Ruutu and play Laraque.

This principle can also apply to purchasing. Even if you are doing well, hitting your savings targets, there is likely a small thing you can do better – like source a previously ignored simple category – that can make a difference.

Principle #3 – Use different tactics for different situations

The Pens have had a pretty effective penalty kill in this series. Last night, when they were leading, Adam Hall and Max Talbot did a great job of getting to loose pucks and firing them down the ice to take time off the penalty clock.

They also did this effectively in the late stages of Games 1 and 2.

But the problem was that they weren’t leading in the late stages of Games 1 and 2. They were losing. And by playing fourth liners at that stage of the game made the Penguins anything but a threat to score a short-handed goal and get back in the game.

What I would do in those situations is play Crosby or Malkin on the penalty kill, even if just for a 30-second shift each. Penalty killing with the lead or early in a game is a different situation than penalty killing late in a game when you are losing so I believe you need different tactics.

This, of course, applies to purchasing as well. If you’re negotiating with a sole source supplier, using the negotiating tactics you use with a commodity supplier will not get you to your goal. I discuss this topic in the PurchTips articles “Adjust Your Negotiation Approach” and “Good Negotiation Tactics That Can Backfire” as well as in the online class “Powerful Negotiation For Successful Buying.”

So there you have three principles that you can use in purchasing, in hockey, or in life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my day job (which is definitely not being an NHL coach)…

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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