Purchasing in an R&D Environment: Effective Teamwork in Business

Article excerpt

This article examines the concept of collaborative efforts within organizations, using the interface between purchasing personnel and scientists in research centers as the unit of analysis. The study indicates that significant perceptual benefits and client satisfaction can be achieved as a result of meaningful purchasing involvement in the acquisition process. The study also suggests some prerequisites for achieving a high level of meaningful involvement within a highly technical environment for complex purchase decisions.

Fifty years of management study have witnessed little change in what constitutes a fundamental problem in organizations. Achieving shared values, common goals, and teamwork from individuals to achieve corporate objectives within a framework of personal satisfaction appears to be a continuing management challenge. A number of noted researchers believe that achieving the correct balance between individual needs and group objectives provides strategic benefits for the organization and ensures continued existence and success of the organization.[1] In reality, however, achievement of such collaborative efforts on a consistent basis seems to be a rarity.

For example, prior research has shown that support services in a research function are instrumental in the achievement of research productivity. One research study describes research support services as an integral element in creating and maintaining a climate for creativity[2] Another notes that many of the best research establishments are characterized by a high ratio of support personnel to active scientists.[3]

This study uses the research function as the organizational unit of interest, and the role of the purchasing function as representative of a professional support service. The setting and the relationship of these functional groups is but one example of the broader management issue of cooperation between two specialists in the achievement of a common objective. The study's primary objective was to determine whether or not collaborative efforts existed and, if so, what benefits were achieve from such collaborative efforts.

PRIOR RESEARCH AND CONCEPTUAL

DEVELOPMENT

Meaningful Involvement

The research reported in this article focused on the process by which a scientist's need for equipment was satisfied, coupled with the extend of meaningful purchasing involvement in that process. Meaningful involvement was defined as:

The timely and useful collaboration of purchasing's

expertise and the scientist's knowledge in all aspects of

the equipment acquisition process. This includes the

decision-making process leading to the best buy decision,

with the objective of satisfying the immediate needs

of the specifier and the long-term needs and strategic

objective of the research unit as a whole.

Increasing the level of purchasing involvement in equipment acquisitions was thought to yield a significant contribution to the R&D function. This contribution can take the form of satisfying the immediate needs of the requesting scientist - and it can also take the form of a contribution toward the achievement of the research unit's strategic objectives.

Purchasing Effectiveness: The Traditional Models

Purchasing effectiveness has been discussed in terms of involvement levels of purchasing personnel during the various phases of the acquisition process. For example, the early Robinson-Faris model described the buying process in terms of a chronological sequence of stages, as illustrated in Table I.[4]

               Table I
   STAGES OF THE ROBINSON-FARIS MODEL
Stages Task Activity
  1   Anticipation of recognition of a need/problem
  2   Determination and description of the
      characteristics of the needed item
  3   Determination of the quantity of the needed item
  4   Search for and qualification of potential sources
  5   Request for and preliminary analysis of
      proposals
  6   Evaluation of proposals and selection of suppliers
  7   Selection of an order methodology
  8   Performance feedback and evaluation

Suppliers are keenly interested in both identifying the key decision makers in the process and interacting at the formative stages of the buying process. …