“Better Materials Planning” is the first chapter of Kojo’s groundbreaking book, “7 Steps to Better Procurement for Trade Contractors.”
The fourth step in the 7 Step Procurement Process is Requesting, which plays a critical role in ensuring that the field team receives the right materials at the right time, without compromising speed or accuracy. Unfortunately, many contractors struggle with materials requisitions today, leading to delays and increased job spend. Rushed requests may result in field teams directly calling vendors to place orders, which could lead to miscommunication and unrecorded requests, putting accountability at risk.
To become a top-performing contractor, mastering the Requesting process is essential. It not only ensures accurate and timely material delivery but also enhances the efficiency of other procurement steps like Purchasing by up to 10 times! Identifying inefficiencies in the Requesting process is the first step towards improvement, and investing in technology can further streamline the process. Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm that provides insights, advice, and tools to business leaders in IT, finance, and HR, reports that digital procurement solutions can cut processing time by up to 85% and reduce costs by up to 45%.
Where inefficiencies exist in Requesting
Creating material requisitions on the jobsite can vary based on company and/or job type. According to a survey conducted by PlanGrid, 44% of construction professionals reported that they still rely on manual, paper-based processes to manage material procurement. To identify where inefficiencies might exist within these processes, you need to understand how the process works today. We suggest drawing it up as a simple flow chart. Once you deeply understand the entire process, you’ll want to look for the following red flags.
- There isn’t a standardized procedure for creating and issuing requisitions
This is a major red flag. Every team member should know exactly when and how to submit their material requests. Problems pop up, especially for your purchasing team, when everyone in the field has their own way of going about requisitions.
- Standardized requisition forms don’t exist
If requisition information is submitted in a disorganized way, someone’s going to end up having to organize it in the office. For some companies, they consider this organization process to be part of a purchasing team's job. Operating this way is the definition of accepting mediocrity. Great contractors implement standardized forms so no one has to do any organizational busy work in the office. The information is entered in a standardized format from the start. A study by American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a non-profit organization that conducts research to help organizations improve productivity and quality performance, found that companies with standardized procurement processes achieve a 28% reduction in procurement cycle times compared to those without.
- There’s no central place to log every requisition
With multiple jobs running at any given time, dozens of requisitions are submitted on a weekly, if not daily basis. If your purchasing team is fumbling all day sorting requisitions, time is lost and errors increase. Additionally, once a PO has been created, you should be able to easily find and reference the requisition associated with it. All of this information should be logged in a central dashboard, whether that’s an excel spreadsheet saved in the cloud and accessible to all team members for reference or a materials procurement software that automatically logs and organizes everything for you.
- Requisitions are created on paper
If your field team is creating requisitions on paper forms, or even worse, the back of pizza boxes (we’ve seen this too many times), then hours every week could be getting lost to unproductive work. Paper is slow, easily lost, and handwriting is hard to interpret. Eliminate paper and see an instant increase in productivity. A study by McKinsey & Company found that digitizing procurement processes can reduce procurement cycle times by 30-50%, resulting in significant time savings.
- Requisitions are made by phone and text message
Material requests sent over phone and text might seem quicker for the field but we see it lead to an increase in back-and-forth communication throughout the procurement process. The net outcome is more time wasted and more errors. Phone and text lead to miscommunications, poor record keeping, and a lot of extra manual work back in the office for purchasing teams.
- The field isn’t provided an approved materials list
Jobs often have requirements on what can and can’t be purchased. Materials might need to be American-made or particular manufacturers must be used. Your purchasing team knows this but does your field? If they don’t, they’ll often be putting in requests for items that don’t comply with the project spec. The best contractors have a way to share these lists with the field, ideally in a way that’s integrated with the digital system they’re using to create requisitions from the start. This way, the field can select from these lists, and the risk of selecting the wrong materials is drastically reduced.
- Lack of awareness of what’s in the warehouse
For those contractors that have a warehouse, there’s an opportunity to keep general stock or bulk-ordered materials on hand. This can save time and money, as rushed requests can be fulfilled using materials from the warehouse rather than purchasing new materials, and you can secure better pricing by buying in bulk and holding yourself. Unfortunately, most field and purchasing teams lack visibility into real-time material inventory counts in the warehouse.
- Field teams don’t know the status of an order
If field teams are not kept up-to-date on the status of material orders, they may continue to send in requests for materials that have already been ordered, resulting in wasted time and effort, while risking double ordering. According to a study by Dodge Data & Analytics, 57% of contractors said that tracking the status of orders is a major challenge in the procurement process. By improving communication and providing real-time updates on order status, contractors can reduce unnecessary requests and improve overall efficiency.
By identifying the areas of your requisition process that are causing delays, errors, and additional work, you can streamline your operations and reduce inefficiencies. Addressing these issues will not only improve productivity, but also reduce the risk of errors, delays, and unnecessary costs. By optimizing your procurement process, you can increase efficiency, accuracy, and ultimately, profitability.
What Great Requesting Looks Like
Implementing an efficient Requesting step into your procurement process can yield significant improvements in productivity for both your field and purchasing teams. Standardizing procedures, streamlining communication, and reducing errors are just a few of the benefits you can expect to see. By implementing these best practices, you can eliminate the red flags of your current process and pave the way for increased efficiency and cost savings. Let's explore best practices for the Requesting step.
- Standardize your procedures
To standardize your requisition procedures, start by defining clear steps and processes for your team to follow. This helps to eliminate disorganization and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Great operations often have Directly Responsible Individuals (DRIs) who are assigned to gather material requests on the jobsite from all team members. These DRIs are the only ones who submit requisitions to the office. This ensures that the field team knows who’s the point person for their materials needs, and the office knows exactly who to communicate with in the field.
Another best practice is to set specific times for when requisitions need to be submitted. This helps to create a sense of structure and removes distractions throughout the day. For emergency orders, it's important to clearly define what qualifies to prevent everything from becoming an emergency order. By standardizing your procedures, your team can focus on building and be more efficient with their time.
- Utilize requisition forms increases speed and order accuracy
Passing information between parties can cause inefficiencies in the procurement process. Standardizing requisition forms can eliminate miscommunication and lead to faster and more accurate procurement. According to a research study by the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), organizations that have standardized their procurement processes have seen a 47% reduction in processing time compared to those that have not. There are different methods that can be used to implement standardized requisition forms.
One is using Excel spreadsheets in the cloud. This simplifies standardization and allows for formulas to be pre-built to calculate quantities with a basic catalog for easy form completion, reducing the number of errors. Saving spreadsheets in the cloud enables everyone to access the most up-to-date version of the file. PDF forms or online form builders can go even further, though they can also be too rigid to accommodate for the complexity the field often encounters in their day-to-day.
Another way to standardize requisition forms is by using procurement software. Modern procurement software provides field teams with a mobile application that has a similar user experience to popular online marketplaces like Amazon. This allows the field team to create requisitions from a list of pre-approved materials that already have brand names, part numbers, cut sheets, and pictures organized. By creating requisitions in the mobile app, the field team can complete the task quickly and purchasing teams receive them instantly with accurate information. This can reduce procurement processing time by up to 90%, according to a study by ProcureDesk.
- Simplify Requisition Management with a Dashboard
To streamline your procurement process, it's essential to implement a requisition dashboard or inbox that allows for easy tracking of all requisitions in one place. This ensures that nothing falls through the cracks and all requests are fulfilled promptly.
By leveraging technology, you can not only log all requisitions in an easy-to-reference dashboard but also automate the formatting of requisitions and tie them to POs for future reference.
Excel spreadsheets saved in the cloud can work as a temporary solution, but the most efficient way to implement a requisition dashboard is by using procurement software that provides a user-friendly, Amazon-like mobile app experience for the field, and then an inbox experience for whomever is managing those requisitions elsewhere.
With a requisition dashboard, purchasing teams can quickly search, filter, and sort requisitions by job, enabling them to prioritize and fulfill requests efficiently. This reduces miscommunication and errors and allows for real-time visibility into the procurement process.
- Eliminate paper
Eliminating paper requisitions can significantly increase productivity in the Requesting step of the procurement process. While implementing procurement software is the most efficient way to achieve this, excel spreadsheets can also be a viable solution for teams.
By going paperless, you can reduce manual errors and speed up the entire procurement process. A study by Dodge Data & Analytics found that construction firms using digital procurement tools experienced a 63% reduction in processing time and a 59% reduction in errors.
- Reduce phone calls and text messages
Efficient communication is crucial to streamlining the procurement process. While phone calls and text messages can provide a quick fix, they often lead to inefficiencies and miscommunication down the line. One way to minimize this is by moving your requisitions to a shared platform, such as a cloud-based spreadsheet or a procurement software. This not only centralizes communication but also creates a clear audit trail for future reference.
- Have approved material lists for your team to choose from
Having an approved material list for your team to choose from can greatly streamline the requisition process. When a BOM is properly created in step one of procurement, it can be used to identify the materials that have been approved for the job. This list can be shared with the field team through a cloud-based excel spreadsheet or a materials procurement software, making it easy for them to quickly identify and select the approved materials.
With a materials procurement software, the approved material list can provide even more details to the field team, such as brand names, material specifications, pictures, and spec sheets that can be accessed directly through a mobile app. This level of detail can help reduce errors and delays in the requisition process, ultimately saving time and improving project efficiency.
- Have real-time visibility into warehouse inventory
Real-time visibility into warehouse inventory is essential for efficient procurement. According to a report by Dodge Data & Analytics, 68% of construction companies surveyed identified inventory management as a significant challenge in the procurement process.
To ensure your purchasing team knows what's in the warehouse at all times, you can leverage technology such as excel spreadsheets saved in the cloud or a materials procurement software. Excel spreadsheets can be used to log every material that comes in and goes out of the warehouse, with the same formatting as requisitions and BOMs for seamless information transfer.
Using an inventory management platform allows you to take this one step further. With an inventory management platform, you can easily manage inflows to and outflows from your warehouse, allowing you to keep tabs on your warehouse inventory and its value. If an Inventory Management software system is a part of your general procurement software platform, you will not only provide real-time visibility to your field about availability but also ensure that requests do not turn into purchases for materials that are already in the warehouse, saving time and money.
- Provide field teams with order statuses
To ensure smooth communication between your field and office teams, it's crucial to provide real-time order status updates. This not only keeps everyone informed but also saves time and reduces frustration. One way to implement this is by leveraging technology such as procurement software that offers mobile notifications. When a vendor sends an Order Acknowledgment to the purchasing team, the field team can automatically receive notifications on their mobile devices. This eliminates the need for the field team to constantly follow up with the office for updates, freeing up their time to focus on doing what they do best: build. Alternatively, if you're using excel spreadsheets to log requisitions, adding a dedicated column for order status updates can keep the field team informed. However, this approach may require more manual effort to update and communicate the status changes to the field team.