Supplier matrix

One of the core tools in operating model work is a supplier matrix.   The matrix helps clarify why some activities are done in house and others are subcontracted or bought in.  It also identifies those suppliers with whom the organization needs to have a carefully designed collaboration.  The “collaboration tests” are then a tool for checking that the “carefully designed collaboration” has been well designed!  This blog will briefly describe both tools.

Supplier Matrix

The supplier matrix has two axes – yes it is a matrix!   The horizontal axis asks the question “Is this a key activity in delivering value?” and is scored in a binary fashion – yes or no.  But the axis can also be used as a scale, with a “maybe” position somewhere the middle.  The vertical axis asks the question “How good are we relative to others?”  Again, it is scored in a binary fashion – better or worse.  But, like the horizontal axis, there can be a middle position of “about the same”.

This two by two matrix has four boxes.  Bottom left is where the activity is not a source of advantage or excellence and where we are relatively bad at it (costs too high or skills too low).  For these activities, the answer is to outsource with a simple contract.

Top left is where the activity is not a source of advantage and where we are relatively good at it.   For these activities, we can do it ourselves if it does not distract us from more important activities.  If it is a distraction, for example because we are short of skills or money, then we should outsource the activity with a simple contract.

Top right is where the activity is a source of advantage and we are relatively good at it.  These are activities that we should give priority to: they are the core of our reason for existence.

Bottom right is where the activity is a source of advantage, but we are not very good at it.  This is a dangerous position on the matrix.  If we do it ourselves, we are likely to do it badly, and, because it is really important, we may be hurting ourselves or our customers.   If we outsources this activity, we are placing ourselves in the hands of a third party who may take advantage of us (demanding high prices) or let us down.  We are between a rock and a hard place.

The solution to this box on the matrix is to design a collaborative agreement which will motivate the supplier to want to do the best for us and which will still leave us with enough bargaining power to resist exploitation.   As you can imagine these are difficult agreements to design.  Often they involve joint ventures or special purpose vehicles or pain and gain sharing agreements.

Rather than continue this blog on the topic of collaboration tests (tests that help you design good agreements with important suppliers),  I will deal with this in the next blog.

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About andrew campbell

Ashridge Strategic Management Centre Focus on strategy and organisation Currently working on group-level functions and group-level strategy
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