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As a procurement professional, I’m constantly thinking about ways to streamline processes to enhance efficiency and productivity. Different types of procurement, such as direct, indirect, services, and SaaS, require different management approaches. In my experience, one tool that's been especially effective in driving efficiency is the Kanban board.  By leveraging this approach, my team and I doubled our productivity without additional costs. How? By using technology your business likely already owns. Intrigued? Read on.

In this article, I'll share my insights and experiences in implementing Kanban boards in the procurement process and how it's helped us achieve greater efficiency and productivity.

Let’s start with the basics: What is a Kanban board?

A Kanban board is a project management tool that allows individuals and teams to visualize and manage their work in a clear and concise way. The board typically consists of a physical or digital surface divided into columns that represent different stages of a process, such as "To-Do," "In Progress," and "Done."  Each column is populated with cards or sticky notes that symbolize individual tasks, detailing task descriptions, priorities, and due dates.


The Kanban board helps to provide a visual representation of the work that needs to be done, which makes it easy to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and prioritize tasks. It is a popular tool in Agile project management and is often used in software development, but it can be applied to any type of project. Kanban boards are known for their simplicity and flexibility, making them a useful tool for teams of all sizes and types.

How could a Kanban board be adapted to fit various procurement stages and methods, including efficient process flows and lifecycles?

A Kanban board is a visual tool used to manage workflow, and it can be adapted to manage the procurement process by following these steps:

  1. Identify the procurement process: Before modifying the Kanban board, identify the key steps in your procurement process, such as identifying the need, approving the request, creating a purchase order, receiving the goods, and making payments.
  2. Create columns on the Kanban board: Based on the procurement process, create columns on the Kanban board to represent each stage of the process. For example, you might create columns such as "requested," "approved," "ordered," "received," and "paid."
  3. Add cards to the Kanban board: Create cards for each purchase request or order and add them to the appropriate column on the board. The cards should include all relevant details, such as the item, quantity, cost, and delivery date.
  4. Assign tasks: Delegate responsibilities to team members in charge of various stages in the procurement process. For example, the purchasing department might be responsible for the "ordered" column, while the finance department might be responsible for the "paid" column. Especially with SaaS licensing, other departmental partners are IT Security or Legal.
  5. Monitor progress: Use the Kanban board to track progress and identify any bottlenecks or delays in the procurement process. This can help you identify areas for improvement and optimize the process for faster and more efficient procurement.

Overall, by tailoring a Kanban board for your procurement process, you can create a visual management tool that helps streamline the process and ensure that all team members are on the same page.


How to further modify a procurement Kanban board with swimlanes and tags

It’s helpful to track your purchase orders and requests by procurement type since they often require different approvers and timelines. You can do this by adding swimlanes and tags to your Kanban board. Follow these steps: 

  1. Define your swimlanes: Swimlanes are horizontal rows on a Kanban board that represent different categories or stages of a process. For procurement, swimlanes could represent stages of the procurement process such as "Urgent," "Medium Priority," "Low Priority," or "On Hold." Determine the swimlanes that are most relevant to your procurement process.
  2. Define your tags: Tags are labels that you can add to individual cards on your Kanban board to represent specific attributes of the item or task represented by the card. For procurement, tags could include things like "PII Data," "High Value," "Low Stock," or "Critical Vendor." Determine the tags that are most relevant to your procurement process.
  3. Add swimlanes and tags to your board: Once you've determined your swimlanes and tags, add them to your Kanban board. Most Kanban software tools will allow you to add them easily. Make sure to label each item appropriately.
  4. Assign tags to cards: Once you've added tags to your board, you can assign them to individual cards on the board. For example, if you have a card representing a purchase request for a critical vendor, you could assign the "Critical Vendor" tag to that card. This will make it easy to filter and search for cards based on their tags.

With your swimlanes and tags in place, you can now use your Kanban board to manage your procurement process more effectively. Use swimlanes to track the progress of items through the procurement process. Use tags to filter and search for items based on their attributes. Together, they’ll help you identify bottlenecks, prioritize tasks, and improve your overall procurement efficiency.

Use tags to track different procurement request types

Here are some additional ways that my team and I have organized our Kanban board to help streamline purchasing from suppliers:

  • Supplier interaction column: We use a specific column on our Kanban board for managing communications, negotiations, and confirmations with suppliers.
  • Card details: On each card, aside from the basic information, include supplier-specific data such as contact details, agreed terms, and delivery schedules. This makes it easy to track interactions and required actions with each supplier at a glance.
  • Automation: Use your process automation software to set up automated reminders for follow-ups, reorders, or contract renewals. This can reduce manual tracking and help maintain a steady supply chain flow.
  • Supplier performance tags: Use tags like 'On-Time Delivery', 'Quality Issue', or 'Negotiation Pending' to quickly identify and prioritize supplier-related tasks. This will help swiftly address critical supplier issues that could impact the procurement cycle.
  • Recurring review swimlanes: Create swimlanes that allow for periodic review of supplier performance and the efficiency of the procurement process. This could be a monthly or quarterly review lane that reminds the team to evaluate supplier relationships and streamline the purchasing process based on performance data.

How to access Kanban boards via your IT ticketing software system 

To get started with Kanban boards, see if your IT team's ticketing system offers Kanban-board-style views of tickets.

What is an IT ticketing software system?

An IT ticketing software system is a computer program designed to manage and track the progress of customer or user requests for IT support or services. These requests are often called "tickets." 

When a user submits a ticket, it's assigned a unique identification number, and the system automatically routes it to the appropriate team or individual for resolution. The system then tracks the ticket's progress until it is resolved, providing regular updates to the user along the way.

What are the benefits of using an IT ticketing system for procurement? 

Some benefits of using an IT ticketing software system for procurement include:

  1. Improved communication: A ticketing system provides a centralized platform for communication between procurement staff and end-users.
  2. Increased efficiency: Procurement staff can easily track the status of all tickets and prioritize them based on type or urgency. This helps them to manage their workload efficiently and make sure that critical issues are addressed promptly.
  3. Better accountability: A ticketing system clearly records all user requests and procurement staff actions. This makes it easier to track and measure team performance, identify recurring issues, and maintain accountability.
  4. Higher user satisfaction: By providing a clear record of all actions taken to resolve user issues, a ticketing system can help build trust and improve user satisfaction with IT services.
  5. Data collection and analysis: Ticketing systems also provide a wealth of data that can be used to identify trends, measure performance, and make informed decisions about procurement operations. 
Example procurement intake form

Bringing it all together: Combining Kanban and IT ticketing functionality to drive a more efficient procurement process

By using Kanban board functionality within your ticketing system, you can enjoy the benefits of both systems. The Kanban board view provides a visual representation of the procurement process, making it easy to see the progress of each task and identify bottlenecks. The ticketing system provides functionality to assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress, which makes it easy to manage the procurement process efficiently.

Streamline procurement processes with Ramp

Now that you know how to build a free procurement tracking and management system, it’s important to consider less hands-on options as well. Ramp’s automated procurement experience helps you automate procurement processes and gain visibility into spend with features such as:

  • AP automation with unlimited invoice extraction (OCR)
  • Pay bills by check, ACH, same-day ACH, card or internationally in USD and local currency
  • Automatic vendor tracking, contract extraction and pricing intelligence
  • Custom request intake forms
  • Purchase order (PO) management
  • And more

Learn more about how Ramp can help you scale your business.

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Head of Procurement, CommerceHub
Sören is a decisive leader with 20+ years of experience in procurement, finance, and consulting. Proven ability to lead complex transformation initiatives and process automations. Expertise in private equity, including chapter 11, sale, due diligence, transition, and post-merger integration.
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