Harrison Smith Talks Lean and the Opportunity Costs of Inefficiency on the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast

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Harrison Smith on Episode 7 of the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast
For as long as I can remember, Harrison Smith has been a champion for change in our procurement profession. During his final two years at the Department of Homeland Security, he promoted quality industry-government communication through an innovative “flip of the script” method called Reverse Industry Days. While his responsibilities as the Deputy Chief Procurement Officer at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may have expanded, he’s still as focused as ever on improving industry relationships and doing whatever it takes to deliver great outcomes for his customers and stakeholders.
As the guest on Episode 7 of the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast, Harrison reflected on the changes in his professional life (“I don’t write contracts anymore…I’m helping the organization function better”), looked into the future at his new priorities, and eagerly shared how he uses lean principles to remove efficiency and waste from the IRS procurement system.
“The concept of organizational debt is real,” said Harrison, who credits lean startup methods (specifically Theory of Constraints) for a lot of the progress he’s been able to make just 18 months into the job. But those lean tools are only as good as those who wield them, as Harrison has learned through experience. “Its a very interesting dichotomy. If you let the folks who want structure and stability…if they rule the process, you won’t be able to move and react to things that are changing. And if you let the folks who are reactive, trying to push the envelope, then you don’t have enough consistency to know where your opportunities to improve are. So its really striking that balance, and making sure that both [sides] are empowered.”
This balance was a recurring theme throughout his conversation with host Raj Sharma. Whether its balancing the need to write clear requirements with a desire to leave room for creative proposals or managing the yin and yang of consistency and innovation, he’s every bit up to the task. Take for instance one of his first big “lean” wins, where his policy team reviewed 800 pages of documentation and guidance for areas of inefficiency. They were able to cut 75%, which is almost as impressive as getting organizational buy in to actually *remove* policy in the first place.
Harrison has big plans for the future, but his advice for his procurement leader peers is simple: “It’s not about you.” Talk to suppliers, try different things, and listen to your staff. “Find the people who will throw rocks at your ideas…they are fantastic!”
For more challenging wisdom from Harrison Smith, listen to his full turn on the mic in Episode Seven of the Public Procurement Leaders Podcast!
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