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Is procurement an art or science

Opinion & Analysis
SCIENCE’S object is to increase the available data concerning an attribute or behaviour of some entity or category of entity in the universe

SCIENCE’S object is to increase the available data concerning an attribute or behaviour of some entity or category of entity in the universe, or to establish a theory which can correctly predict the behaviour of some entity or category of knowledge in the universe.


On the other hand, art has no object. An artwork is its own object.

The object of an artist is simply to create a complete work of art. The purposes of that work of art are as many as the works of art themselves.

Art always demands the creation of something new -the new work of art – which can stand by itself, on its own, as though it was alone in the universe, as though no art had been done before, or would be done again. Its prime purpose is not utilitarian.

Although a work of art can be made at one point in time, often it takes many decades — even centuries — to discover whether it is a great one which can stand alone as itself even as time passes and fashions fade, and other cultures come to know it.

Historically, before the advancement of communication technology, procurement was widely regarded an art, not that buyers were creative, but aspects of buyers work that included supplier selection, market assessment, price assessment, etc did not seem to be scientific.

It was a “hit or miss affair” shooting in the dark during the era when Google and the Internet where not yet available. Procurement work was paper-based process and analysis was difficult and cumbersome.

The truth of the matter is that successful procurement is a dream of every company and every nation and the driver is the large sums of money invested on this endeavour. The risk of failure is great.

Projects do not always succeed. They rarely deliver on time and on budget and in some instances, they are never completed.

The magnitude of project makes them a beacon for publicity and is a threat to make newspaper headlines.

There is definitely an art to good procurement but on the other hand, taking a scientific approach to options analysis, requirements development and the procurement evaluation process can facilitate a more successful procurement project.

The art of procurement is acquired mostly through experience and most personnel in procurement jobs mastered it.

This includes the knowledge of the skills of what to watch for in every step of the process to get the best value and avoiding costly mistakes. That is, however, not enough.

Reviewing specifications, preparing and analysing bids, negotiating contracts, handling purchase orders, supplier mapping and appraisals, vendor rating, supply chain strategy is the science of procurement.

It demands broad skills set and stringent attention to detail. This is not acquired the same way as the art of procurement, some intensive procurement studies are necessary.

The door is still wide open for non-qualified buyers relying on the art of procurement to acquire the science of procurement through attaining the necessary procurement qualification to be effective in their employment.

Nyasha Chizu is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: [email protected]