3SC’s Merlin Experience


In mid-2020, 3SC applied to be accredited against the Merlin Standard for the first time to gain an independent, external view of how well we build, manage and work in partnership with our supply chain partners. Our ‘Excellent’ outcome recognised the sustainable excellence of our structured approach to supply chain management and positive partnership working with our delivery partners and we were thrilled with the result.


From completing the online booking form to the onsite assessment activity there is a minimum of 12 weeks before any evidence gathering activity takes place by the Merlin assessors. You can also request certain dates which the Assessment Services will endeavour to meet.


We were realistic about when we would be ready for our assessment, taking into account all the extra work that needed to be done for it against the day-to-day work of our staff and the availability of 3SC’s Assessment Co-ordinator – our Risk and Quality Manager. We structured our time during this period and used it wisely. There was a lot of hard work and evidence gathering needed to prepare for the assessment so that we were able to show that what we said in our Self-Assessment Questionnaire actually happened in practice.


They say failing to prepare is preparing to fail and preparation for the assessment is crucial. From sending the Merlin assessors contact details of all our delivery partners (past, present and potential) including primes and commissioners through to arranging interviews for the assessors with staff and delivery partners during the Merlin assessment days, there was much to do. It was vital to understand and follow the timeline provided by the Merlin Standard documentation. This ensured we were fully prepared for the assessment and had time to prepare our staff and delivery partners so that they were aware of what would happen and when.


Completing the Merlin Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) gave us the opportunity to reflect on our practice and show how we met each of the Criterion within the standard. It was also an important document in getting buy in from our staff. Staff were involved from the start, contributing to the self-assessment process and providing clear evidence to support what they stated in the SAQ. Their excellent practice was on show and they were keen to show how good it was and what great relationships they had with their delivery partners. Great working relationships with our delivery partners were already in place and this helped with the preparation process and the willingness of delivery partners to be involved in the assessment.


The self-assessment process, although hard work and it took weeks to collate, is a helpful process. Our Merlin assessor responded to any queries very quickly. She gave us feedback on our developing SAQ so that we knew we were on the right track and were providing the information the Merlin assessors needed to reach their judgements. Evidence was gathered and sent in advance of the assessment days.


The Merlin assessors sent all our delivery partners a questionnaire to complete about how we work with them and used this information for the assessment days as well as informed us who they wanted to interview.


The Merlin assessment activity took place over three days in November 2020. Interviews with staff and delivery partners were arranged by 3SC’s Assessment Co-ordinator in advance to ensure the delivery partners identified by the assessors were available to speak to them about 3SC’s approach to supply chain management. Last minute alterations were managed when some of the interviewees became unavailable for their interview slot or the assessors changed their timetable. The process was tiring at times! 3SC are very grateful to those delivery partners who were willing to take part in interviews and swap their day/time of interview at very short notice.


At the final meeting on the last day of the Merlin assessment we received our ‘Excellent’ outcome, making all the hard work worthwhile. It was hard work but worth it as well as showing our considerable strengths it also highlighted a few areas where we can improve even more.


We could not have done it without our staff who really got engaged in the process and our delivery partners who contributed to our assessment by completing the on-line survey and talking to the Merlin assessors. Our thanks to all of them.


Denise Blackwell, Risk and Quality Manager, 3SC