A thought crossed my mind after reading a short missive by Procurement Leaders' Paul Teague about what makes an ideal category manager. Paul starts his note by suggesting that an ideal background for category management often includes "extensive knowledge and even experience within the category; a deep understanding of the market the category represents, especially including the supply base; a handle on where technology, pricing, and other business trends in the category are heading; analytical skills; project-management skill."
Yet he then notes a suggestion by Justin Hughes stating that rather than try to achieve this blended nirvana – after all, we all know the quintessential sourcing and procurement professional is unlikely to have all of these attributes, especially early enough in their careers – we focus on hiring "category team managers" with the requisite skills "to find people with the ability to coordinate the activities of an ad hoc team of other professionals from a variety of backgrounds and sources." While this is a useful suggestion, I think it reeks too much of a consulting world viewpoint vs. the real procurement world.
Procurement consultants, whether they're working on more narrow procurement transformation efforts involving category strategy, sourcing, contracting and talent development or broader efforts such as make vs. buy decisions, inevitably succeed based on their ability to work within an organization and create a combination of embedded expertise and DNA. But when it comes to a "leave behind" in the form of an expert to manage a specific category on an ongoing basis, it is likely that true experts, often from the business, for example a marketing or IT leader, will have better results at implementation, influence and marshaling. Generic management skills with a cursory knowledge of the category – regardless of broader sourcing expertise – simply won't cut it.
Except, perhaps, for the most basic indirect categories such as office supplies and industrial MRO. But if you're still focusing much of your overall new initiatives on those, you've got a bigger problem than category management coming up short!