A Licence to Play – Procurement Book Review

Spend Matters published a short extract a few weeks back from a relatively new book, A Licence to Play, published by Pelckmans Pro.  I promised to review it when it was published last year, so with apologies for the delay, and even though I am now just a Spend Matters guest writer, I’m delivering on my promise!

This is an unusual book on a number of fronts. It was written by three genuine procurement and supply chain practitioners, rather than by academics, consultants or trainers, and I believe all three are Belgian – but luckily for most Spend Matters readers, the book is written in English!  Wouter Machiels, Patrick Schodts, and Manu De Keuster are the authors and even though they are using their second language, you don’t really notice any issues with that, which is very impressive.

What I like about the book is that it very much comes from the point of view of business generally rather than being just a procurement guide. It is quite focused on manufacturing businesses, which is where most of the authors’ experience lies, and that fits with its strong central focus on procurement as a vital engine for delivering innovation and competitive advantage for the organisation. It talks about the traditional “glass ceiling” for the function and says this: “To break through this glass ceiling, procurement needs to focus on business management, not just hunting for financial impact but looking seriously at the creation of business impact.”

There is thoughtful material here in terms of how business functions such as procurement, supply chain, design, engineering and operations can and should be better integrated. It also has a lot of good content around how procurement can contribute to supplier-led or partnership-driven innovation, new product development, and efficiency improvement - it doesn’t have that focus on cost reduction that we often see.

Procurement executives should aim to be business innovators, or “red monkeys” as the book calls them, slightly oddly! (The contrast is made with “sheep”, that live in a flock, all move in the same direction, and presumably don’t come up with much innovation.  But there are plenty of case studies and examples too from the authors’ own experience, so it never feels too theoretical. The authors also recognise that “Innovation” is built on some of the more traditional procurement virtues and activities, such as deep market understanding ad knowledge. This isn’t a “fluffy” approach where it’s all about wild ideas and creativity.

The second part of the book gets into considerable detail around how to structure a procurement function, and then the skills needed for professionals. Whilst there is still good content, I felt that was a bit less interesting, for me anyway, than the sections which focused on markets and suppliers. While there are some useful ideas here for anyone looking to build a “target operating model” and perhaps design a procurement function, or structure / re-structure a team, every organisation is different, so it is hard to generalise on these matters.

The final couple of chapters move on to issues around talent and capability – what will procurement professionals need to thrive if they become much more focused on this role as innovators and business managers? Whilst some of this starts to feel like a succession of lists (for example, The Properties of “Innovative Smarts”), it is certainly thought-provoking. And even when skills such as creativity are mentioned, they are still put in the context of real business outcomes, which is good.

Creativeness and intuition are drivers that foster these processes and creative innovators are constantly looking for tangible improvement results”.

The book finishes with an Agfa Gevaert case study, which won the 2016 Procurement Excellence award for Wouter Machiels from Pascion in Belgium.  That is, as you might expect, an impressive case-study of a serious and successful procurement transformation programme. Finally, it’s a good-looking book too, with a striking cover – so all in all, the authors should certainly be proud of their achievement.

The book is available to buy here


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