“Category Management in Purchasing” – New Edition of Jonathan O’Brien’s Book Reviewed

We featured our interview with author, educator and consultant Jonathan O'Brien of Positive Purchasing here a couple of weeks back. That coincided with the publication of the third edition of his book, Category Management in Purchasing – A strategic approach to maximise business profitability.

From its first publication in 2009, this has become probably the standard work on this topic, being both a very comprehensive reference guide (running to almost 500 pages now) and also a source of practical advice for the practitioner category manager.

O’Brien runs through the principles of category management, including the “three foundations” and the “four pillars” – breakthrough thinking, customer focus, cross-functional teams, and facts and data. Then the core of the book covers the “5i category management process” - initiation, insight, innovation, implementation and improvement. After that, we have an extensive discussion of governance and how to make sure the programme works in practice, then the final section looks into the future and features two success stories (from Cardiff council, unexpectedly, and GSK, less unexpectedly).

It forms a very sensible, practical guide to the topic and the Appendix now includes (new to this edition) some thirty pages of “the complete set of tools and templates to begin practising category management”. Some are perhaps a little basic – I don’t think the simplistic “Project Plan” template is terribly useful – but others such as the Day One Analysis and Value Levers really are potentially very helpful. This section is a great addition to the book anyway, and could well save thousands of pounds worth of consulting fees or indeed of internal time for any organisation implementing the process.

O'Brien mentioned in our interview that there are other quite extensive additions and revisions to it from the last edition. We commented on one aspect of that here on our Public Spend Matters Europe site - a new short section on public sector procurement and category management. Now we've taken a look at some of the other changes too.

The section on “value levers” is now a very thorough review of the mechanism and options that can be pursued to drive benefits – “a checklist of all the potential sources of value and should be used as a prompt and check to consider what opportunities to investigate and pursue”. This will be very useful to many organisations, and even experienced practitioners may find it good to be reminded of the range of approaches that can be taken.

In our interview, O’Brien said that he had strengthened the sense of “how procurement satisfies and is linked to the end customer of the organization”. So threaded through this edition we see more around how suppliers and supply chains can provide “goldmines of innovation”, and the focus is resolutely ( and quite rightly) on value generation, not simply price reduction.

There is more around sustainability too, which has increased in importance since the first edition, including how it relates to supply and value chain network analysis. Some of that material is new too, and even as a veteran of CatMan I found it very interesting – the example “network map” shown for toilet tissue is fascinating!

So, all in all, a very impressive achievement and more to the point, a book that any serious procurement professional really should have access to – you may not sit and read it page by page, unless you really are starting from scratch with CatMan. But whatever level of maturity you and your organisation are at, you will find material of value and interest here.

And the good news is that Spend Matters readers can get 20% off until 30th November when you buy the book, by using the discount code SPEND15CM when you order here at the Kogan Page website.

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First Voice

  1. David Atkinson:

    Always good when Four Pillars (.co) gets a mention!

    O’Brien’s writing is good. I particularly enjoyed the one on negotiation.

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