Is Category Management Dead? (Jeremy Sams thinks so)

Who is Jeremy Sams?  I've googled him and have found no likely suspects, assuming he isn't also the reasonably famous writer, director and composer (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang et al...)  But he has written an article in the current issue of Supply Management (SM) that I found at first totally crazy, then on reflection, actually rather thought provoking.  SM have this by-line "Jeremy Sams is a procurement professional.  This is his personal opinion".  Which suggests they may have been a little concerned about the piece...

His opening line?   "Is category management dead"?

This reminds me of all those great tabloid headlines to which the answer is NO.  "Did Aliens Murder Princess Di"?   "Do Working Mums Cause Global Warming'?  "Can you get Fat from Sneezing"?    You know the sort of thing. (If you want more, John Rentoul in the Independent is a good source.  Here's a classic of the genre...).

And some of his ( that's Sams, not Rentoul) contentions are frankly way off beam.  His vision is that "purchasers are flexible and agile enough to take on a project in any area, quickly developing the level of basic technical and market knowledge required for the project".

How do you get this knowledge about any category that may come your way through the apparent random work allocation that he proposes?  Through the Internet.

Scene 1: The CIO's office

Peter:   Hello, Bill.  I'm Peter from procurement.  I'll be helping you on this $100 million global technology and comms outsource deal you want  to put in place.

Bill:  OK, good to have you involved (thinks; I don't really need any help on this).  So what's your background with major IT contracts?

Peter:  Well, none actually, I've been buying stationery, fork lift trucks and gooseberries for the last two years,  but I've done a bit of Googling and it all seems quite straightforward.  IBM are quite good aren't they?

Bill:  **** off you ********* and don't bother coming back.

(Note - I'm not suggesting for a moment that senior IT professionals use bad language of course.  Ever.)

Repeat that for marketing, HR, production, finance stakeholders; we live in a world that is becoming ever more complex, and in any organisation of any size, procurement people have to show at least a decent understanding of what they are buying as well as excellent technical procurement skills.  We can't go back to the days (when I first started in the profession) when many procurement people handled random  requisitions and merely cranked through a transactional process that added little real value.

However....having said all that, Jeremy makes some good points.   Here's a paragraph that I would sign up to;

"I have seen procurement professionals who have become so turned on by the technical elements of their category that they lose touch with what they are supposed to be doing.  They consequently move too close to the customer, readily agreeing to plans that they should perhaps be challenging."

Hmm.  A grain of truth there perhaps...and he has some good thoughts too on customer service, although the dream that any member of the procurement team should be able to 'seamlessly' pick up another member's work is I'm afraid, just that - a dream.

And all in all, he has made me think about "CatMan".  It has become a bit of a holy grail, and as a confirmed sceptic about most things, holy grails need challenging.  So one of my projects for the Autumn is to look at this in more detail - and talk to some interesting people, including Jeremy if he would like to get in touch with me, and look at that question in a little more detail.  So, this time without sarcasm; is Category Management Dead?

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Voices (5)

  1. Peter Smith:

    bitter and twisted
    I think that is a really good question. On the list for my Autumn “thinking” projects. I’d add “and good technology & processes” to your list; that might even mean they don’t need such great commercial awareness?

  2. bitter and twisted:

    If the internal customers have category knowledge and commercial awareness, do they really need any more purchasing support than order

  3. Rob:

    Hi Peter, your response to his article (and, indeed, his article) made me fall about laughing.

    The last time I looked (with m own eyes rather than via the internet), there were many interpretations of CM acoss industry of what is, essentially, a very structured, rigorous approach to procurement/supply chain management. One very senior procurement pro announced about 2 years ago, or so, “I want to know what’s beyond Category Management”. (In absence of any further announcement, I’m guessing that they must be still looking…) Interestingly, SmithKline Beecham (which became Glaxo SmihKline) has developed and embedded its version of CM four times (possibly five now?) – each iteration becoming more sophisticated than the last, but ‘process became king’ and many of its talented procurement people departed (I was told) – it seems that it became mandatory to complete all of the stages and individual tools within process – even when everyone knew the final answer would be at an early stage n the process (who the final supplier, and what the solution/cost, would be…). Talented folk rarely enjoy ticking boxes. As you know, the cornerstones to motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose, and undermining any one of these results in talented people seeking new pastures.

    So, like any sound approach to procurement/supply chain management, CM is here to stay – for me, it’s how each organisation develops an environment in which it, and talented procurement staff, can thrive.

    Given that the vast number of interpretations, perhaps we need to ‘simply’ stop calling it Category Management? When SKB first embarked on this journey in the early 90s, they branded it “Simply Better Purchasing” and, not surprisingly, common sense prevailed (including amongst stakeholders) – the Met Police pursued a slightly modernised version in 2003 with its “Simply Smarter Sourcing” process. Who knows, but you can’t simply can’t ‘kill off’ a successful process and methodology.

    Mr Sams list of what’s needed for the future (for ‘flexibility’) represents the basics of what is being done now by many procurement organisations so I’m slightly bewildered by his hypothesis (if one exists). I was expecting something much more advanced in its thinking.

    Anyway must fly. Now where was I? Ah yes, google….

  4. Purchasing Insight:

    Great article. Naivety and intelligence can be a potent combination.

    Just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is. A 147 break at snooker – looks easy. I own a guitar and I can play some tunes on it quite well. It doesn’t make me a guitarist. Learning everything you know about category management from wikipedia does not make you an expert and just because you are great at generic procurement does not mean you can run any procurement project.

    We should do more to promote the high value of genuine expertise and wisdom.

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