Anyone familiar with American-style football probably knows who Bill Belichick is. For those who don’t, he is the head coach of The New England Patriots, and has taken his team to the American Superbowl five times, winning three of those contests. Probably the most-often quoted utterance of this famously laconic manager is that “it’s all about the team.” Despite the talents and individual celebrity of some of his players, in his mind there are no stars. The team itself is the star, and that’s the culture he has cultivated. While the analogy might be a slight stretch, there may be lessons here for procurement, particularly in the realm of category management.
Most conversations about category management revolve around the ideal skills and knowledge set that category managers should have: 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 skills - the list can go on and on. Anyone with such a background would most certainly be considered a star.
But, a sober consideration of all these requirements can lead to this inevitable question: can we really expect one person to possess such an array of talents and capabilities sufficient to manage a specific category? Probably not. And that conclusion underlies an intriguing suggestion sent by Justin Hughes, of the London-based PA Consulting Group: instead of assigning people to be star category managers, why not assign them to be category team managers? He makes a persuasive argument.
Based on his quite extensive consulting background, Hughes believes that the skills that can make someone a successful procurement manager aren’t necessarily the skills that will make that person a successful category manager. In fact, he told me in a series of email exchanges, it may well be impossible and unrealistic to expect a single individual to have all the background and talent necessary for successful category management. Like almost everything in procurement, it’s best to view category management as a team exercise. It would be much better 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. Hughes is a provocative thinker, and his idea has merit. We will be hearing more from him about it.
Actually, the team manager concept fits nicely with the growing awareness of the importance of project-management ability for procurement professionals. In his thoughtful blog on these pages, Hugo Eckseler, former CPO of Deutsche Post DHL, asked if it would be desirable to view category managers as playing the role of coordinator, harmonising strategies around the globe. Yes it would, and project managers do that. So do coaches. Maybe Bill Belichick has a future in procurement.
Paul Teague is US contributing editor of Procurement Leaders. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.