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Category Management toolkit- How essential is yours?

(the answer is probably more than you think!)

Most large organisations have category management toolkits. While a great toolkit isn’t the answer to delivering effective category management, it is a critical enabler to implementing and embedding consistent category management standards. So how essential is your category management toolkit?

In relation to category management toolkits, reflecting on discussions over recent months, we have consolidated 3 of the most common issues that clients raise:

  • Strategies are challenging to develop and don’t tell a compelling story
  • Our strategy documents look good, but we struggle to implement them
  • Strategies take too long and are unwieldy

So, let us deal with these:

Category Management toolkits; our strategies are challenging to develop and don’t tell a compelling story.

Most organisations have a Category Management toolkit or a multitude of toolkit and individual tools circulating across the business, pulled together from a plethora of sources. 

The formats are typically inconsistent, and often the Category Management toolkit consists of purely a set of tools pulled into a single document with little or no guidance on how to use the tools. 

Future Purchasing’s toolkit has evolved, informed by 20 years of client feedback. It now consists of a suite of easy-to-use templates, each with [email protected] addressing common questions on how to complete the template and definition of done to identify the quality criteria to know when it is fit for purpose. Each process step and template are supported by practical guides providing a detailed explanation of completing it.

The templates have pragmatic, visually engaging layouts and avoid overly busy slides which are difficult to read. Each slide includes a section to summarise key points and insights from the data that support the strategy, laying bare the analysis and conclusions for a stakeholder to consider and, if necessary, challenge. This ensures that the reader, with each turn of the page, builds the understanding and support to the ultimate recommendations in the executive summary.

However, perhaps more critical for category managers themselves rather than the toolkit is how do I engage and facilitate a cross-functional team to develop an implementable strategy? 

Cross-functional team facilitation, like most things, is a skill and takes practise to do it well, and it starts with preparation and planning, the event itself then the follow-up. Our toolkit includes a comprehensive suite of facilitator support materials, agenda’s meeting input decks, hints and tips and short how-to video clinics. This allied to our coaching support helps build category managers confidence to lead the team through key meetings and facilitate cross-functional focus groups and workshops.

Our strategy documents look good, but we struggle to implement them.

Even clients who have a mature category management organisation many struggle when implementing their strategies. It often feels like the strategy itself is the outcome, especially where objectives drive strategy development rather than benefit delivery from the strategy. Why is it that so often category strategies recommendations fail to be realised?  

In our experience, it is due to there being too little focus on implementation outcomes from the strategy at the outset, often due to the category management process and toolkit focusing only on strategy development. As a result, critical business stakeholders required for implementation are missed from the category team itself and/or communications and engagement. 

 If you fail to bring these stakeholders on the journey, you cannot realistically expect their buy-in to deliver someone else’s work where they have no ownership.

However, even if you have brought stakeholders along the journey, it is easy to develop a long list of opportunities – but identifying the ones that have a high likelihood of success is critical. Our SCORES model assesses the opportunities to create a realistic prioritisation aligned to the business’s priorities, resource capability, capacity and change appetite. 

This ranks each opportunity and identifies the actions required to reduce implementation risks and increase the likelihood of success. So now we have realistically assessed pipeline of activities, so why don’t they get delivered? 

An often-overlooked step is for the category managers to support the newly appointed implementation workstream leads to initiate the workstreams. 

 Even if your category management toolkit covers implementation, we should not assume that implementation leads will know how to use them as often they are functional subject matter experts with no prior experience. This means that category managers need to have fundamental project and change management skills. Suppose your category managers don’t have the skills. In that case, our coaches will support the development of the project and change management products and processes required to initiate, govern, track and report workstream progress. In this way, we set implementation workstream up for success.

Strategies take too long and are unwieldy

Well, how long should a category strategy take to deliver: 8, 12, 16 weeks? This depends on several factors, including category complexity, size, scale, risk and complexity, availability of resources, data etc. Depending on the level of maturity of category management in your organisation, you should consider the level of depth your strategies dive into. 

The greater the detail, the longer the time it will take and resource effort. If you are in an early phase of adoption, consider going less deep into the category strategy detail to reduce effort and time to deliver and get to the outcomes. If your strategies take too long to get to the answer, you will likely lose stakeholders time and commitment along the way and you will not get to the benefits.  

Your strategy must be a living document (not shelf-ware) that you and the team iteratively enhance; during this process, you can develop the greater depth, detail and insights over time and refresh the business opportunities.

We recommend time at the outset of the strategy undertaking moderation of the contents to critically assess requirements and develop the “minimum viable product”. Our coaches use their deep category and process coaching experience to support category leads to apply our moderation process to identify the core (mandatory) tools applied across all of our strategies and by examining and identifying the supplementary tools that add value and insight to the specific category. This both transfers knowledge and optimises the team’s effort and time to deliver the strategy, launch implementation workstreams and realise benefits.

We hope that has given us some insights into how essential is your Category Management toolkit truly is . To learn more about how Future Purchasings templates, toolkit and facilitator guides and expert category coaches could help you.

read more about our expertise in category management

Contact Mark at [email protected]

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