Monday, 21 September 2015

Sourcing Portfolio Analysis: Book review

This is not bedside reading material though it is a book every procurement professional should read.

Set aside any preciousness you have for Krajlic, Porter's 5 Forces, and Category Management, be prepared to be challenged, and read this with an open mind. Here you have a hefty academic critique of existing ways of procurement thinking. It is a logical discussion which leads you to a better way.

I'm not sure how much rigour Kraljic put into setting out his model which is at the core of so many procurement strategies but Cox doesn't spare any punches in highlighting its weaknesses. To me, Kraljic works best as a simplistic approach to differential procurement management and is useful for engaging senior stakeholders. Procurement managers need to recognise that it is part of a toolkit as opposed to the only tool. I think Cox assumes that procurement professionals have actually taken the time to read and digest Kraljic's original paper - to me that is an unjustified assumption. So, for many, Cox's actual explanation of the Model may well be new. Disappointingly, at times Cox's critique looks very like 'cut and paste' and becomes a bit tedious - a little more focus on the narrative would have avoided what sometimes has the appearance of lazy writing.

Having said that, Cox appears 100% correct. He reiterates and expands on many of his previous discussions on Power and the need to recognise that an understanding of relative power is fundamental to effective procurement strategy - I agree with him. Sadly I rarely find practitioners demonstrating a thought process which considers power.  He sets out a matrix of strategies which flow from relative power positioning - this isn't the traditional 2x2 but 4x4 - that's a lot of positioning. I think I understand what Cox is saying but then ask myself how robust and objective the user's mapping can be anyway. Is it not true that although his method is robust and scientific, if the basic information which feeds it is lacking then there is no sound foundation.

I found the detailed setting out of his sourcing strategies exceptionally thorough and can't find any fault with what he says. Cox acknowledges the difficulties which practitioners face and sets out a good justification for pursuing his decision rules. Having said, that I would like to see some evidence that applying the approaches outlined deliver real tangible benefits beyond the existing rule of thumb approach used by many which is at the heart of his critique.

Where I really struggle is with the application of the detailed approach within a regulated public procurement environment. If I am correct, Cox is arguing that the relative power of all those the buying organisation considers to be 'the market' be established. Therefore multiple suppliers and the development of discrete strategies for each of them.  But within a regulated procurement, would that mean each of the potential bidders is subjected to relative power positioning, which then shapes the 'tender approach' within the competitive requirements of legislation? Perhaps, a way round that is better understanding of the relative power of the market per se, then developing an overall approach, then, for those who successfully navigate the competition, post-award discrete strategies tailored to the relative power? I could of course be wrong. Nevertheless, even if the detailed application isn't easily transferable to a public procurement environment, the need for understanding the relative power positioning is and managing suppliers conscious of that positioning and aspired to positioning is too.

Nevertheless, the book is a bit of a slog demanding a lot of thought but worthwhile. The book shouldn't sit on a shelf looking good but be used as a route map constantly referred to. I would like to see the paradigm shift which Cox calls for as the profession needs this sort of smart thinking.  Having said that, my experience is that many are still struggling with what to do after the completion of a spend analysis and Kraljic is only grasped at a high-level. We need the rigour of thinking which Cox applies and we need to apply his approach.  If power positioning and the associated strategies were applied I honestly believe better outcomes would be achieved and the profession would reach a new level.

While the book is remarkably cheap at £20 and certainly worth a buy, if you would prefer a taster have a look at Cox's white paper available at:

NB I am grateful for receiving a complimentary copy of the book on which this review is based. 

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