The Playbook – the next great thing?

I’ve met the concept of the Category Playbook in a couple of environments, which got me to thinking about how we leave in place in the organisation a description of what to do and how to do it over a period of time.

Sourcing strategies have been described for a long time and do not often become reality, leaving the organisation with a collective amnesia about why we buy certain things in certain ways. This also means that anyone new into a role often has little to work with , often having to start the whole process of developing a strategy again, including finding all the stakeholders, working out business requirements and understanding how the underlying market works.

However, these descriptions often provide for longer term direction, with some elements of tactical approach. What is often missing is a month to month, market by market call of how to respond under certain starting situations – guiding the tactical play within the category of spend, or more likely the sub category.

This, for me, seems to be the Playbook (altough I have also seen sourcing strategies described as playbooks). It’s a tactical description. As with all tactical descriptions, it needs to have a number of potential ‘Plays’ available within it, and it needs to be modified and updated to suit the current position and any major changes in marketplace behavior.

Of course, the origin of ‘Playbook’ is taken from sports, where the general approaches being used by a team are discussed – describing a series of different plays as a reminder for the team mid game. In this sense, a Purchasing Playbook will provide pre-worked guidance on what to do under a certain condition.

As an example, take oil prices ( please..). Many categories of spend should have a clear response to long and short term fluctuations in the oil price, to allow appropriate defensive steps to be taken. If oil were to increase back towards its 2008 peak of $145 a barrel, what should the relevant in category responses be.  If it starts cycling around a particular mean value, what does that suggest, and what should the approach be? Starting from cold would be hard to do, but having a playbook gives outline indicators of direction and tactics ( even strategies) which can be deployed.

This can be extended into a whole series of planned scenarios, suggesting a rough path to follow under certain starting conditions. This becomes even more significant where there will be trigger levels in one category to move focus to another, where particular price points   drive decision processes.

So, perhaps a Playbook becomes an output of Scenario Planning – which should be a fundamental part of developing sourcing strategies of high quality in the first place. If we think of playbooks as a collection of tactics within an overall strategy, that can help us think about the ways in which we describe particular sets of events within an overall strategy.

My bet here is that the playbook concept, linked to the output of a sourcing strategy through scenario planning, will be a good development to run with in future. Lets see what examples we can find out there to build on!

Mark Hubbard thinks about Purchasing while working at Positive Purchasing Ltd, a provider of support to purchasing professionals across the world.


About Mark Hubbard

I set up a specialist purchasing consultancy and a business focussing on seeking innovation. I work all over the world with clients, helping purchasing teams develop new ways of delivering value for their businesses. I love thinking about how purchasing works, and how it can be better, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you
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