Jonathan O’Brien, CEO at Positive Purchasing, has written a number of weighty books for procurement and supply chain professionals: Category Management in Purchasing, Negotiating for Purchasing Professionals, and Supplier Relationship Management make up the ‘big three.’ Not only has he written these books, he regularly revises them – I know because I’ve reviewed all of the originals and many of the revisions.
I write all the time (including two books of my own), and yet the sheer volume of content O’Brien has pulled together in these books makes my head spin. In fact, I once asked someone at his publisher Kogan Page if they had him locked in a room somewhere hunched over a laptop.
What that suggests to me, is that there is something about the process of writing, and his relationship to the content, that is important for him as a practitioner and thought leader. Somehow, O’Brien inexplicably maintains a successful consulting practice in addition to his writing habit.
When I interviewed O’Brien, I asked him about the role that his books play in the creative process and he told me, “It is a constant writing process… I just kept writing and kept adding to it and gradually it kind of formed. The lovely thing now is that I have this body of work and it’s about making sure it continues to be relevant.”
So if the writing and revision process is linked to his ability to provide his clients with meaningful solutions to their procurement challenges, how should his readers’ relationship to the material be linked with the work they do?
I believe the answer to this was uncovered in the interview as well. I confirmed several of the things that were added to the recently released 3rd Edition of Category Management in Purchasing and then asked him what was removed to make room. His answer? Nothing.
Despite the fact that procurement continues to march forward and evolve as a profession, O’Brien doesn’t believe that there is much of anything in our background that we can forget. Models don’t ‘expire,’ the context for their application changes. Technology may allow us to automate the tactical portions of procurement, but procurement still has to master all of the steps and processes. Savings will never go away as a performance metric, but we need to keep its impact on our priorities in check. Even negotiation – something that looks like it is on the endangered skills list with the rise of collaboration – is an area of professional development that all procurement professionals need to maintain.
I took full advantage of the opportunity to pick O’Brien’s brain on all things procurement, and in addition to discussing Category Management, I asked him:
- Why ‘purchasing’ rather than ‘procurement’ in the titles of your books?
- What conditions are pre-requisites for a strategic procurement function?
- Can procurement change at the rate required for us to stay ahead of the world around us?