Book Review: Bad Buying
“No industry or country is immune from bad buying; it exists in every nation in the world, and in almost every organization.” - Peter Smith, p. xi
Bad Buying: How organisations waste billions through failures, frauds and f*ck-ups by Peter Smith offers so many prime examples of ‘bad’ buying, that if you weren’t in procurement, you might question whether ‘good’ buying even existed! Fortunately, his real-life examples cover such a broad range of sectors, geographies, and industries, that even those of us in procurement all get at least one opportunity to chuckle at how much more bad buying ‘they’ do than us!
While Bad Buying is very honest about human screw-ups, both intentional and accidental, Peter forgivingly doesn’t dwell too much on the qualities of a bad buy-er. In all truth, we’re all guilty of bad buying sometimes, even the best of us. Of course, as the internal profile and impact of procurement grows, so too does the cost – in both cash and reputation – of our bad buying. You may actually find ourself longing for the days when procurement wasn’t allowed to negotiate anything more critical than pens and printer paper.
If you’re strapped for time, I’d recommend jumping right to the “10 Principles for Good Buying” near the end of the book. They essentially contain the antidote for bad buying, no matter what the cause, but they also offer hints as to how we can take either so-so or acceptable buying to the next level. For instance, under tip #2 he suggests, ““For everything you buy, consider how that item or spend category contributes towards strategic goals, and conduct your buying appropriately.” I would say that a procurement team able to pull that off even most of the time is going a lot better than good.
Although this book isn’t as funny as Peter’s other works (See ‘A Procurement Compendium’) he makes up for it with pure, luxurious sensationalism. How can you not dive into a chapter titled, “How Not to be Stupid (particularly if you’re a politician)?”
As a U.S. based reader, many of the examples are a bit heavily based on the European public sector for me to totally relate to, but even I had read about Carillion, one of the largest construction management firms in Europe, and that was indeed bad buying.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the book is that while bad buying is clearly far more common than it should be, it is also very avoidable. When things like getting the specifications right or having a solid process and rationale for selecting suppliers can ward off bad buying, it is far from a forgone conclusion. That is reassuring when so many procurement conversations are about fuzzy things like ‘transformation’ and ‘digital journeys.’ Just do the fundamentals right, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for bad buying. If something goes wrong, and you do engage in bad buying, don’t worry too much – we’ve all been there.
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