What do The Great British Bake Off and Category Management have in common?


Category Management and the Great British Bake Off – What do they have in common?

By Alison Smith |

“I thought I’d make a chocolate layered cake for that task.”

“How many layers were you thinking – that sounds very elaborate?”

“Just the three, covered with dark chocolate with truffles, and a little surprise hidden inside.”

“That’s far too elaborate – just keep it simple.”

“Simple – it needs to be more than simple.”

“But you won’t have time, you’ll end up rushing it, cutting corners.”

This could go on for some time. Each party entrenched in their own view not realising they were talking at cross purposes.

“This is just far too much effort for the signature bake – you’ve only got an hour.”

“This is just far too much effort for the signature bake – you’ve only got an hour.”

“It’s not for the signature bake – it’s the show stopper – I have 3 hours – it could be the difference between succeeding or failing.”

Sometimes it can feel as if we’re having a similar conversation when we’re talking about category management. People assume we want an overly elaborate 3-tiered cake for the signature bake, and we’re saying it’s essential because it’s the show stopper.

(Far be it from me to suggest we can have both – image shown was one delightful chocolate cake I had during a category management workshop in Washington.)

The need for flexibility

I certainly believe there’s a chocolate cake for every occasion we just need to agree the criteria for deciding which cake we bake for which tasks. The same too for category management – flexibility is key. Sometimes a microwave brownie will do – other times we really will need the all singing and dancing three-tiered chocolate cake.

To take the metaphor a little further, and this is where we might have a difference of opinion, I think we need a recipe for Category Management.

Let me explain further

You wouldn’t dream of making a cake without a recipe – unless of course you’ve followed the same recipe many times over the years and have learnt what you can swap for each ingredient to still get the same delightful result. It’s only from following the same process over and over, consistently, that you can feel confident enough to do this. To know you will get the results because you’re now an expert in making that cake.

Throwing some flour, eggs and sugar into a bowl isn’t going to cut it – it needs to be done with a list of ingredients, weighed and added together at the right time, and baked at the right temperature, allowing enough time to do it rather than rushing it.

Everyone involved needs to know the recipe

You also need a recipe if there’s a number of you all making the cakes – it’s no use telling everyone you’ve found the key to a successful chocolate cake, sell it to your customers but only have one person who can bake it like that. Everyone needs to be able to deliver the same standard of cake, and that’s only going to be achieved by having a recipe, that everyone follows.

Over time of course the recipe can be enhanced as we discover and try out new ingredients, or buy the latest gadgets or utensils but it’s only done after we’re consistently able to make great cakes, everyone knows how to make, that delivers the outcome we want.

Category Management needs a recipe – not a must be followed script that doesn’t allow for use of in season fruits, nor accommodate for cooking on an overly hot day, or an oven that needs a little more tender loving care than another. A recipe that sets out how to make the best cake ever – a recipe that acts as a benchmark for all to follow.

For me the recipe for category management is the process and toolkit – the steps that we have learnt that means we get a great strategy.

The problem we often encounter is, that rather than seeing the process and toolkit as a recipe to deliver a yummy cake, we’re have a chocolate moment I mentioned in my earlier post (We’re having a chocolate moment) and come up against resistance when it’s seen as a restrictive shackle rather than something that allows you to fly. Do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our recipe for a yummy category management cake.

Alison Smith

About Alison Smith

Principal Consultant

After 15 years in Procurement in organisations, Alison decided that she wanted to expand that pattern observation, exploration, and problem-solving to help others solve their problems in life and to help them get back on track. Combining her unique experience as a procurement expert and a coach she offers a refreshing approach to personal development for Procurement Professionals.