Do You Know the Difference Between Strategic Sourcing & Category Management? Collaboration – Virtual is Here to STAY!


First, I hope you and your family continue to stay healthy and safe.  It has been over two years that we have been figuring out this VIRTUAL world and it is here to STAY for ALL of us!  Our Supply Chains have been disrupted and both our Supplier and Customer relationships have been put to the test AND these relationships are EVERYTHING. Our employees are still working remotely, and they have figured out how to be productive AND build / maintain those relationships as well.  Please note that “Collaboration with Business Units, Suppliers and Customers” is a critical element of Category Management: Virtual

An article I read about 18 months ago, “What Supply Chain Leaders Need to Know about Virtual Collaboration” noted that “The shift to remote work and virtual collaboration was abrupt, but it’s likely to endure” so we need to adapt and excel in this new environment.  “Discussions about collaboration tend to focus on external collaboration. In 2020, that focus was perhaps even stronger as supply chain professionals leveraged their external partners to help navigate supply shocks and overloaded transport systems. External collaboration will remain vital in 2021, but supply chain professionals must also take a close look at their internal collaboration practices this year.”  It is now 2022 and even though many organizations are trying to return to the office, there is a lot of resistance because employees have become accustomed to the convenience and flexibility of working from home.  Working in a virtual environment WAS a challenge but we have had over two full years to figure it out. 

Much of our virtual collaboration is conducted in meetings.  As I read though this list – all very good advice, it can be applied to in-person meetings as well.  “Here are six steps for improving
virtual meetings:

  1. Avoid making meetings the default form of communication. Use chat and email when possible, saving virtual meetings for when more immediate or deeper interaction is needed.
  2. Replace big, long meetings with smaller, shorter ones. When possible, have check-ins with individuals and small teams instead of calling everyone to a single “all-hands” meeting.
  3. Use video but allow for breaks. Ask participants to turn on cameras at the beginning and during discussions but allow people to turn cameras off when they’re not speaking.
  4. Require invites to include objectives and an agenda. If organizers send out agendas ahead of time, employees will have the information they need to decide whether to accept the invite.
  5. Empower people to decline if they don’t need to be there. In most organizations, it’s easy for any employee to invite anyone to a meeting at any time. Management needs to set the expectation that it’s okay to decline to attend unnecessary meetings.
  6. Emphasize that necessary meetings require full attention. Employees will be less tempted to multitask when meetings are shorter, more focused and less frequent”. 


Although “virtual” has its challenges, collaboration is still critical.  Category Management is nothing without those close relationships with internal business units.  We need to find creative ways to reach out to and engage our partners.  During this time, human connection is critical.  Keeping your business partners informed and making them feel that their input is valued and appreciated is key.  Here are a few things we would recommend:

  1. Model what collaboration means for your staff.  When done well, it can be powerful.
  2. Provide opportunities for them to participate in interactions you have with your internal business partners so they can see how you do it
  3. Consider providing training on both collaboration and collaborating in a virtual environment.
  4. Add virtual collaboration success to everyone’s personal and professional goals for 2022 and beyond
  5. Allow employees to share virtual collaboration successes and challenges at your staff meetings


My guess is that we are much more comfortable with virtual collaboration today than we were a year ago and “virtual” is not going away anytime soon.  So, let’s add virtual collaboration to the required competencies of our people and work on closing any gaps we have because in Category Management collaboration is EVERYTHING!

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation.  . . . . .    


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