Deciphering government terminology in tenders

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When faced with the government terminology used in tenders, how do you interpret what government means?

When running tendering workshops, I take some time to explain the government terminology used in tenders. By the time I’ve finished, workshop participants find that it’s no longer so difficult to respond to a tender question – now they understand what government means.

And, in all honesty, it’s not always that easy. The questions in tenders do seem to rely upon a certain level of understanding of government processes and requirements. They also use government terminology and terms such as ‘probity’, ‘governance’ and ‘value for money’, which all needs to be deciphered before the true meaning of the question can be clear.

So how do you interpret what government means?

There are four opportunities here:

Download tender and quotation templates from the government procurement website

Review them and practise preparing responses. Where you don’t understand a question in the template, ask a question of that procurement group. A ‘contact us’ page will always be provided in association with the templates, with an email address starting with ‘info@’ or ‘procurement@’.
Victorian Government templates are available here.

Practise, practise, practise and practise

The more you develop tender and quotation responses, the better you will be at deciphering government terms. And, trust me, after you respond to two or three tenders or quotations you will see the same type of question and the same language used.

Ask questions during the Q&A period

During the tender process, ask sensible questions of the project manager nominated in the tender or quotation documentation. In almost all tenders and quotes there should be a stated period of time where questions can be asked by tenderers. Use this to confirm your understanding of government terms used. HOWEVER, to achieve this you must read the tender document early during the tender period. Don’t leave it too late, when the nominated Q&A period may have closed!

Go to debriefs

Government must provide you with a debrief if you request one. So always ask for a debrief and always go to a debrief. A debrief provides a perfect opportunity to confirm your understanding of terms used (for next time), and what a question was really looking for.

Common government terminology and terms explained

Finally, below I have tried to clarify some of the common government terms and expressions used in tender questions for the reader:

‘Recent’ — No more than three years old, preferably two years old.

‘Briefly describe’ — “Using up to three examples describe your experience”, for example.

‘Detail’ — “Using between three and five examples describe your experience, or qualifications, etc”, or “Describe each process you used in providing the service”.

‘Detail resources/support to be used’Support can have a broad meaning, encompassing systems (IT software/hardware and documentation), vehicles, machinery, and human resources (employees or subcontractors). If a tender is asking for the type of support used to provide a service, it could mean: “Identify any subcontractors you may use to support you in providing the services”. It could also mean the IT systems required to deliver a product/service. Based on the requirement in the tender, tenderers should include every resource or asset they need to deliver that requirement.

‘Delivery’ vs ‘methodology’Delivery typically refers to your process for delivering a particular product or service. For example, what are each of the steps you take to produce an educational video? The methodology is the overarching framework in which you deliver that product or service – for example, that educational video. In your framework you need to include not just the delivery process, but your approach to risk and issue management, resource management, etc (see ‘Governance’). You also need to show that your methodology is repeatable – this lowers your risk as a provider to government.

Governance — An approach to overseeing and guaranteeing outcomes in terms of policy, financial, timeliness and risk. It includes all aspects of risk and issue management, escalation procedures, reporting, etc.

Probity — An approach that ensures actions are conducted with integrity, ensuring openness, competition and accountability.

‘Customer Service Initiative’ (CSI) vs ‘Value-Add’ — CSIs should be free and should directly support the provision of the goods or services being procured. A Value-Add initiative may be costed and, while related, is in addition to the goods or services being procured.

‘Provide experience’ in your industry, market and sector — Using examples, demonstrate what a ‘market’, ‘industry’ and/or a ‘sector’ encompasses for that particular tender. Don’t assume the person assessing your tender response will understand what your sector is.

‘Value-for-money’ — A concept that is much broader than straight cost; it’s a ratio where the price reflects the value provided in the tender response. For government it also addresses whole of life costs (including maintenance and support, transition, etc). Finally, it’s a concept against which everything is assessed. For example, innovation. Innovation in itself is great, but it’s better if it’s linked to value-for-money outcomes, i.e. greater efficiencies, greater reach of delivery, etc.

To learn more about government tendering practices and how to write tender responses that score highly and resonate with the assessor, consider taking Mia’s Complex Tender Writing workshop.

Mia will deliver Complex Tender Writing workshops in 2016 on Thursday 14 April and Thursday 14 July. Visit our EVENTS page for further information.

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