Every government procurement officer has had the thought “this tenderer is capable, if only they had tendered better”. A way to solve this is to design government market approach documentation to better draw out those strong responses.
It’s generally accepted that government market approach documentation tends to be prescriptive and complicated. This is because, as part of its responsibility to the community, government is required to rigorously assess every potential supplier on a level playing field. The tender or quote documentation provides the framework for this comprehensive evaluation to occur.
Having said that, I do think there is considerable room for improvement in how government market approach documentation is written and presented.
Government tenders will always demand a great deal of information from potential suppliers – this is a given. But there are several strategies that could be adopted by government procurement teams to make providing all that information more ‘foolproof’ for suppliers (no disrespect to industry intended!).
It is, after all, in government’s best interest to attract high-quality responses from the greatest possible number of suitable tenderers. So why not think about how government market approach documentation could be better designed to encourage strong responses?
Think like a supplier
This may seem like an obvious recommendation. But, whether due to habit or an inability to think from an industry perspective, government tender documentation is often written from too much of a government perspective. The focus tends to be on ticking requirement boxes, rather than how the documentation will be interpreted and answered by the intended audience.
Instead, procurement officers need to think more about the outcome they are after – that is, candidates providing specific information to meet every requirement. This means considering how suppliers (i.e. the intended audience) will receive, interpret and act upon the information to ensure they deliver this outcome (one of the basic rules of good communication).
Sure, there may be an argument that some tenderers provide complete responses without having their hand held, but why limit the options? With some relatively simple tweaks, government market approach documentation can be made more user-friendly and provide an overall greater outcome for government.
1. Split convoluted questions into a series of simpler questions
A mistake often made by procurement officers is to load tender questions with three, four or even five requirements… and then become frustrated because the tenderer does not fully address the question.
Let’s face it, even if the candidate successfully manages to identify all the requirements, addressing them all at once makes for an overly complex response that’s almost as hard to evaluate as it is to write.
A much better approach would be to deconstruct a convoluted question into a series of simpler questions that clearly and unambiguously cover each of the important requirements. Any single question should have no more than three requirements – and preferably fewer.
2. Tailor the response template fields to meet each requirement
If there are multiple requirements for a question, incorporating a free-text response field (with prompts) for each requirement helps ensure tenderers don’t miss out any important information. This also contributes to the clarity of each question.
It’s also helpful if response templates include fields for any recommended (if non-mandatory) sections – such as an executive summary. An evaluator may not formally evaluate an executive summary; however, an executive summary does create an impression of a company’s capability and may provide content an evaluator can use to review/confirm responses provided in other areas of the tender.
3. Use words with clear meanings
We wrote last month about some of the challenges with government tender terminology. The important points here are to make sure that tenders a) avoid using government-specific terminology that could be misinterpreted, and b) avoid using generic language that doesn’t invite a detailed response.
Questions should be written using words that are simple and unambiguous in the context in which they are used. Strong, clear, simple terminology is absolutely critical to the success of a tender, which relies on clearly communicating the scope and deliverables to prospective suppliers. This will attract competitive, complete, relevant responses that lead to a stronger outcome for government.
4. Better manage repetition of information in different questions
Tenders often ask for the same or similar information in different questions – always with a different key focus. While government uses this repetition to ensure all requirements are addressed and that the interrelationships between requirements are clear, it often trips up industry tenderers.
If a tenderer doesn’t pick up the change in focus, they may answer the question poorly by:
- Cutting and pasting from one question to another
- Not answering the question because they think they already have, or
- Referring to the earlier question.
Government can attract high-quality responses by being aware of the potential for confusion and adopting the following practices:
- Acknowledge at the end of the question that the requirement is similar to a previous question (and identify that question)
- Highlight the differences between the similar questions, and
- Include an instruction directly after the question, telling the tenderer to respond to each question separately and in full.
5. Provide opportunities for tenderers to differentiate their offerings
Since government needs to assess capabilities across a level playing field, most of the questions are prescriptive and often result in strong tenderers grouped around the same score with little to differentiate them.
It may then come down simply to price – but to encourage responses that are better value for money, it’s useful to have a handful of tender questions that can differentiate one tenderer’s response from another. For example, question fields can be included to invite:
- Customer Service proposals. Often customer service proposals will be a contractual requirement, in which case the questions asked will be specific. However, the inclusion of additional, open questions about customer service initiatives allows suppliers to demonstrate added value.
- Innovation. Tenderers can be asked to identify three examples of innovation in any area of their solution (that is, not just technological innovation but also innovation in service delivery, project management practices, customer service, etc).
- Value-Add. A question asking tenderers to identify up to three value-add offerings can be included.
- Knowledge management and knowledge transfer. Tenderers can be given an opportunity to demonstrate how they build knowledge and skills and how this can be transferred to the buyer under partnering arrangements.
6. Show the direct relationship between tender evaluation criteria and response schedules
Often it can be an effort to work out which tender question relates to which evaluation criterion, and sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a relevant evaluation criterion. This information is important for tenderers, since it helps them understand the emphasis placed on each question.
This can be facilitated by clearly mapping each tender evaluation criterion to a corresponding response schedule, and including this within the list of evaluation criteria in the tender document. This ensures all evaluation criteria are covered by a question and response field – if they’re not, the specific evaluation criteria shouldn’t be used.
No more barriers
In summary, if government market approach documentation is built to be less convoluted, use clearer language and provide better navigation aids – none of which change the underlying content – many unnecessary barriers to high-quality responses will be removed. Suppliers will be evaluated and prioritised according to their value for money, rather than their ability to wade through a complicated tender.
Every government procurement officer has met a tenderer during a debrief process and thought “this tenderer is capable, if only they had tendered better”. A way to solve this is to design and build the tender documentation to better draw out those strong responses.