Tender debriefs are an important component of government procurements, providing an important vehicle for enhancing the outcomes of government approaches to market.
Government procurement teams are aware that bidders often miss out on winning tenders because they don’t tender well; not because they can’t do the job. There are many reasons why businesses don’t tender well, a lot of which come down to the disconnect between the way government phrases its questions and industry communicates its responses (see our recent blogs listed at the bottom of this post). This is where tender debriefs play a vital role.
Tender debriefs are a valuable, even essential, component of the whole government procurement process. They help both government procurement teams and industry bidders understand how to improve their tendering practices, and in fact are part of a continuous improvement cycle to ensure government gets best value from its market approaches.
In light of this, government procurement teams should always offer all bidders – successful and otherwise – the opportunity for a debrief at the conclusion of a procurement.
Moreover, these tender debriefs should be constructive, with a clear agenda, and address both the strengths and weaknesses of the tender response. This means both parties need to approach the session wanting to improve their performance for next time; not to defend or promote one’s position. (Provision of a forward agenda can be a great way to set this scene, but more on that later…)
It is also important to note that if a bidder requests a debrief, government MUST provide one, according to the Victorian Government’s market approach policy. Conversely, our recommendation to industry is that if government does offer a debrief, never miss the opportunity to attend – and always follow up if you are not offered one.
Here are a few reasons that I think tender debriefs are essential to enhance the outcomes of government’s approaches to market:
1. Tender debriefs provide feedback that helps bidders improve the quality of their next response.
The best debriefs I was involved in were those that resulted in that “a-ha” moment for bidders. For example, when we could discuss how the question could be better answered, how too many assumptions were used, how a methodology wasn’t clear, etc. It is, after all, in government’s best interest to attract high-quality responses from the greatest possible number of suitable tenderers. But unless government takes the time to tell businesses how to improve their tendering practices, government will continue to attract the poor quality of responses it currently receives.
2. Tender debriefs create the opportunity for government to build strong and open relationships with the supplier base.
If you’re a government buyer, how many times have you sat in a debrief and thought, “I wish this company had been better at tendering, because they would be a great supplier for us…”? I can honestly say that I had this thought when I was a government buyer during 90% of debriefs I sat through.
Businesses are not good at selling themselves on paper – particularly small businesses and Australian businesses. However, since many businesses make good impressions during a debrief, it can provide government with an opportunity to add these companies to a list – informal or otherwise – of companies they may consider inviting to tender or quote for future work.
Furthermore, debriefs can provide government with an opportunity to discuss published future programs (published so as not to give one supplier an advantage over another!) and get industry feedback. The more industry understands government’s programs, the better they will be at tendering for government work.
3. Tender debriefs allow bidders, in turn, to provide feedback on the government tendering process, allowing government procurement teams to enhance their documentation and/or practices in the future.
It is in government’s best interest to attract high-quality responses from the greatest possible number of suitable tenderers. Through a tender debrief, government buyers get the opportunity to ask how market approach documentation can be better designed to encourage strong responses.
Through a debrief, the government buyer can better understand how a question was understood by a bidder, how a particular phrase was interpreted, or even if sufficient opportunities existed in the tender documentation for bidders to demonstrate their unique value propositions. If we can get to this level of value and output in a tender debrief session, then debriefs should become part of the normal process to improving tendering practices.
The challenge of tender debriefs
With the above points in mind, it’s astounding the number of times that suppliers are not offered a debrief, or that when requested, a debriefing has been refused.
However, I do understand. I ran hundreds of debriefs during my years in government and have seen first-hand how they can represent a challenge to government. Many suppliers adopt defensive positions and criticise the procurement process without taking the opportunity to understand why they were unsuccessful. Government buyers must also be careful about striking a balance between not saying too much, while also presenting useful feedback.
The art of debriefing
It’s just as important for a tender debrief to be open, constructive and well-organised, as holding the debrief in the first place. A good tender debrief will comprise a constructive dialogue been the government buyer and prospective supplier, with bidders advised on how they could have improved their tender response. Unsuccessful applicants, in particular, need strong and constructive guidance on improving their tendering practices, to ensure the best tenderers apply in the future.
But to get this right, the right mood must be set at the outset – or even before the debrief. When debriefs are scheduled, create and issue a meeting agenda that shows feedback will be provided, and what type of feedback – for example, strengths and weaknesses of the bid. Be clear about what information will be provided and what won’t. Finally, seek some written dot points from the supplier on what they are particularly interested to discuss. All this preparation will only enhance the debrief and hopefully diffuse some of the negativity suppliers may be feeling about the procurement.
Here are some further points for government procurement teams to consider when preparing for a debrief:
- It’s rare a company has been assessed as unsuccessful because they can’t do the job. Usually they are unsuccessful because the evaluator was unable to determine they could do the job from the responses provided. Convey this to the tenderer and it will improve their frame of mind.
- Review each question in a bidder’s tender response and make notes on the strengths and weaknesses of those responses.
- Provide examples of a strong tender response and show how that strong response compared to their response.
- Do not give tender scores.
- Document the conversation.
- Use debriefs to build strong supplier/buyer relationships. Where appropriate, identify upcoming tender and quotation opportunities and describe what’s required.
- Offer some lessons learned for future tenders.
This is the fourth post in our recent series exploring strategies for improving government procurement practices, with the view to enhancing the outcomes of government approaches to market. On the whole, these strategies involve equipping bidders with the information they need to tender well; in other words, promoting clear and direct communication with industry.
The rationale for holding government tender debriefs is no different. They provide an important vehicle for information transfer between buyer and suppliers to develop the practices of both parties for the future.