by Mark Appleton
Writing tender documentation shouldn't be a pain. Here are some hints and tips to get you started.
Sometimes I think people forget that when you send out tender documentation, be that an RFI, RFQ, RFP or ITT, you are sending out a document that represents your business. This document could well be the very first interaction a supplier, or potential supplier, will have with your business.
What's the impression you want to pass on to them via this document? Is it one of professionalism? One that says "we know what we're doing, we just need a little help"? Or is it one of spelling mistakes, wrong figures in boxes, contradictory dates and messaging, vagueness or any other of the myriad of issues I regularly see?
Not only are you sending out the wrong impression when you send out tender documentation that has issues, you are also causing yourself more headache in the short, medium and long term. You will be inundated with clarification questions, questions you'll have to spend time answering. You could have suppliers making assumptions about parts of the documentation and, if you don't spot that their assumptions are wrong, it will cause all manner of problems later.
What Does Your New Supplier Look Like?
Before you even begin to write your document, sit down and have a think about what it is you want out of it. I'm not talking about the project itself, I'm going to assume you know that already (though I'm amazed by the tender documents that get sent out for projects that aren't even clear to the people who send them), I'm talking about the partner you want.
Do you want someone who will bring creativity and ideas? Perhaps don't be so prescriptive so they can bring that creativity and those ideas without feeling like they're stepping beyond the boundaries of the tender documentation. If you want a supplier who will just follow your blueprint, like a builder and architect relationship, then be clear, prescriptive and concise.
Check, Check, Check Again…Then Ask Someone Else To Check For You
I know we are all busy in our jobs. We have more and more work, less and less time and deadlines that seem to get tighter. However, having someone look over your document before you send it out can save you time, stress and money throughout the process.
Try to find someone who has no connection with the project, someone from another department for example. Ask them to look for inconsistencies, spelling, grammar, that sort of thing. If you really have the time it would be amazing if you could ask them to write a short (one-pager) document that outlines what it is they think you are asking for. Compare this to what you are actually trying to get and see where the disconnects are, then amend.
Write, Rewrite, Then Rewrite Again
This is a useful tip for writing in general. In the world of movies, scripts can go through hundreds, even thousands, of rewrites before the final version and some of those rewrites will be by different people, though let's not complicate things too much here!
Don't think that the first draft you write will be the greatest piece of work you have ever written. Write and aim to finish in one sitting and keep in mind that you will be coming back to the document to review and rewrite.
Another useful tip when writing is to leave the document alone for a few days, maybe even as long as a week. Don't think about it, don't look at it, don't talk about it. Then, come back to it and have a read-through, chances are you'll find plenty to rewrite.
You shouldn't get upset or annoyed about rewriting something, it is all part of the process of getting the best document together that ensures you will receive the best responses in return. Quality in, quality out.
Be Clear When You Need To Be Clear
Sounds obvious doesn't it? But you'd be amazed at the tender documentation I see that simply doesn't make any sense. For example; I see other documents, other projects, other suppliers briefly mentioned but no detail provided. This is fine, however remember that if you mention something, such as another project that's relevant, you will be asked about it.
If you feel it's pertinent at this time to mention that there's another supplier, another project, another part of this project, then by all means mention it. But if you are not prepared to provide any further information, be clear about that too.
Rather than: "We have run several tests on our existing widget already". Perhaps write: "We have run several tests on our existing widget already. The results from which will be made available to the winning supplier and are not available as part of this tender process". A simple change but one that instantly informs suppliers that they don't need to ask for the test results. I can't guarantee that it will stop every request for the results, as the saying goes 'there's always one', but it will stop the majority.
Deadlines From The Sky
Think about this: why are you going out to tender? Most likely, you are looking for someone or a supplier who has skills that you don't possess. If that's the case, how are you able to put a realistic deadline together? Notice the word 'realistic' there. Anyone can come up with a deadline, it's just a date at the end of the day.
A realistic deadline has to be based on an understanding of your requirements, an understanding of the skills required to solve those requirements and some degree of having done it before. Think about the dates you are putting in the tender documentation. Have you provided suppliers enough time to read and understand your tender, create any questions they may have, time for you to answer them, time for the supplier to create their response and submit it?
If not, you may find that many will simply not respond at all. You may miss-out on some viable companies simply because you are trying to rush through the project. And this is even before we've got to the deadlines for the project itself.
Ask yourself where any deadlines have come from? Is it really required for that date? I've seen dates created because there is an upcoming conference or internal presentation, because press has been pre-booked(?) and because 'it seems reasonable'.
Is it really worth putting everyone under pressure, straining relationships, potentially having to de-scope items, just to hit a date that was created before you even spoke to the chosen supplier? Why not speak to a consultant, such as us, or why not ask suppliers to provide you with a date when they believe they can complete the project by and add this to the evaluation criteria?
I don't mean head to the nearest hospital, though I know many people can feel that way after a tender process. I mean it's ok to ask for help, in fact we'd positively recommend it, though we may be a little biased. Again, it comes down to a little time and money now, getting it right, will mean lots of time and money saved later. And that's always a good thing.
I think we can all agree that tendering for work is an antiquated system. It isn't a good way for suppliers to represent themselves to businesses but, until we can all agree on a way that works for everyone, we're stuck with it. So, speak to us for help with your next tender documentation to save time, money and stress further down the line and ensure you get it right first time.