Getting to Good Contracts

Getting to Good Contracts

Today, Seth is on about what makes a good spec. The basic message is this: Even good providers will interpret a spec differently and deliver different products. If you can live with the differences, then it’s a good spec.

In Proposal Land, the same observation applies in two ways, one of which is way easier to test and fix.

Way #1

A poor specification of the work wanted (the product, or service, or both) will generate bids based on different understandings of that work: This is Seth’s situation. Some of these bids might stray so far from the (poorly/ambiguously explained/articulated) intention as to be non-compliant. Any bids that survive will still be tough to compare fairly.  Not. Good.

Also, Not Easy to test in advance. What, will we ask a bunch of bidders to respond to a draft RFP and SOW to give it a good road test? Good luck with that: Time is money and proposals take a lot of time.

However, it is possible to do these things:

  • Build the spec on proven sub-specs – Don’t get creative. If you have a spec that has worked before, use it again.
  • Ask an expert to review the spec, specifically for areas where bidders might go in different ways – This takes a special kind of expert (competent in the work, conversant with procurement, and able to see different interpretations). Plus, you need expertise in every (major) aspect of the work.
  • Ask potential bidders to review the draft SOW – They will at least flag things that aren’t clear to them, although you’re unlikely to uncover serious differences in understanding because the whole issue is that they think their reading of the requirement is the only one.
  • Learn from failures by debriefing bidders on how/where things went off the rails – The challenge is to teach the lesson to the people who need to learn it, but it’s not impossible. In theory.

Way #2

A poor specification of the response instructions will generate bids that are organized differently. Sometimes wildly differently, as on one defense/defence contract where one bidder submitted the plans that were requested and one bidder did what they’d always done before (and what they knew the actual evaluators wanted) and submitted a para-by-para response to the SOW. (Strictly speaking this was not misinterpretation of the instructions, but you get the point: Bids structured completely differently are damnably tough to evaluate fairly.)

Way #2 is easier (faster, cheaper) to test in advance than Way #1. Just ask two (or three) procurement professionals to review your draft instructions:

  • To identify any places where they have questions
  • To then go ahead and make a detailed Table of Contents

If the results differ, figure out why and fix it.

Oh, and consider my solution. Don’t give bidders instructions: Give them the Table of Contents you want them to follow, with numbers and everything. If someone can’t follow that, you really don’t want to do business with them anyway.