It's vital to scrutinise ITT responses carefully

Stephen Ashcroft
9 July 2014

10 July 2014 | Stephen Ashcroft

Stephen Ashcroft, Brian FarringdonRisks inevitably arise when the responses to tender questions are not read carefully enough.

Some invitation to tender (ITT) responses can be hundreds of pages, and evaluators will probably lose the will to live long before coming to the end.

Superficially, avoiding detail is likely to come back to bite you. There are some gifted tender writers who can give a response while leaving a door open that, later, after contract award, they can walk through and relieve the buyer of money. Let us give you three examples:

1. A bidder was asked for their experience in selective business sectors and stated. “We are active in [a wide number of sectors]”. We evaluated this response and scored it low. Why? What exactly does “active” mean? If they had a contract for £1,000 this would constitute “active”. Is this deliberately obtuse or a deliberate obfuscation of the truth?

2. A question was asked with the purposes of exposing possible conflicts of interest. The answer included the response: “The firm takes its responsibilities very seriously and has an extensive procedure for minimising the risk of becoming conflicted". It would be more useful if this “extensive procedure” had been explained in detail. And note the use of the word “minimising”, as opposed to “eradicating”.

3. Another question related to obtaining a capped fee for specific defined services. The answer said: “Our extensive experience enables us to accurately estimate the input and time needed from our staff in order to gauge an overall fee”. That sounds impressive and convincing doesn’t it? It continued that they would “normally” apply the following assumptions (note the word normally). The first assumption is “no undue difficulties or complications”. That is ridiculous – what does it mean? Has anyone ever faced a project that didn’t have complications? The effect of this statement is to completely undermine the capped fee. The phrase “undue difficulties” lacks definition. The result was another low-scoring tender.

I’m sure you have your own examples of ‘clever’ responses like these (do feel free to share below). We recommend a critical reading of ITT responses - every word, every sentence, every page, the whole ITT, with visible accountability. Think carefully about how your evaluation model deals with the nuances of the tender responses. Make sure your tender questions explicitly uncover the information you require. The less attention to detail, the more risk there is.

☛ Stephen Ashcroft is a specialist in procurement risk at Brian Farrington. You can comment or connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter

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