• Tricks of the trade: A great spec goes a long way

    A specification, or spec, is many things – including the basis for success or failure.

    It’s the foundation of a contract. It’s the basis on which suppliers submit their tenders and, if successful, deliver their product or services. For contract managers, it’s a yardstick to measure supplier performance and a fallback position if performance is inadequate.

    If ill-defined, it’s where things can start to go very wrong.

    According to Sue McKinnon, Senior Policy Officer at Government Procurement (GP), an unclear spec might rear its head many times in the life of a contract.

    ‘An ambiguous specification can cause problems from the minute it’s out in the market and generating offers that are not what you thought you had asked for. Sure, an addendum may help solve the problem, but takes time to put together and adds a layer of confusion that could have easily been avoided.’

    ‘Once a contract is in place, an unclear specification may leave you ‘stuck’ with something that’s unfit for purpose or exceeds your budget. It also might leave you exposed to other risks and won’t offer much protection when you need it most,’ says Sue.

    So, let’s have a look at what sets apart a great spec from a vague spec.

    A well written specification clearly and unambiguously describes the outcome you want the contract to deliver. It gives the supplier clear guidelines on what is required, how and when it is to be delivered and to what standard; and gives suppliers enough information to judge whether they can fulfil the contract in the first place.

    • Take time to understand what it is that you need.
    • Do your research. Look at TendersWA, the internet, existing products/services on the market and past contracts covering similar requirements. Talk to GP, other agencies or the industry. Read up on regulations, acts and relevant publications.
    • Custom-build your spec. Never just copy and paste an existing one as you may be giving a supplier an unfair advantage or leaving yourself open to committing to a product or service that doesn’t quite meet your needs.
    • Do a gap-analysis: visualise the processes surrounding your requirement and how it’s used. Does the spec cover your need every step of the way?

    Once you have done this, draft a concise specification using plain language, making sure nothing is left open to interpretation. Have it read by someone who is not involved in the procurement.

    Chances are that by now, you’ve got yourself a decent spec that will go a long way towards achieving contract success. Why? Because you, as a government buyer, have taken the opportunity to state exactly what it is that you need, allowing others to deliver precisely that.

    According to Sue, the time invested in writing a great spec will pay itself back manyfold throughout the life of a contract.

    Return to Procurement Matters December 2014 issue


    Published date: 22 December 2014