Do you receive responses with varying content and levels of detail that make comparison difficult?
These are measures of how clear your procurement documents are.
The question is: how can you make them clearer?
Well, firstly, remember the importance of considering your primary audience: those pesky vendors and service providers.
Then it’s about following good documentation practice.
Tips to help you make your procurement documents clearer
1. Use the right procurement document for the right purpose
It helps when your request for information (RFI), for example, is actually a request for information. There’s a considerable difference in the level of detail and effort required to respond to an RFI compared to, say, a request for tender (RFT).
So make sure your procurement document is what its name suggests.
If you’re not sure of the difference between an RFI and EOI and RFP and RFT etc., then it’s probably a good idea to find out.
2. Beware of using an old document as the basis for a new one
I think it’s safe to assume that copying an old document to create a new one is pretty common practice. Well, it makes sense … if the document you’re copying was a good one.
But there’s nothing worse than propagating garbage. And that’s pretty common practice, too.
Anyway, global search-and-replace makes it easy to update names, titles, dates, system names and other bits and pieces in your RFP — right?
Global search-and-replace works fine … as long as words and terms were used consistently in the document you copied.
And chances are they weren’t.
You still need to read the content to ensure everything was correctly replaced and to pick up anything that shouldn’t have been replaced.
It happens, which leads me to this tip:
3. Check your document before releasing it
‘That’s just common sense’, I hear you say. ‘Well, you know what they say about common sense’, I reply.
It’s quite frustrating to be referred to section 3.12 of an RFP, only to find there is no such section because you deleted it, but you didn’t delete cross-references to it.
And it’s just plain silly being instructed to comply with an Australian or international standard that’s obsolete or superseded.
The solution here is simple: read your document. Every word of it.
- Check cross-references. If you used your word processor’s cross-referencing function (which, I hope, you did), remember to update the cross-references.
- Verify the currency of compliance standards and other referenced material.
- And have the document reviewed by someone who wasn’t involved in writing it.
Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to properly accept any tracked changes before you release the document. Seriously. I’ve seen more than one RFP* where the mark-ups were visible!
And that reminds me: remember to delete any instructions that are in your RFP template. I’ve seen them left in released documents*, too. The instructions were even a different colour, so they stood out.
And because it can’t be said often enough, my last tip is:
4. Know your audience, and speak their language
I’m not talking about the tone of your documents or about using correct spelling and grammar, as important as they are.
I’m talking about making sure you use terminology and write in a way that your audience will understand.
I remember seeing an RFP* that requested services to develop a ‘conceptual high level’ network design. That obviously made sense to the organisation from its electrical-engineering perspective.
But from an IT perspective, the spec was for a detailed network design.
And there’s nothing worse than those RFPs* that request you to provide a project plan, when a schedule in a Gantt chart is what’s expected.
You see, ‘project plan’ has a specific meaning to those of us familiar with project methodologies. Which is why it’s better to use terms like ‘schedule’ and ‘project management plan’ to avoid any confusion.
One last thing …
Just briefly to address your spelling and grammar, here’s a tip:
Use a dictionary and have someone proofread your content. Definitely do not rely on a spellchecker. They don’t pack up valid works used in the wrong place. (See!)
And remember, you’re aiming for plain English in order to be understood. So that probably means not letting your legal team or techos have the final say on any of the wording in your procurement documents.
* Names have been withheld to protect the guilty.
Do you want better procurement documents?
This post is one of a series. Read the rest and find out: