The bedrock of successful bids

Detailed documentation is the bedrock of a successful tender process, says Lorraine Ashover of Minerva Procurement Consultancy.

The success or failure of a tender process can be set at the very start.

The stakes are high; get the tender right and at the end of the process you begin working with a quality, good value supplier who is the perfect fit for your school.

Start the process wrong and it could be a protracted, stressful time that ends in a less than optimum way.

So how do you kick off a tender in the right way? Knowing the common mistakes that are made is a good start so that you can avoid making them yourself.

In our experience the main error at the beginning of any tender is not including enough information in the documentation that accompanies the publication of the Request For Proposal (RFP) or Selection Questionnaire (SQ).

The result is always the same: the documentation begs more questions than it answers, and the school ends up with a raft of clarification questions from bidders. Managing a convoluted Q&A is a job in itself. There is lots of to-ing and fro-ing and this causes delays and, sometimes, confusion. Get that documentation right at the beginning and you will save a lot of time and effort.

The easiest way to get a good quality submission is to make sure that bidders have the information they need in the first place. The depth and detail of documentation depends on the type of bidding process. If you do an OJEU or RFP it’s a good idea to put together a Memorandum of Information (MoI). This document should be the bedrock of your tender process.

As the main reference point for any questions from bidders the MoI needs to include every piece of information, they are likely to need. This includes details about the school(s) and trust, a description of current provision, the scope of the services such as overall requirement, contract length, fixed and variable pricing, how the goods or service will be delivered, quality assurance methods, project stages and timetable.

The more complex the tender the more detailed the MoI needs to be. For really complex technical projects, such as payroll or ICT managed service tenders, include a Statement of Requirements (SoR), which drills down even further into the nitty gritty of the service requirements.

The difficulty in putting together a wide ranging and detailed document like this is knowing exactly what to include. We have a checklist for clients that anticipates all the questions that bidders will want answered.

Complexity creates questions. Our catering contract checklist has 58 questions, which does cause school business managers and finance directors to take a sharp intake of breath when they first see it, although more often than not this is followed by compliments when the result is a smooth bidding process.

The other drawback of sketchy or incomplete tender information is that it could dissuade really good quality bidders from getting involved. If potential bidders see a tender that is poorly written and has big holes in the detail, they may decide not to bid. Give them the information and you are more likely to be able to assemble a shortlist of really good quality bidders.

Another tender documentation sin is to be too vague on really important areas. If a contract includes staff who are part of LGPS you must spell out the employer contribution level. If you don’t the bidder could make an assumption that’s either too far under or too far over the actual level. And this could lead to a set of bids that can’t be accurately compared.

School business leaders have a lot in their inbox at the moment so it’s tempting to get that tender paperwork off your desk as quickly as possible so that you can strike it off your to-do list and get on with the next pressing matter. It might take longer to prepare your tender documentation thoroughly at the beginning of the process, but, like the proverbial stitch, it will actually save you from time-consuming problems in the long run.

Lorraine Ashover is managing director of Minerva Procurement Consultancy Services Limited. Focused exclusively on the school sector, Minerva has helped schools tender £100 million worth of contracts and generated more than £2.5 million of revenue, refunds and ongoing annual savings for its clients over the past three years. A new edition of Minerva’s free e-book, 84 Points for a Perfect Procurement Process, is available at

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