Since the goal of purchasing professionals is to obtain quality products and services at the best price and within the parameters of applicable laws, rules, and regulations, adequate specifications are required. Adequate specifications streamline the procurement process, while poor specifications cause unnecessary delay and may result in an inappropriate purchase.
Offered for your use are some tips for preparing specifications that will result in a purchase that meets your needs:
Writing Principles, Techniques and Tips
- Leave out brochure language that cannot be objectively evaluated. Instead select only the essential characteristics or features necessary to meet the agency requirements.
- Begin the description with a common name for the goods or services, if possible. (use ‘facial tissue’ instead of ‘Kleenex’)
- Include enough detail for the bidders to understand your requirements. Technical specifications should contain enough detail to differentiate the level of quality or performance required.
- Be clear and precise. Avoid ambiguity. The specification writers should always question if the specification would answer all necessary questions if roles were reversed and he/she were the vendor trying to respond to the invitation to bid.
- Verify current availability of brand and model number if used in the specifications. All brand and model numbers referenced must be in current production and available on the market. If specifications indicate an acceptable brand and model or part number, invite competitive brands by indicating “or equal”.
- When siting compliance with certain industry test methods or standards, include copies or indicate where copies may be obtained.
- When sizes, weights, speeds, etc. are a part of the specification, determine if a range is acceptable then indicate minimums or maximums or approximates.
- If an item must fit into a given space, indicate the available space dimensions.
- Sample requirements, if any, are to be clearly identified as a requirement in the specifications with clear instructions on how to label the sample, when it is due, and how it will be used in the evaluation for award.
- Delivery warranty (ie. parts, labor, and/or service requirements, etc.) and training requirements, if applicable, are to be clearly defined.
- When bidding maintenance services, define the service requirements, advise if parts, labor, travel, and service hours are required. Specify number of preventative maintenance inspections required and any other inclusions or exclusions is to be priced. Avoid using restrictive language such as “vendor must be located within a 20 mile radius of Baton Rouge.” Instead, request a reasonable response time.
- Identify any instructional materials or service manuals that the contractor must furnish. Also, incorporate into the specifications the type of training they must provide to the end users and where this training is to take place.
- If compatibility with an existing piece of equipment is a factor, describe the equipment, connectors, interfaces, brand and model of the existing equipment.
- Clearly state the packaging requirements, size, types of finish, color, etc.
- If installation is required, provide detailed requirements. If a site visit is required, indicate a contact name and telephone number and when contact is to occur.
- Clearly indicate if actual options (describe which ones, if applicable) are required at time of this bid or if the capability for upgrade at some later date is required.
- When performance specifications are included, ensure that performance indicators are also outlined.
- Eliminate all mandatory requirements not important to the function of the purchase.
- Include requirements important to the specification. Never assume it is understood that something will be included. Only requirements that are in the specification can be used to evaluate a bid. Just because a particular brand and number specified has an inherent feature, you cannot rule out other bidders if the feature was not described in the specification.
- Literature, proof of staff training, insurance, or other certification requirements should not be listed as mandatory submittals with the bid. Instead, allow bidder to submit these documents after the bids have opened and prior to award.
- A “yes/no” column is recommended for long technical specifications so vendors can respond to each specification requirement. This does not relieve the purchasing agent and/or end user from a thorough evaluation but may assist in the evaluation process.
- Understand the use of the following words and use them prudently:
- “Shall” denotes the imperative
- “ May” denotes the permissive
- “And” means it must have both or multiples
- “or” means either is acceptable
- When testing methods are applicable, describe the requirements.
- Specify how award will be made: i.e. based on 12 months useage ; life cycle costing for 5 years; labor, materials, travel, and perdiem to repair + one year extended warranty, etc.
- Indicate the appropriate unit of measure.
- Don’t mix Specifications with Instructions to Bidders or Terms and Conditions. Specifications describe the item or service. Instructions to Bidders describe how to complete the bid forms, when bids are due, if site visits are required, etc. Terms and Conditions address such things as standards of quality, delivery, taxes, default of contract, cancellation, etc.
- Use active versus passive voice. Ex: “the contractor shall conduct a test” instead of “ a test shall be conducted”.
- Avoid over-specifying—it will only increase the cost and restrict the competition.
- Or; under-specifying—it may compromise the quality level and you may not receive the product or service adequate to fulfill your needs.