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Asking the right question…a brief introduction to the importance of Structured Criteria Development (SCD)

Technical subject matter experts (SMEs), whatever their specialism, are required to be meticulous and exacting; they have risen to heights in their respective fields by developing their knowledge to an expert level and applying a thorough attention to detail. When properly guided, this quality can produce a high quality tender return from your bidders. However, if there is no structure to the SMEs’ input, then the opposite can be true…

When we think of criteria writing, a pretty standard procedure comes to mind: a team of SMEs is tasked to produce a series of questions designed to tease out the best response possible from their potential suppliers. The team knows exactly the solution it requires, and uses its in-depth knowledge to produce a long and detailed set of requirements aimed at achieving the result it wants.

Unfortunately what may actually be guaranteed is a rod for our SMEs’ backs, in the form of a very large tender return to review and evaluate, and/or worse, a tender return that may rule out selection of the best response because the questions are narrow and prescriptive. When writing a set of criteria, consider the following two scenarios …

Scenario One: Stowaways

An international shipping department had a stowaway problem aboard their trucks.

To get the best possible solution to their problem, the department employed a team of experts in the field of international transit to write a set of mandatory requirements detailing exactly the type of measures that should be taken to address the problem.  This set of requirements went down to the very finest detail including the types of checks that should be carried out, type of training, etc..

The tender responses went to market and came back, with one supplier clearly providing a superior bid.

The superior bid opened with a caveat stating that, if given the opportunity, the supplier would not have proposed mandatory training, or checks, but instead, would have modified the transportation vehicles used. This would have eliminated any areas in which a stowaway could hide; thus removing the need for training of staff, and indeed the stowaway issue itself. The buyer now has a problem; the bid submitted has been assessed and has been deemed the most effective, but cannot be taken into account because the SMEs have written themselves into a corner by publishing a restrictive set of mandatory requirements.

How could this have been avoided?  Quite simply, by a change of approach when writing the criteria and replacing wording such as “The contractor is to detail how a thorough vehicle search will be undertaken?” with a question such as, “How does the contractor intend to tackle the problem of stowaways?”

Adopting an open rather than a prescriptive, instructional approach would have meant the difference between a superior and a mediocre solution.

Scenario two: Cargo

In this second scenario the same shipping department is trying to find out what cargo the potential contractors are not able ship by asking the following question:  “List all the different types of cargo your company is able to transport.”

A reasonable question on first glance.

The tender went to market and responses were received from several companies; all of whom supplied very long detailed responses listing all the types of goods they could carry. The responses were all very similar. All companies omitted nuclear waste, chemical waste, and firearms, and all the bids required a forklift truck to move the resulting immense paper response.

The buyer has the information required! But has it been gained in the most efficient way? Perhaps a better question would have been,“List any types of cargo your company is not able to carry”… and cancel the forklift truck!

The response for each tender return would not only have been shorter but better still, may have highlighted categories of dangerous cargo that the buyer had not considered.

This sort of scrutiny, when applied to an entire question set, may save a great deal of time and effort for the evaluation team, whilst also freeing up the bidder to better show off their full potential. This latter effect could result in a change to the winner of a contest, and also produce a better service for the buyer.

In conclusion, when writing a set of criteria you will receive exactly what you have asked for, so it is imperative to ask for exactly the right thing, whilst taking care not to restrict innovative responses. Time spent examining semantics and question structure through the application of Commerce Decisions’ Structured Criteria Development (SCD) is time very well spent. Without this sort of scrutiny your project could suffer with the selection of unsuitable solutions and a resulting inefficiency for the entire length of the contract, which could become both very costly and very painful.

SCD has a lot more to offer, to find out more or for help with criteria writing, contact us or check out more details here.