How to excel at procurement evaluation

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Excel® is proven to be effective for delivering simple tender evaluations. If there are a small number of evaluators and just a few documents to manage then it remains the simplest approach to evaluation. Scores can be captured in numerical format (0-10, 0-5), percentages or, for more advanced users, through the use of pivot tables, in adjectives (excellent, good, fair, poor etc).  Questions can even be weighted to allow the spreadsheet to determine the winner.

So it’s not surprising that teams naturally turn to Excel® when they have a more complicated procurement to manage. On the face of it, it would seem easy enough to share the same spreadsheet to each of the evaluators, with links to the document(s) from each bidder.  Commercial and technical documents can be segregated by using access-controlled file servers or even collaboration tools like Huddle™.  Subsequent to the evaluation, scores can be collected from each of the evaluators into a master version.  The evaluators’ scores for each criteria/question can then either be averaged, or a consensus can be formed by getting the team together to discuss the scores.

It’s easy to see how even a moderately complex evaluation can get very hard to manage very quickly in a spreadsheet.  Yet it’s surprising and quite shocking how many project teams opt to use spreadsheets on the most complex of procurements.  On these, you need to create separate spreadsheets for each group of evaluators in order to ensure that they don’t see questions and documents which aren’t relevant to their expertise – this requires a complex document file structure.  Any questions raised by the evaluators will need to be managed carefully in a separate register of questions using another spreadsheet, and yet another one will be required maintain a register of the communications with bidders.  Both will need to be shared internally/externally at the necessary times, taking care not to send anything to an evaluator/bidder that they shouldn’t see and sanitising where required.  All very do-able, but a convoluted and risky process, and incredibly time consuming.

There is a lot to consider:  large teams of evaluators, internal and external stakeholders, external audit (probity/governance), massive volumes of documentation, significant numbers of criteria and sub-criteria, separate lots etc. It’s possible to manage all this, but speak to any procurement professional who has run a project like this in Excel® – it’s often frustrating, sometimes infuriating, regularly confusing and can be terrifying.

Seemingly simple questions become complex very rapidly:

“Could we get a report of evaluation progress tomorrow?” A few rushed phone calls/emails, and a hastily written report may be frustrating.  When the team has fallen behind from the project schedule (as can often happen because there is no easy progress check in Excel®), it becomes infuriating.

“The probity advisor has some queries about how we formed a consensus on question 11; did the team take the response to clarification 121 into consideration as part of this judgement?”  How do you find that out?  Does anyone remember?!

“The bidder has raised a protest; they have noticed that the method of amalgamating the scores and weightings differs from that published – are you sure the spreadsheet doesn’t have any errors?”  Things become scary quite quickly.

Experts say that 90% of spreadsheets have errors and that the average cell error rate (the ratio of cells with errors to all cells with formulas) is 5.2%.  Some of the problems stem from the fact that a cell can contain any of the following: operational values, document properties, file names, sheet names, file paths, external links, formulas, hidden cells, nested Ifs, macros etc. and that the workbook can contain hidden/locked sheets. Spreadsheets for complex procurement processes quickly escalate to introduce these risks, and attempts to check that the result is correct rely on the person who designed the model.   On strategic procurements, unsuccessful bidders have expended significant effort bidding and are very keen to ensure that the process was fair and rigorous.  Demonstrating this openly and robustly to their satisfaction is very time-consuming and a couple of keying errors, copy and paste issues or broken links could mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful challenge.  Delays, legal fees, reputational damage and in some circumstances remedies for the bidders are not the sort of things that procurement people look forward to – quite the opposite – it keeps them up at night.

There comes a point at which a procurement team must question whether it is worth the risk?  On small value procurements perhaps it is.  On moderately complex projects, the amount of time spent administering the project and all the systems (Outlook®, HuddleTM, Excel® etc) is significant and you still don’t have a full record of what happened when or why it did.

If you need to carry out evaluations that are robust, transparent and backed up by a full audit record;  based on reliable scoring and reporting, with full document management and support for multiple users, then you need to put Excel® to one side and use AWARD®. AWARD® has been developed specifically to support strategic, complex, high risk evaluations and is the most comprehensive, innovative solution available on the market.

For more information on our proven, market-leading AWARD® evaluation solution, please take a look around our website or get in touch below.