Successful Tendering – There Are Many Solutions

There are many solutions for a great tender submission.

One of the great mysteries of the “open” competitive tendering process is that each
of us has experienced defeat. What mystifies us is that there must have been a
mistake – we had the best solution. Of course we did. So did the other three
unsuccessful tenderers as did, we hope, the successful one!

So, consider this hypothetical tender, which simply asks for a proposal to “make the
following equation true by only adding one line to it”:

I X = V I

Simple enough. Prepare your team to consider what is being asked. Review all the
documentation to ensure that nothing has been overlooked. And prepare your
tender. You do this, and your tender response is simply:

I X (does not equal sign) V I

Compliant. One line added to the equal sign to make the equation true and correct.
Clearly the winning tender – or is it?

As with all projects and activities, there may be many approaches that could be
implemented to lead to the same minimum requirements. And this is good and
vitally important if we genuinely seek solutions that create long-term sustainable
benefits. Still, we can do more than just meeting ‘minimum requirements’ to ensure

We all have a responsibility to ensure that we challenge the thinking that is
presented in the design, the tender documentation, donor policy etc, not just to
prepare a response that ‘meets’ stated requirements. If we did not do this, then the
tendering process would simply come down to a price comparison, which does not
necessarily translate to the best solution to the problem.

So who is the “we” to take all this responsibility? Is it us as individuals? Is it the
managing contractors? Agencies? Clearly, it is all of us in whatever role we are
adopting as it relates to a tender or activity in question.

The tendering process should remain directly connected to the activity’s
implementation and its results. So during the preparation of the submission some
key questions need always be asked:

•Why are we doing this

•Who are we targeting

•Where will any impac be realised

•How will we know

•How would we measure it

And there are probably many more, all of which have something in common –
starting with the end in mind.

This responsibility to ask key questions does not rest solely with those preparing
the tender response. Clearly it forms part of any methodology to design an activity,
and it really should also be part of the tender assessment process if there is a
genuine commitment to finding the best approach to any activity. I once received
some ‘feedback’, and I am sure I am not alone here, that “but it wasn’t asked for in
the tender”. This is unacceptable and indicates a lack of consideration to the
question “why are they proposing this?” It may still have been judged to be not the
desired approach, however merely dismissing alternative approaches because
[possibly] it wasn’t thought of in the design phase, is not being true to the cause.

So, working on an assumption that the design and preparation is sound and
complete, responding to this hypothetical tender with the “does not equal” sign as
your ‘approach’ will certainly ensure that the needs of the ‘project’ are met. But,
what if you spent some time thinking about other options, you might have
considered submitting this ‘tender’ response:

I X 6 = V I

Where in the ‘tender’ did it ask for a straight line? So here is another solution to the
same problem that may in fact be superior to the earlier response. Our role then is
to evaluate the merits of the options, and then our tender response needs to fully
demonstrate why the option we finally propose will be the best solution for the

We are seldom likely to be a sole tenderer, so a critical success factor is considering
what the competition is doing. So by going through the above process for our
hypothetical tender, we now have two options to consider. Now we are presented
not only with the consideration of which option is best for the activity, but also,
what might our competition be considering? This means you are in a position to
consider their team, their approach and their strengths and weaknesses. And by
doing this, not only can you frame your response by demonstrating why your
methods, team etc are most appropriate you can demonstrate this from a
comparative standpoint.

All of this requires a commitment from us as potential tenderers or team members
to looking for the absolute best solution for the proposed activity. And clearly it
needs complete transparency amongst all stakeholders to ensure the best solution
is successful, not the “best, because” option. And it equally requires a commitment
from those assessing tenders and proposals to consider why alternatives or
additions are being proposed, and evaluating these on their merits.


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