One of the best possible surprises in a procurement process is discovering that your approach to the market has been wildly popular, and you have received 2 or even 3 times the number of tenders you expected.
But elation can quickly turn to despair once you realise that your evaluation process has not been designed to accommodate the number of responses received, and the 5 days set aside in your timetable for tender evaluation now looks woefully inadequate.
Follow this step by step guide to salvage your evaluation timetable, without sacrificing probity or efficacy.
Quarantine the tenders
By storing the tenders securely and with restricted access, you give yourself the option to amend your evaluation plan without creating a probity risk. If you have already viewed the tenders, the evaluation process has arguably commenced, and your ability to make changes may be restricted.
Ask your tender receiving officer for the number of tenders received only in the first instance, and no further details, to ensure you retain maximum flexibility.
Revisit the evaluation plan
If the number is larger than expected, review your evaluation plan for suitability. Your aim here is to identify opportunities for reducing the number of tenders that need to be assessed, without losing any high quality responses.
Are there already options for creating a shortlist of tenders at various points? If so, these may be sufficient to streamline the evaluation process and accommodate all the tenders in the time available for evaluation. If shortlisting is not provided for at all, or cannot occur until the final stages of the evaluation, you may need to amend your evaluation plan.
Amending the process
Consider inserting a new step into the evaluation process allowing you to remove any tender deemed ‘clearly uncompetitive’. This would typically sit after the initial conformance check and before the detailed technical evaluation commences. It allows the removal of tenders with no prospect of success, either because they have fundamentally misunderstood the requirement or provided inadequate responses to evaluation criteria. When including an early shortlisting exercise, there are a few principles to keep in mind:
- You must not engage in a process that is different from what you represented to tenderers in your RFT. If you have not included broad ‘reserved rights’ to exclude tenders as part of your conditions of tender, then seek legal and probity advice before amending any internal process. If you don’t, you may expose yourself to public criticism and, in some cases, legal action for breach of a process contract or misleading and deceptive conduct.
- Remember that deciding a tender is ‘clearly uncompetitive’ is a subjective judgment, so try to have 2 or 3 people make this decision together. If in doubt, keep it in.
- Document the new step in the evaluation process by way of an amendment to the evaluation plan, and have the amendment approved by the appropriate decision maker.
- Don’t allow any tender to be removed without a clear, documented reason. This creates visibility for your decision maker, an audit trail, and ensures you have sufficient information available to provide a debrief to each unsuccessful tenderer.
- Unless it is a very straight-forward procurement, price alone will rarely justify the removal of a tender at a preliminary stage. A high price may be reflective of high quality, and this should be assessed as part of a comprehensive value for money assessment.
Other amendments you can consider to improve the efficiency of your evaluation process include:
- Individual reading: if you had planned to have the evaluation team read the tenders together as a committee, consider instead having each member read the tenders and form a preliminary view individually, so the team, once convened, can proceed straight to discussion and scoring.
- Create a cut-off point: set a requirement that any tender with a total weighted technical score of less than 60% will automatically be removed from further consideration. Alternatively, ensure quality across all competencies by providing that a tender scoring less than 50% on any single criterion will (or may) be removed from consideration. Always run a hypothetical on these arrangements to avoid any unintended results, particularly if you have a large number of scored criteria with differing weightings.
Manage your resources
Give your assessors as much notice as possible if additional work will be required, so they can factor in additional reading time prior to the evaluation committee convening.
Consider allocating additional personnel to support the evaluation team in managing and documenting the evaluation process. This will help to ensure the evaluation report can be produced as efficiently as possible after deliberations conclude.
If timeframes for the award of a contract are likely to change as a result of the expanded evaluation process, consider advising any stakeholders who may make public announcements referring to the now out-of-date timeframes.
You are not required to keep tenderers updated as to the status of your evaluation process, even where that exceeds the indicative timeframes set out in your approach to market documents. However, rather than waiting until the emails start coming in, you may wish to take the initiative and advise all tenderers of the delay.
Take a few moments after the storm has subsided to document any lessons learned. Market factors outside of your control are usually the reason for a high level of market interest. However, in some cases, an unusually high response rate can be a sign that you were not sufficiently clear in your ATM documents about what you were seeking, leaving your requirements open to interpretation.
The experience of being overwhelmed with tenders to evaluate can also highlight hidden flaws in standard evaluation procedures and templates. Consider making changes to build in maximum flexibility, so you will be well equipped to deal with similar situations in the future.
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