Managing the expectations of parties in large procurement projects can mean striking a delicate balance.

Key Points

  • Decide how you will communicate from the outset 
  • Have a credible and reliable timetable 
  • Remember the legal requirements for public procurement

Buyers in complex procurement projects face the challenge of managing the relationship between stakeholders and bidders while sticking to the project timetable. But how should this be done to ensure a smooth procurement?

Start early. Buyers should have a stakeholder communications strategy in place before the formal procurement starts and do as much as possible before involving bidders. Significant work needs to be done to settle preferred and acceptable choices and identify key concerns before the first consultation.

Stakeholders’ concerns might range from intellectual property or environmental liability points, through to broader CSR issues. Public sector buyers should be particularly aware of ensuring that necessary impact assessments are conducted in good time.

Continuing communication with stakeholders is also needed throughout. The timetable should allow enough time for genuine ongoing consultation with stakeholders and capture of their input without slowing down the procurement and inconveniencing bidders.

The preferred relationship between stakeholders, timetable and bidders is like an equilateral triangle. Change at any one of the points will result in displacing either or both of the others from their preferred position.

For example, if the consultation with stakeholders takes longer than planned, the overall timetable may slip. If this happened later when a bidder was not making progress on other issues, it would also pull the bidder away from its preferred position on cost. The aim is to keep the balance as much as possible.

The temptation when timetabling is to make a generous allowance around the stakeholder consultation period. This works reasonably well before the formal procurement starts because the timetable can be recovered to some extent if consultation proves to be less time-consuming than first thought. But flexibility becomes more troublesome once the formal procurement starts.

To encourage strong competition, the barriers to entry need to be low. This means having a credible and reliable timetable. Bidders incur costs in running their bid teams, whether or not they are undertaking significant activity. Therefore, they need to be confident there is as much certainty as possible around the duration of the procurement.

Wasting bidders’ time is not good for future dealings but managing a procurement to suit bidders alone is inappropriate. It could displace the expectations of the stakeholders you’ve worked with before the procurement got under way, damaging relationships and undermining other objectives. In public procurement there are particular risks in ignoring wider duties, such as legal requirements to consult at particular points in the process.

Consider the whole picture at the beginning and approach the project timetabling step by step. Schedule consultation during the procurement for periods when it has no, or minimal, impact on the bidders. Getting this right means bidders and stakeholders will be confident about working with you in the future because they know what they’re going to get.