What is a specification?
The specification is a document which clearly, accurately and completely describes the essential requirements of the goods or service being purchased. It is the basis of all offers and is the foundation for the contract.
The purpose of the specification is to:
- communicate the buyer's requirements to potential suppliers;
- guide supplier responses; and
- help the buyer to evaluate offers by providing a basis for comparability.
Preparing the specification can be a long and complex process. It is important that adequate time is devoted to this task as it is the single most critical aspect of a successful purchasing process. A poor specification may result in:
- the product or service not being delivered as required;
- difficulties in evaluating offers;
- offers from unsuitable suppliers or no offers because the department's requirements are unclear;
- the need to clarify the specification to potential tenderers during the tender process; and
- contract variations.
The format and complexity of the specification will depend on he nature of the purchase.
Who develops the specification?
Both users (of the goods and/or services) and the Evaluation Committee should be involved in developing the specification. If necessary, you may need to use external assistance to provide technical expertise.
When is the specification developed?
The specification is defined and documented during the planning phase of the purchase. The specification is usually defined in conjunction with the following tasks:
This task ...
Is undertaken at the same time as the specification is developed because ...
You need to know what your requirements are before you research the market, and the findings from your market research may result in changes to the specification.
Developing the evaluation criteria and methodology
Evaluation criteria are used to assess whether, and how well, an offer meets the user's requirements. The specification may need to be clarified if it is found that it is not possible to develop evaluation criteria that allow for offers to be adequately evaluated.
Developing the specification
The table below describes the steps needed to develop the specification.
Identify relevant value for money considerations as the specification must address value for money.
Consult with users to determine their needs, including whole-of-life requirements, for example, servicing, maintenance and possible future upgrades or enhancements. User requirements are best described in terms of outputs, functional and performance characteristics (including quantity, quality and timelines).
Draw on the experience of others - refer to previous specifications and/or request specifications prepared by other departments. Make sure that you update them according to changed user needs and market conditions.
For complex or highly technical requirements, you may wish to use external assistance to provide technical expertise. Where this is the case, you should ensure that:
- the specification is not biased towards the company or consultant that supplied the assistance;
- other businesses are given sufficient time to gain an equal understanding of the requirement; and
- the company's involvement in preparing the specification is disclosed.
Write the specification. See below for advice.
Determine the evaluation criteria. Make sure that the evaluation criteria will enable you to determine whether the requirements of the specification have been met and how well. Clarify the requirements, if necessary.
Get users and other stakeholders to review the specification to confirm that it meets their needs.
Writing the specification
The specification must not restrict competition, reflect bias to any brand or act as a barrier to the consideration of any alternatives (Treasurer's Instruction 1109).
When writing the specification, use open and generic specifications. Where brand names or trademarks etc are used in order to precisely or intelligibly describe the procurement requirements, words such as "or equivalent" must be included in the specification.
You should :
- focus on what is required, rather than on how it is to be done - by focusing on desired outputs, you give the supplier the opportunity to put forward innovative and potentially cost-effective solutions to meet your requirements;
- ensure that the requirements are clear, accurate and complete;
- ensure that requirements do not unnecessarily preclude local businesses from bidding;
- only specify the requirements required to meet the desired output / outcome - do not include unnecessary features;
- write for the layman, not the specialist - the specification should be easy to read and understand;
- avoid unduly restrictive requirements - for example, do not specify restrictive cash flow requirements or impose substantial bank guarantees if they are not essential;
- clearly indicate which requirements are mandatory;
- number each clause so that the suppliers can easily identify any requirements that are not, or are only partially, met, or where alternative or innovative solutions are being offered; and
- refer suppliers to the evaluation criteria so that they understand how their offer will be assessed and can focus their response accordingly.
When preparing a specification for a tender to which free trade agreements apply, refer to the International Procurement Obligations publication for additional requirements.
Content and structure
The content and structure of the specification will depend upon the nature and complexity of the requirement. Most requirements will be simple, straightforward and easily defined in terms of function and performance. In these circumstances, a detailed specification would be impractical and not cost-effective.
The Crown Solicitor's template RFT documentation provides an example of structure and content of a specification.