Step 1: Planning and analysis
The foundation of a good specification is in the planning and analyses which are undertaken before writing begins. Key people who can help such as procurement staff, technical officers, project officers and managers and end users need to be involved. Planning and analysis will provide a better understanding of the requirement(s) and may reveal alternative solutions. Planning and analysis are particularly important when developing complex requirements. These may take some time to define, perhaps even years in the case of major equipment. The accuracy and detail of the definition is likely to improve as information is gathered and assimilated.
Define the requirement(s) and then approach industry to see what is available to meet the department‘s/agency‘s needs. If industry is approached too early in the development process, there is the risk of deciding the solution to the problem before the requirement(s) is fully defined. In some cases potential solutions may be discovered and explored which may allow refinement of needs. Think in terms of the performance required or the functions to be performed. In other cases, however, solutions may not be readily available or there could be the danger in stating a solution up front that may restrict offers of alternative solutions. In this situation, a full explanation of the issue or problem is needed.
Breaking down the requirement(s) in terms of function and performance will better define the need. Defining the requirement(s) in terms of the lowest level functions or sub components should also help to discover conflicts and inconsistencies within the requirement(s). Alternative solutions, too, may be revealed in the process.
- Planning and analysis
- Consultation and information gathering
- Writing the specification
- Vetting the specification and obtaining approvals
- Issuing the specification, as part of the “Invitation to Offer” process
- Managing amendments to the specification
- Revising and storing the specification
Step 2: Consultation and information gathering
Developing specifications requires consultation and can be perceived as an evolutionary process involving close and continuous liaison between the end-user, technical officers, project Officers / managers, procurement officers and the specification writer. Valuable information and advice relating to the requirement can be obtained by discussing it with procurement officers, technical officers and other users of similar goods or services within the department/agency. Procurement officers should be involved from the start of the process (that is, the information gathering and design stages).
Other sources of information include:
- other departments or agencies (including federal and local governments)
- industry – either industry associations or particular companies (ensure that industry does not assume pre-offer negotiations)
- educational institutions, for example, universities and
- Standards Australia
- Industry Capability which can assist in identifying and evaluating appropriate local industry capabilities
- Other users of the goods or services.
These organizations may help to refine the requirement and also suggest potential solutions.
Step 3: Writing the specification
Some writing tips:
- Use simple, clear language without jargon (to minimize misinterpretation).
- Define terms, symbols and acronyms (include a ―Glossary of Terms‖).
- Be concise.
- Do not explain the same requirement in more than one section.
- Define each aspect of the requirement in one or two paragraphs where possible.
- Adopt a user-friendly format.
- Number the sections and paragraphs.
- Seek feedback from someone unfamiliar with the requirement.
- Discuss the draft and refine it.
There are no fixed rules on formats and structures because each specification reflects a different requirement or need. A specification should list the functional, performance and technical characteristics separately.
Step 4: Vetting the specification and obtaining approvals
After writing the specification, ask a colleague who is unfamiliar with the requirement to critique it from a potential supplier‘s view.
Try to identify improvements by considering:
- Simplicity of meaning
Seek approval from the appropriate financial or procurement delegates in the department/agency after vetting the specification but before issuing it.
Step 5: Issuing the specification
The specification should be included as part of the ―Invitation to Offer‖ document.
Step 6: Managing amendments to the specification
Should a need arise to amend the specification during the ―Invitation to Offer‖ process, the amendment should be authorized by the project manager. The amended specification should be noted in the project files and all offerors or potential offerors must be given a reasonable opportunity to offer to the new specification.
Step 7: Revising and storing the specification
The specification should be reviewed at the end of the procurement activity to ensure that it effectively defined the goods or services that were actually bought. If areas for improvement are identified, revise the specification with the benefit of hindsight.
When the review of the specification has been completed and if it relates to goods or services that are likely to be procured frequently, keep it on file. Before each procurement, review the specification to ensure that it reflects your department‘s/agency‘s needs at that time. Alternatively, institute a program to review specifications on a regular basis.