Who Should Write the “Specs”?
Who Should Write the “Specs”?
This may come as a surprise to some managers, internal customers, and procurement personnel, but procurement should not be writing specifications! It is the requestor’s job to write the specification. It is procurement’s job to perform a value analysis of the specification to ensure that it is clear and complete. A value analysis is the best way to fulfill the requestor’s “need” (versus “want”) and ensure that the specification allows for competition.
Some examples of actual specifications submitted are: “Snow Fence”; “Purchase one each John Deere Hydro Seeder Model #888”; “Dead Animal Collection Services”; and “Dive Boat”!
A procurement officer would have to possess psychic powers to determine the missing elements of the request. Psychic powers are not in any procurement position description I’ve ever seen!
Simply put, procurement folks are not qualified to write specifications. And yet, they keep trying to do the requestor’s job and get frustrated and blamed because it took too long or the wrong product or service was acquired. Does this ring a bell with anyone?
Only the requestor can provide the necessary information for a good specification. The problem is they generally don’t know what that is or how to write it in the form of a specification.
When I was a chief procurement officer, my contract officers were constantly complaining about having to request additional information on about 70 percent of the specifications received. When I spoke with the requestors, they said they knew what they wanted and needed but could never put it into a specification that satisfied the contract officers.
As a result, I developed a specification writing class called “I Want a Car that Floats and Flies.” The class taught the users how to write a functional specification. The contract officers also attended. I asked them all to write a specification for a car that floats and flies, which resulted in a barrage of the following questions: Who is requesting it? What will it be used for? How fast must it go? How far? How many passengers? When? Where? How will it be built, paid for, delivered, maintained, operated, etc.?
That exercise demonstrated the fundamental questions that need to be answered in a functional specification that enables both the user and the contract officer to better understand each other and mutually evaluate the specification. The user was much more comfortable writing the specification and the contract officer was better able to conduct the value analysis of the specification more quickly.
There was more to the class than that, but we were all talking the same language for the first time and knew what was needed for a good specification. By the end of the class users were writing meaningful, functional specs that made sense and could be processed by procurement. Processing times were significantly reduced, and the requestor was getting what they needed.
Is it something you could use?
Editor’s Note: Beau Grant, CPPO, is a Master Instructor for the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) and President of Beau-Geste Enterprises. Readers can reach Grant by
e-mail at: Grantbge@aol.com.