“There are NO” unwritten requirements – but fairness is in the eyes of the beholder

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psmj marketing journal

PSMJ’s A/E Marketing Journal isn’t inexpensive — expect to pay $997 for a three-year subscription (and proportionally more for shorter subscriptions) but, in the scheme of things, it is a modest investment for practitioners serious about architectural/engineering marketing. You get for this money quality control and archives and some fundamental, solid advice.

The lead article in this month’s issue makes one of the clearest rules of the RFP process — if you only find about the project when it ?becomes public, you are way too late. Yet, the rules are there, in writing, for everyone to see.

Eric Snider writes:

Let’s face it. When we consider the idea of unwritten requirements in an RFP, the simple fact is there really are NO unwritten requirements.

Now, the requirements may not be clearly articulated in an RP text or the accompanying appendices, but all the conditions and requirements are known . . . to someone. If they are not clearly spelled out in the narrative of the RFP, they are written in someone’s psyche and generally in the collective consciousness of the selection panel.

Do clients consciously obscure and obfuscate in the RFP narrative? Sometimes yes, but more often no.?The simple fact is that usually not all requirements of a project are thought out in the RFP-writer’s mind. And remember that the RFP is typically assembled by one or two people, and so the document may not reflect the input of all the decision-makers.

I am thinking of Snider’s remarks as I review a pile of access to information documents sent to me by a bankrupt general contractor facing serious criminal charges. I won’t name the contractor here, in light of my policy not to identify individuals negatively. However, the story he tells is intriguing on a few levels, including the one about no unwritten rules.

He asserts that a significant federal government construction project (several years ago) was listed in an unusual category — “services” rather than “construction” on the public bid source service then in use (Merx). He says he was tipped off to the project, and submitted his bid, which was subsequently declined. He asserts his quote was more than $10 million less than the competing general contractor who, in the end, won the job. (Subsequently, everything fell apart for this contractor in ways I cannot detail here without identifying him. However, the story will continue to be told in public, as other media are covering the courthouse proceedings.)

Whether or not there was complicity in hiding the project, the reason his bid failed, according to documentation from Public Works and Government Services Canada,(PWGSC) ?is that he failed to comply with the specific bid preparation requirements. PSGSC discovered several technical irregularities in his submission, and bounced it for non-compliance.

The contractor asserts this rejection was unjustified, but I sense if I were a government official, my head would be in a vice if I had accepted the contractor’s explanations and allowed his bid to be accepted. I am not a government procurement officer, but from what I can see in the documentation, the contractor was really sloppy in his bid preparation and so deserved to fail. One rule very clearly stated in RFP responses is that you should always comply with specific technical and information requests. This is not a place for fudging or guessing or short-cutting. Here, there are definitely no “unwritten rules”.

The next question is whether things were hidden deliberately to only allow selected contractors to bid on the project, designed with quality-based selection evaluation tools, meaning that the successful contractor would really not need to have the low bid to win the job (if other qualifications are met), and with QBS, the winning contractor could extract much more money from the government than would have needed to be paid if the competition wasn’t structured that way. We can’t know for sure one way or another but I suspect this sort of thing happens quite often. (Of course a question could be asked is how the outsider, in this case, the general contractor who raised this issue with me, could have found about the project.)

So, indeed, Snider is right. There are really “NO unwritten requirements” but you really need to know what is happening well ahead of time — and when it comes time to completing the proposal, make sure you truly follow the rules set out in the written documentation. You may not go to prison for non-compliance, but you certainly won’t win the work if you fail at these basics.

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