The Biggest Mistake Procurement Managers Make With Specifications

by | Oct 3, 2019 | Procurement and Contracting

Are your specifications too broad or open? It’s one of the most common mistakes we see in procurement with expensive repercussions for your supplier management. We will look at the biggest mistake procurement managers make with specifications.

Writing specifications is a core part of the procurement process. A specification is a detailed description of the goods or services required, and forms part of a tender request. It ensures that all potential suppliers have a clear guideline to follow when quoting on goods or services, and when carrying out their contractual agreement.


So, why do procurement officers make the specifications too broad or open?


There are a number of reasons. Sometimes they want to be flexible and keep their options open. But, more likely, those writing the specification don’t know or have limited experience with the services being procured.

The real problem with open specifications

For suppliers, a broad or open specification is a major headache. There will always be some suppliers who have very little understanding of the context. With no idea what you really want, they can only provide you with an equally vague response when they provide a quote.

They will likely even add additional contingency amounts to the timeframes and budget.

The result?

You end up paying more.

But it gets worse.

Once in contract, the absence of a clear and detailed specification can lead to disputes. You’ll have one interpretation of what the specification means, while the supplier has a different interpretation. The specification is too broad to determine which party is right or wrong, so there will always be a difference of opinion. And if the relationship sours, a dispute is likely to be on the cards.

Also, a broad specification may cause the perception of a supplier’s poor performance. After all, a vague specification cannot be used to measure and determine an acceptable level of performance; it is just not clear or specific enough to be used as a baseline.

How to write clear and specific specifications 

Developing well-written specifications is one of the hardest tasks in procurement. But get it right, and you’ll have the foundation of a good contract to make supplier management a breeze.

Use these actionable tips and tricks:

  1. Give it a logical structure. Format the document with section, clause, sub-clause and page numbers, so you can refer to sections throughout the document.
  2. Use direct language e.g. Use “supply and install”, rather than “you shall supply and install…”
  3. Avoid jargon, technical terms and legal terminology.
  4. Don’t repeat information in different sections of the document.
  5. Make it concise – only include essential and relevant information.

Don’t risk supplier disputes, variations and cost overruns with broad and open specifications. Learn how to write good, clear and accurate specifications in our online short course.

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