Specifications (Procurement Policy Section 4)
1. What Is A Specification?
A specification is a full and accurate statement of what is required. It forms part of the documentation that is sent to suppliers when inviting them to tender.
It has three main functions:-
- To communicate to a supplier what the Originator requires.
- To provide a record against which proposals made by suppliers can be measured.
- To ensure that open and effective competition is achieved.
2. Who Should Write The Specification?
The Originator should define the specification in conjunction with the Buyer. Where a supplier is involved with defining the specification, care should be taken that the specification produced is not biased in favour of that particular supplier hence reducing competition.
Where possible, both the Originator and the Buyer should discuss the requirement with colleagues and other users of similar products to develop their ideas.
3. Describing The Requirement
A requirement should, as far as possible, be specified in terms of FUNCTION and PERFORMANCE.
FUNCTION states the requirement to be performed by the product i.e. its purpose. It should focus on what is to be achieved rather than the method of achieving the result.
PERFORMANCE defines the level of performance required from the product rather than how the performance is to be achieved.
It is best practice to use functional and performance specifications as they -
- Create fair competition by ensuring that there is no bias or favouritism towards any one supplier.
- Draw attention to the results rather than the means of achieving the results.
- Allow suppliers to offer their own solutions to the requirement.
- Minimise the resources required to write the specification.
Notwithstanding the above, some requirements cannot be defined without the use of technical details. Technical aspects may be necessary to specify particular equipment which must be provided. The reason for this should be given, for example, so that only one set of spares need be held.
Technical specifications might be described as follows:-
TECHNICAL defines the physical characteristics of the product i.e. dimensions, colour capacity etc.
Where it is necessary to name a product, to avoid bias the words 'equivalent or similar to' the named product should be employed. When inviting tenders under the EU Regulations it is not permissible to name a product or brand as this is thought to be discriminatory.
The Buyer should exercise caution when including a technical specification as:-
- The Buyer has no recourse if a technical specification is satisfied and then the goods do not perform as expected.
- It may introduce discrimination in favour of, or against, a supplier or manufacturer.
When a requirement cannot be specified adequately by functional, performance or technical aspects, it may be appropriate to use drawings. Drawings can be used to provide clarification of a specification but suppliers should still be allowed to suggest innovative or alternative solutions.
Caution should be exercised when using drawings as:-
- The manufacturer is largely absolved of responsibility if a product does not work after being produced from a drawing provided by the Buyer.
- The Buyer must ensure that he/she is not infringing the rights of the copyright owner of the drawings.
There are standards for drawings and most should be prepared in accordance with BS.308.
4. Special Considerations
Quality standards - where appropriate should be included in the specification. It is best practice to employ standards that are International or European rather than simply a British Standard. If only the British Standard is known then the words 'or equivalent' should be stated.
Health and safety requirements - when a specification is being prepared the Originator and Buyer should ensure that any hazardous substances in the requirement have been identified and stated in the specification.
5. Style Of The Specification
As stated above, the requirement should be specified as far as possible using functional and performance aspects.
In addition, the following points of best practice with respect to the style of presenting a specification should be adhered to:-
- The requirement should be described in simple language.
- The specification should, ideally, be written as if it is to be read by a layman rather than a technical expert.
- Care should be taken to avoid the use of jargon and all symbols, acronyms and technical terms should be clearly defined in a glossary.
- Generic terms should be used rather than supplier references.
- All performance requirements or design characteristics should be quantifiable.
6. Setting Out The Specification
There is no standard format for a specification but it is best practice to try and incorporate the following points:-
- Use of a clear and simple title. Where a range of goods is required, the title should reflect the full range of goods required as potential bidders may decide not to bid on the basis of a misleading title.
- A list of contents is appropriate when the specification is long or complex.
- Compliance with legal requirements.
It should not:
- Contain anything that discriminates in favour of or against any supplier.
- Over-specify the requirement.
The specification of the goods should include relevant details such as delivery schedules required, milestone payments or ownership of intellectual property rights.
7. Evaluation Criteria
When writing a specification, the Originator and Buyer should also produce evaluation criteria. These are used to evaluate bids for compliance with the specification and should be finalised at the time the specification is completed.
8. Invitation To Tender
It is useful to provide an introduction in the invitation to tender to explain the reasons for requiring the products in the specification. This can increase the supplier's interest and enable them to understand the requirement in a broader context. This is particularly beneficial where the requirement is complex. Information given in the introduction might include, for example, a description of the current system.
The scope (or summary) of the requirement is particularly useful where a specification is long or complex. It identifies the main points in the specification.
The scope might also include:-
- Place of delivery, installation and commissioning.
- Training required.
- Documentation required.
- Requirement for maintenance.
- After sales service requirements.
- Requirement for spare parts.
- A full description of each element of the requirement should then be given, or the functional, performance and/or technical aspects as discussed above.
- A glossary is often useful, particularly if the specification is technical.
- The structure should be logical and not open to misinterpretation.
- Sub-headings should also be used. The functional, performance and technical elements of the specification should, ideally, be under separate headings. Paragraphs should be short and numbered.
- Tables, statistical matter and diagrams may be used to illustrate the requirement.
- Only relevant information should be included.
- The specification should cover the whole requirement.
- The structure should be well designed to reflect the University's professionalism. For example, the most important features might be addressed first with the least important features coming last.
The Procurement Service website contains a ‘capital equipment questionnaire’ which may be useful for highlighting issues to include in the specification. This is available via the following link to Procurement Policy Section Six: Capital Equipment.
9. In Summary
A good specification should:
- Include a clear and concise description of what is required.
- Include only those features that are essential.
- Allow suppliers to offer a product that may incorporate different technical solutions.
- Provide sufficient information for suppliers to cost the products they can offer.
The above guidelines are intended to be a general statement of best practice. It is appreciated that some of the recommendations are sometimes not easily employed but the Buyer should always try to generate fair competition when writing specifications.