Using the PQQ to select the supplier short-list – don’t fall into the big is beautiful trap

Over last weekend I was working on our latest research paper, which features the topic of pre-qualification processes. (Look out for that on the site in a few weeks time).

It’s a topic I’m very familiar with, have actually written about it before (including policy and guidance documents for the UK Government). Yet there were still a couple of thoughts that hit me for the first time and made me think again about some of my beliefs and practices in this area.

Let’s think for instance about those occasions when we want to use the PQQ to get down to a short list of suppliers for the tendering phase, and we have more than enough who pass the “qualification” element of the PQQ. So the pre-qualification becomes not just a qualification exercise – do the suppliers pass a threshold of competence, capacity and so on - but also part of the selection process.

We’ll usually carry out that selection by including a few questions that ask for more detail around issues such as technical capability, capacity, or past experience. The responses from the suppliers can then be scored in some way, and the total scores used to give a ranking for the suppliers.  That identifies the “best” four, six, eight or whatever number of suppliers we want to take through to the tender stage.

But my sudden thought was this. How often do those questions, focusing on issues such as capability and capacity, merely play directly to the largest firms in the market?  If we frame the questions in a way that is really just testing capacity, then we will get the “usual suspects”.  If we ask how many consultants / software developers they have in the firm, or how many similar projects they’ve undertaken, or score based on revenue or number of offices, then it’s pretty obvious who will come through and win.

So be aware of this, and if you’re really interested in who can do the best job for you, not just who everyone else uses, think about questions that really analyse the aspects of suppliers’ capability and approach that you’re most interested in. What is their ability to offer excellent customer service? What evidence is there that they can provide innovative consulting solutions, or develop social media marketing programmes, or deliver bespoke software in very tight timescales?

Look to test the suppliers on those critical elements of your requirements – not just how big they are and how successful they’ve been to date.

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Voices (5)

  1. Ian Heptinstall:

    I’ve never really undertood the purpose of the long PQQ composed of standard mind-numbing questions. Maybe they are used by people who are too busy to write a short focused document, the responses to which will allow them to produce a short-list of suppliers with whom to enter meaningful negotiations.

    On the occasions Ive been involved in analysing the results, the team’s consensus was “er…what do we do now…”

  2. stephen ashcroft:

    Pre- Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) are an essential tool in the Procurement Professional’s armoury but many are being used ineffectively, resulting in some being challenged in the Courts, but many more are being challenged and dealt with without such publicity. Any challenge will cause delays, add costs and damage reputations.

    Please see below which raises questions about the tick box mentality of many and raises awareness of the risks involved by looking at the case of AMARYLLIS LIMITED and HM TREASURY (sued as OGCbuyingsolutions) [2009] EWHC 1666(TCC). Please see this
    Link for further details:

  3. Chris Brady:

    Thanks Peter – as a former procurement practitioner now turned indirect services vendor, I’m regularly frustrated at the ‘route’ process being used for pre-quals with standardised question-banks routinely deployed, regardless of the category under review and with little or no opportunity provided to capture prospective supplier USP’s demonstrating client-needs alignment.

  4. David Atkinson:

    Very good post Peter.

    Perhaps it’s stating the obvious but the PQQ question of capacity and capability must be based on the capacity and capability REQUIRED to carry out the assignment and bring it to a successful conclusion (not some lazy re-selection of the ‘big boys’).

    Once again, it’s mostly about the clarity of business requirements, and the degree of rigour applied in their development. Being clear about what you want and need is a sort of no-brainer; isn’t it?

  5. Dan:

    A while back we were collaborating with one of the largest procurement consortia in the country, and suprisingly they had one of the worst questions I’ve ever read in a PQQ:

    “Please state what other public sector frameworks you are on”.

    Its just wrong on so many levels.

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