Many organizations are required to conduct a formal procurement process to satisfy various laws and organizational policies. This can include state and local governments, public health organizations, non-profit organizations, quasi-governmental agencies, and even some private sector companies. The impetus for conducting a formal procurement is often well-intended, whether it’s to provide vendors with a fair environment within which they can conduct business, or it’s to secure the best products and prices for the procuring agencies. Yet sometimes, procurements can go awry.

One of the most impactful potential risks that may be realized as a result of the procurement process is a vendor protest. Vendor protests can lead to canceled procurements, overturned awards, and even litigation within the court of law, and will almost undoubtedly create resource and time strain on the procuring organization.

To avoid a vendor protest and ensure that your decisions hold up in the court of law, it’s vital that proposal evaluations remain impartial and that all decisions are documented thoroughly. Consider the following recommendations in your procurement to avoid the risk of vendor protests: 

  1. Use a mathematically-calculated score sheet

Develop a score sheet which automatically calculates an evaluation score based on how vendors respond to requirements. You can ask the vendors to review the requirements and score themselves based on how well they plan to adhere to each requirement using a drop-down menu (fully meet, partially meet, not met at all). The score sheet can automatically apply a numerical score for each response, such as 5 for fully met and 0 for not met at all. Just make sure to give vendors the opportunity to explain why they haven’t met a particular requirement in a “comments” column. 

  1. Document all decisions

Whenever a decision is made as a team, that decision should be documented appropriately. Include those decisions in a decisions log and document them in your meeting minutes as well to provide full context as to why a certain decision was made. 

  1. Document all scores

Whenever a score is made subjectively, make sure to document the justification for that score. Evaluators should be required to justify all of their scores in a “comments” column in their evaluation spreadsheets. You should also develop a list of scoring criteria to assist your evaluators in their decisions. Specifically, define what type of response would necessitate each score value. For example, a vendor that meets all requirements should receive a perfect score and a vendor that meets half of the requirements should only receive half of the points. 

  1. Conduct multiple rounds of questions and answers

This provides vendors with multiple opportunities to ask all the questions they need to assist them in writing the best possible proposal. Consider waiting to announce later rounds until after you’ve released answers to the first round. This ensures that vendors don’t wait until the final round to ask questions. 

  1. Provide all documentation to the vendors within the Bidder’s Library

Consider what types of information would be useful to the vendor in developing their proposals. In the instance that you are already contracted with an incumbent vendor, consider what types of information they might have access to that would benefit them over their competition. All this information should be stored in a Bidder’s Library and shared with all interested vendors to provide an equal level of access to useful information. 

  1. Require vendors to document all assumptions made in their proposal

Sometimes, even with a round of questions and answers, vendors may realize they don’t have all the information they need to make accurate cost or schedule estimates. For this reason, all vendors should be required to document any assumptions they made somewhere in their proposals. As part of your evaluations, you should review these assumptions and correct any incorrect vendor assumptions by issuing clarifications and asking the vendors to modify their cost and schedule estimates as appropriate. 

  1. Interview all references and ask identical questions

Vendors often reach out to their references to query whether or not they were interviewed, and what types of questions were asked, so it’s important to give each vendor an equal opportunity when it comes to references. Consider documenting reference interviews in a set of formal meeting minutes to justify any scores related to reference interviews. Another option is to develop a reference form and ask each vendor to send the form to their references and ask their references to forward those forms to you. 

  1. Use identical presentation agendas

When conducting vendor presentations, require all vendors to use an identical presentation agenda. This ensures that no vendor has any sort of perceived advantage over another. Make sure to prepare questions and clarifications ahead of time to help you distinguish the vendors apart from each other in their presentations.

Following these recommendations will assist you in providing each of your potential vendors with a fair and equal opportunity to respond to your procurement needs and ensuring that all your decisions are well-justified.

For more information regarding netlogx’ procurement consulting experience, please contact us today.