Straightforward attitudes such as a commitment toward the contract at all organisational levels, genuine confidence in a firm’s ability to be successful and a client-minded approach which focuses on long-term outcomes are critical in helping engineering contractors maximise their chances of success in bidding for government projects, a leading quantity surveyor says.

WT Partnership national manager Adam Shaw said that while each government contract was different, a number of traits could be commonly observed across winning teams.

First, he said the entire team must be committed and engaged in the bid, from the managing director executing the final document right down to the administrative assistant who pulls documents together – something he says can be achieved through setting out a clear culture, delivery plan and competitive strategy at the inception as well as through a bid/no bid decision which should clearly frame why the organisation is pursuing the opportunity.

He noted that teams must also adopt a focus on the lasting success of the client as well as a genuine belief that their bid can and will succeed.

“It’s a simple concept but often teams can fail to have the critical conviction that they can win the bid,” Shaw said. “Those who believe will work harder, smarter and more dynamically to solve challenges identify opportunities and engage in the tender process. Those who don’t believe undermine creative discussion, dig their heels in and ultimately fatten up the bid.”

“[In addition] those who bid for profit are on a hiding to nothing. Quality focused and successful teams recognise that profit is a positive byproduct of a well-conceived, considered and executed project. Equally, tenderers who are fully focused and motivated around the outcomes for the client are far better placed to identify alternative approaches, resolve issues and minimise constraints on successful completion of their project.”

Shaw’s comments come as the focus of new engineering and construction work – in the civil sector at least – switches from private sector resource projects in mining states toward public sector road and rail developments, albeit with a shift going the other way away from government works back toward private hotels, warehouses and shopping centres in the building space.

In this environment, work associated with taxpayer-funded developments, at least in the civil space, would be expected to make up a growing portion of many contractors’ portfolio of work.

Shaw said compared with their private sector counterparts, government clients tend to have more strict approaches based around fixed assessment criteria and quantitative measures, a process he feels often goes too far in that direction at the expense of more qualitative bids which consider different metrics and alternative approaches.

In some cases, marks could be deducted, for instance, for simple aspects such as missing page numbers. In other cases, no credit is given for responses outside of the response criteria. Because of this, he said, it is imperative to stick to the letter of procurement policy, probity requirements and rudimentary assessment criteria.

Beyond that, he said the value of ‘old English teacher’ advice cannot be understated, and that when preparing bids, applicants should thoroughly read each question several times before answering, thoroughly review each response together with the question before moving on to ensure all points contained within the question have been addressed and read and review the entire document once all questions are answered.

He said such an approach forces contractors to reflect upon what the client really wants and respond in a way which more effectively meets client needs.

“You would be surprised how effective this somewhat archaic approach can be,” Shaw said. “Reflecting on what the question is really asking, reflecting upon the assessment criteria (which is generally given these days) and asking ‘what is it that they are looking for?’ and ‘why are they looking for that?’ will allow you to respond to the tender in a far more effective, relevant and concise way.”

Dos and Don’ts

Specifically, Shaw said there are a number of practices which should be adopted or avoided in public sector tendering.

These are as follows:

DO: Nominate your project team and outline what they will actually do on the project, not just their resume.

DON’T: Tell us about someone’s role in your organisation instead of telling us what their role is going to be on the project, including key responsibilities and outputs.

DO: Provide a detailed work breakdown structure and program to demonstrate your commitment to understanding key risks and constraints early.

DON’T: Use such documents as a caveat on price.

DO: Provide outline or draft versions of key (project specific) documents such as H&S Plan, Risk Management Plan, Management and Quality Plan.

DON’T: Provide generic corporate material which doesn’t address the project specifically.

DO: Be open and transparent when staff relocations are required to service the project, including timescales.

DON’T: Assume that you can worry about these things later. Continuity of ‘key people’ is a primary concern of purchasers.

DO: Follow the logical structure and headings of the tender documentation.

DON’T: Waste money on high cost production materials (professional printing etc.).

DO: Demonstrate proactivity and thought leadership through providing details of value adds, cost saving ideas or alternative approaches upfront.

DON’T: Hint to these but promise to only give the advice if successful.