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Ask The Experts – Specifications

Sunday September 20th, 2009

By Julie Harmer, PASS Consultant

PASS Consultant Julie Harmer answers some common queries regarding specifications.

Q What is a specification?

A A specification is defined as ‘the details describing something to be done or made’ – in other words, a ‘statement of need’. It details what the client wishes to buy and therefore what the supplier is expected to provide. A specification may be produced in conjunction with the Procurement department, but the client must have the final word on content. It is also possible for a supplier to have some input, but care should be taken to ensure that they do not influence the process excessively. 

Q What types of specification are there?

 A Basically, there are three types:

  1. Functional – this specification will detail the service that needs to be delivered, such as transportation of goods from point A to point B.
  2. Output – this type of specification will detail how many items are required to be moved, but will not stipulate the method of transportation; it is left to the tenderer to suggest a method or methods of transportation.
  3. Technical – as its name suggests, this type of specification details the characteristics of the service, such as a 20-ton lorry fitted with a tail-lift.

Q What information should be included in a specification?

A Sufficient detail should be included in the specification to enable a supplier to be able to fully understand what is required. The specification itself should be clear, concise and unambiguous, and it should be sufficiently tight that it fits the client’s needs but does not prevent the supplier from using his expertise to propose innovative solutions that offer value for money.

Q What if I want a particular brand or product?

A Under the EU Procurement Directives you cannot state a particular brand within a specification. For instance, if you owned a number of computers that used a particular operating platform, eg Microsoft Windows XP, and wanted to buy more, you would need to state ‘Microsoft Windows XP or equivalent’.

Q Can the specification be of use other than as a statement of need?

A Yes. If a specification is put together correctly it can have multiple uses, such as: 

  1. To establish what the end user requires – depending on the type of specification, it will state what is required, when it is required, where it is required and the method of delivery.
  2. As an essential part of the tender evaluation process – the information contained within the specification should enable the tender responses to be evaluated against defined criteria; this could be by test, trial, documentation or examination. When evaluating tenders this document will provide the benchmark for deciding if a supplier’s tender meets the client’s requirement – eg the specification states three deliveries a week to address X and the supplier states that they will deliver three times a week to address X. In this instance the person evaluating the tender will be able to say that the supplier’s tender meets the requirement.

 As part of contract management, the specification should state what is acceptable and include quantifiable deliverables, such as: 

  • Quality – 99 per cent of all items delivered must be of an acceptable quality
  • Quantity – 25 boxes must be delivered to the address as stated in the contract or in the purchase order
  • Delivery – the supplier must deliver the goods by 12pm on Tuesday

The buyer will be able to use the statistics from these elements as the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the contract and therefore use them to measure the winning supplier’s performance and to highlight areas of the supplier’s performance that may need improvement.


Julie has worked in the public sector for 35 years and has held senior procurement positions in the NHS, Higher Education, central and local government. She also has experience working in the private sector. She was part of the team that set up the first use of off-shore data capture by a government agency and has latterly been involved with the implementation of an ERP system, e-procurement solutions and the development and implementation of various procurement training solutions.

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