Procurement and planning: how to manage scope of work effectively

Author: Liz Busch

How well you manage the scope of your contracts can significantly enhance your chance of success, or spell disaster.  Poorly written and managed scopes-of-work can result in few quality submissions to your solicitation, difficulties finalizing the contract with your frontrunner, disputes on whether the deliverables were met, vendor complaints, and even litigation.

So how can you write and manage a solid scope-of-work that is more likely to meet your intended objectives?  There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but the following steps can help. 

Step One:  Identify your objectives. 

If this procurement project is part of a larger program or project, you likely already have an overarching objective(s) of the full endeavour.  However, this step is specific to the desired objective(s) for this particular contract, which should support the overall project objectives (if applicable) and your organization’s mandate. 

Any objectives developed are not the contractor’s responsibility; they are what you expect to happen when the contractor provides acceptable deliverables.  For example, if you are hiring a contractor to provide a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution to replace your legacy system, your objectives for the contract may include a smooth transition from the old system to the new, maintaining the integrity of imported data, meeting future needs related to usage and improvements, etc.  The deliverables are intended to help you achieve these objectives, but the contractor cannot guarantee that they will be met given realities outside of their control, such as:

  • Staff in your organization who are resistant to change and refuse to cooperate;
  • Poor data integrity in the current system with little or no ability to check for accuracy; or
  • Unknown organizational changes that significantly impact the number of users or the functionality of the new solution.

Step Two:  Do your research. 

If your organization has made similar purchases before, check your files and speak to those who were involved to discover what worked and what should be changed.  Do the same with other government departments and/or jurisdictions with similar contracts.  Search online to see if there are any recent innovations or changes in the applicable sector.  Consider a market sounding process, such as a Request for Information, if you aren’t sure what’s available that would best meet your needs.

Step Three:  Define the deliverables. 

Focus on the deliverables, not on how the contractor will provide them.  The vendors are experts in what they sell and understand the deliverables better than you do.  Give the vendors room to use their expertise to propose approaches that they think will work best.  Quality vendors will be interested in solicitations and contracts that allow them this flexibility, and you can include their processes and methodologies in the resulting contract.

The SMART acronym is very helpful with this step.  The definition of each deliverable should be:

  • Specific: Clearly defines what the contractor will provide.  For example, “assistance with the ABC Program” is vague and could mean anything, but “a Report on the effectiveness of the ABC Program with recommendations on how to improve” is more specific.
  • Measurable: Define how you will measure the quantity and quality of the deliverable.  Be careful on what is measured, as what gets measured gets done.  To explain, imagine that you are contracting for help desk services.  If you measure the time it takes from opening a ticket to closing it, you may find that the contractor closes tickets before the issue is confirmed to be resolved to keep their timelines short.  You may need another measure – such as the number of times a ticket is opened for the same issue – to help avoid this.
  • Achievable: The contractor can meet the measures and the buying organization can monitor this.  If the defined measures are above the industry standards and/or will take considerable time for the contractor to meet, it will cost you more. You should also identify who within your organization is responsible for monitoring deliverables.
  • Results-oriented: The measures relate directly to meeting one or more contract objectives.
  • Timebound: Each deliverable is provided within a certain timeframe, which could be specific milestone dates or within a timeframe (e.g. so many days or weeks after an event).

Step Four:  Develop the monitoring plan.

The measurable deliverables from step three can now be used to develop the monitoring plan to confirm that the quantity and quality of the deliverables have been met.  This step provides a reality-check to confirm whether the measures are feasible given the constraints within your organization, such as the availability of staff with the appropriate knowledge, travel budgets, etc.  Include this monitoring plan in the solicitation (if applicable) and the contract to ensure all parties know what to expect.

Step Five:  Hold a pre-work meeting.

Meet with the vendor to confirm the expected deliverables and to ensure a mutual understanding of what is to be delivered.  Ideally, this meeting should occur before the contract is signed, so that any differing understandings can be identified and resolved before the work begins.

Step Six:  Follow the monitoring plan.

If you have a heavy workload, it can be difficult to find time for the monitoring plan, which may result in a problem being undetected for some time.  To help maintain a quality relationship with your contractor and identify any issues early, follow the monitoring plan and schedule regular check-in meetings with the contractor to discuss what’s working well and what’s tricky.  Be prepared to adjust the contract as needed to resolve issues to the benefit of all parties.

Design/build contract considerations:

You may not know the full scope of the work during your initial planning for design/build contracts, which means a contract to design a program or project and, if you accept the design, an amendment to build it.  All the above steps will still apply, done first for the design only and again for the build.  Just be sure to include language in both the solicitation and the contract about the potential to add the build to the scope.

We invite you to checkout our training and service offerings pertaining to public sector procurement:

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