Purchasing Specifications and Standards

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Why Specifications are so Important

Specifications are used throughout our lives, in ways you probably never thought about. A recipe for a cake or a cookie is a form of specification. All well written specifications are the product of concentrated group effort and are worth preserving. They represent the fruits of lengthy deliberation and study, combined with past experiences, and are essential to any efficient purchasing program.1

Specification Definition—A specification (part of an ITB/IFB or RFP solicitation) is a concise description of a good or service that an entity seeks to buy, and the requirements the vendor must meet in order to be considered for the award. A specification may include requirements for testing, inspection or preparing an item for delivery, or preparing or installing it for use, requirements for samples, descriptive literature, warranty, and packaging. The specification is the total description of the purchase.2

Specification Purpose—The purpose of any specification is to provide purchasing personnel with clear guidelines to purchasing, and to provide vendors with firm criteria of minimum product or service acceptability.3Success of the purchasing activity relies on the specification being a true and accurate statement of the buyer’s requirements.4

Characteristics of a Good Specification—A good specification has four (4) characteristics:

  1. It should set the minimum acceptability of the good or service. The vendor must know the minimum standard to determine what to provide. A standard which is too high means tax dollars may be wasted. Conversely,  a standard which is too low means the goods or services will not meet the expectations of the user.
  2. It should promote competitive bidding. The maximum number of responsive vendors should be able to bid to the specification. Restrictive specifications decrease competition.
  3. It should contain provisions for reasonable tests and inspections for acceptability for the good or service. The specification should permit tendered goods or services to be evaluated against defined criteria by examination, trial, test or documentation. The methods and timing of testing and inspecting must be indicated in the specification.
  4. It should provide for an equitable award to the lowest responsive bidder. The buyer obtains goods or services that will perform to expectations, and the vendor is able to provide the goods or services at an equitable agreed upon price.5

            1Williamson County, Texas, Purchasing Manual Policies, (Revised 2001), 51.

            2ibid, 51.

           3ibid, 51.

            4Bryan Kalms, Developing Specifications for Purchasing, Queensland Government, Department of Public Works, July 2003, 3.

            5Purchasing Manual Policies, 51