As designers we tend to go into a collective meltdown at the thought of going through the public sector procurement process. A quick Google search highlights just how flawed the process can be, and just how miserable creative types are when faced with a PQQ (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire since you asked). There must be an easier way. But then we finished our first proper official PQQ last week – and to our surprise not only did we not have to hide the craft knives, we actually quite enjoyed it.
I’m writing this post before my mood is clouded by the procurers decision, which is due next week. I’m sure I’ll have a very different perspective on the whole process if we’ve been unsuccessful. But we think it will be a useful exercise to start sharing our thoughts and experiences on this stuff. So we're going to start doing that. Here goes ...
There are a number of reasons why the public sector procurement process should excite designers:
- ONE. Money.
A procurement notice I read yesterday was looking to spend FOUR MILLION POUNDS over three years. We could run Mercy seven times over with that amount of cash. Even a framework agreement like the one we’re going after (which means that - if we're successful - we’ll just be added to a supplier list with ten other design agencies) represents a very healthy addition to the piggy bank.
- TWO. You don't give away ideas for free.
One of the reasons why I’m feeling positive about the whole PQQ thing is that, so far, nobody has asked us to do any new creative work. Yes, it has been probably the most painful form-filling exercise we’ve ever undertaken, but at least we didn’t have to “sketch out some ideas” (translation: "do all of the work upfront and then we’ll decide if we want to pay you for it"). It’s always really hard to justify the financial value of design to a client when we’re all so prepared to smash out six grands worth of amazing ideas for a ten minute presentation. This organisation didn’t ask for any new work, they were more interested in our audited accounts.
- THREE. Self-assessment.
The form itself forced us to think long and hard about what we actually do at Mercy, and how we do it. One section basically asked us what we’d do if the office burned down tomorrow. It’s called a Business Continuation Plan in council speak, and it's fair to say that the directors already had a loose strategy in place. But we’d never made that information official or made it available to everyone who works here. We have now.
Then there was the section asking us to provide details of our planning and processes, and to explain the measures that we take to ensure that we are always providing a service and materials of a high quality. Why don’t you take an hour out of your day and answer that question yourself. We've since used our answer to that question alone a further three times (in varying translations) for existing and prospective clients in the last month.
The PQQ forced us to take a long look at our business in order to answer all of the questions. As a result we've been able to identify some key areas that we realise require some special attention and development, whilst at the same time we've been able to give ourselves a great big pat on the back for recognising other areas in which we excel. If you don't already, we recommend you do this often – it's lovely to confirm what you think is right is indeed right, and it's always really useful and surprisingly rewarding to search out any weaknesses.
The PQQ forced us to take a long look at our business in order to answer all of the questions. As a result we've been able to identify some key areas that we realise require some special attention and development, whilst at the same time we've been able to give ourselves a great big pat on the back for recognising other areas in which we excel.
This was technically not our first PQQ. A couple of years ago, we tried to write one ourselves for the first time. We spent hundreds of pounds on seminars and webinars that would help us write it, all to absolutely no avail. We should have spent that cash on paying an expert to help us, like we did this time.
I’m going to write another blog post about the experience of getting the professionals in at some point next week, once I’ve had some feedback from this application. But to finish this off, here are some figures relating to this application that might be of use:
On this PQQ, we invested about £1300 of 'studio time' into filling out the PQQ and gathering the relevant information. It took about a week. That was mainly done by me, in my role as New Business Manager (i.e. what I'm paid to do in my week anyway), with just a few hours extra information input from the directors and then a few more hours for the whole document to be designed. In terms of cold hard cash, we paid around £500 to the professionals. So roughly speaking an investment of £1800 to produce a document which we can now endlessly re-use on other PQQs.
Let's compare that to our unsuccessful pitch for the Museum of Liverpool a year ago, which required the whole team to work on a free pitch that included original ideas and draft designs. That also took around a week, but it took an intensive week of not just the whole studio's time, but also of suppliers whom we intended to rope into the project had we been successful. Our estimate is that we invested over £5000 of studio hours into that pitch – and once it was unsuccessful the whole thing was immediately obsolete.
We don't dwell on those figures: you know as well as us that we need to invest money to make money. But comparing the two, it is clear which of the two processes is a more business-efficient means of winning new design work. And whether we like to admit it or not, we are all business owners as well as designers – it does us well to sometimes think like the former.