In http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/cheshire-cat, you can find this quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland story, taken from a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?” The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
Besides the fact that I love cats, I like this brief quote from Alice’s story because it helps me illustrate the point of this reflection: if we do not know what we want, we will just fall for anything we get. In the case of project procurement management, if we fail to clearly and precisely express what our requirements for the purchase of a good or service are, potential suppliers may not adequately be able to meet our needs.
When we think about the great variety of products and services that we need to acquire in a project, we may find ourselves dealing with highly standardized products as well as with products or services that involve unique, unprecedented and unrepeatable requirements.
If we need standardized products, it will most likely be sufficient to indicate the brand, model and presentation to identify them perfectly. For example, we may require “one Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, in blue color finish” and, most likely, a qualified supplier will know exactly what we need and he will present us with a simple offer with the remuneration he expects to receive in exchange for delivering the product we are requesting.
At the other end from the simplicity of standardized products, we can also have those products or services that require elaborate and detailed volumes of documentation to describe what we are requesting.
Let’s imagine how difficult it would be to ask a contractor to build “the house of our dreams” for us. In order to complement this vague requirement, with an understandable content that will allows us to clear the puzzled look from the face of the builder and get a reasonable offer from him to meet our needs, we will have to go through a careful definition, description and documentation process that will make our deep desires suitable for objective communication.
Then, we would need a group of professionals in architecture and engineering, who are able to interpret our specific needs to shape them into an understandable format. We must clearly define what are the requirements we envision in the house of our dreams, through the answers to questions, such as: how many people will live in it?, how many rooms will it have?, how do we want the social areas and service areas? , do we want to have a garden?, we want to have a garage for how many cars?, which materials do we want for structures?, what materials do we want for finishes?, what budget constraints do we have?, which colors we want to use for painted surfaces?, where will it be located?, how is the weather in that area?, how safe is the neighborhood?, etc., etc., etc.
That is, we must answer a set of questions that will allow us to reach an architectural design that harmoniously combines all our requirements, together with the structural, mechanical, electrical, etc. designs to complement it. All these must be integrated into a set of plans and specifications that can transmit our needs to a possible builder, objectively and comprehensively, so that he can generate an offer that will serve as the basis for a formal contract for the procurement of our request.
The situation just described may be familiar to those who have had the good fortune to participate in the design and construction of your own home. But this is essentially the process, with more or less detail, that leads us to develop the “procurement statements of work” mentioned in the PMBOK® Guide. These are the documents that will allow us to transmit the details of our requirements to potential sellers, with enough information so they can determine whether they are able to provide us as required, and to prepare a reasonably accurate offer that will serve as a basis for eventually contracting the corresponding acquisition.
We should always have in mind the idea that the specifications of our requirements for potential suppliers must be defined with appropriate levels of precision and clarity, as this will be vital to achieve good procurement management processes in the projects in which we get involved.
By Bolívar Solórzano, MSCE, MSM, PMP.
Professor of the Project Procurement Management course in the Master in Project Management Program at the University for International Cooperation.