‘Back of a Fag Packet’ Tendering

Few can argue that tendering is the most important stage of any project.

It is the prime opportunity you get to lay down the exact requirements and scope of work for the people you want to complete the job.

Changes to the scope, specification and overall design later usually means added costs and potential delays to programme so it justifiably deserves some serious attention.

So it amazes me that so many projects go out to tender with what can only be described as a ‘back of a fag packet’ audio-visual design. A single A4 page doth not maketh a specification! A list of materials is not a complete design.

Sure enough, many tenders are for design and build contracts so passing on the design responsibility onto the contractor is not too unreasonable – but you have to give the tenderers at least a fighting chance of pricing a design that you actually want!

As a child I used to love building things out of Meccano (to be honest I still play with my son’s kit today). All those components… with all the nuts and bolts… to join them up together to form a car, a digger, a helicopter a crane or whatever took my fancy. Fun times!


So …imagine asking an AV integrator to price for a project and provide them with just a list of components but no instructions on how they will be put together and at the same time tell them to include any additional equipment required to make the systems work.

It should be no surprise to find that each integrator submits a response for a metaphorical helicopter, a crane and a digger when you actually wanted the car! Then, to add to the headache, you need to analyse each bid and determine which is the best offer.

How can you legitimately compare one quotation from another when they can be so diverse?

At Harmonia we not only provide design consultancy services to end user clients but we also help system integrators with responding to tenders so we understand both sides of the coin very well.

We have been on the receiving end of many ‘fag packet’ tenders and often despair at how to respond with a compliant and suitably detailed bid. The tender documents we receive often raise more questions than provide answers. Indeed, the number of queries that come back from bidders is often a tell-tale sign of the quality of the tender package as a whole.

In these cases, tender responses which include statements like “subject to survey” “allowance for…” are not uncommon.  These tend to be non compliant as they do not lend themselves to a fixed price.

In some cases tenderers are under the assumption that some elements are not in their scope and so are not priced for. As the detailed design develops the gaps in the responsibilities becomes apparent (and the costs to fix them!).

We at Harmonia Consulting have over 45 years of collective experience of taking a set of requirements and developing them into a clear set of concise, detailed, tenderable documents:

A specification including a scope of work define what the systems are, how they will function, how they will be operated not to mention the quality of workmanship expected. A responsibilities matrix defining who is responsible for what. A bill of quantities and schedule of labour to simplify the pricing process and standardise the expected equipment and services required. Where options are allowed for they can be clearly segregated here. A set of system schematics which show how the system components will be put together. Layout drawings based on architectural plans, sections and elevations will help bidders understand the layout of the spaces. A project programme will help bidders understand how long they have to accomplish each phase of the works and how much resource will be needed to keep to schedule. A Tender return schedule clearly states what information is to be submitted (nothing more nothing less).

On receiving these documents there should be little to no doubt in the contractor’s mind what it is they are quoting for. The same tender return schedule can be completed by all contractors and costs of equipment and services can be compared  fairly and effectively.

It is worth remembering that tenders are issued to many bidders (not just two or three). A well prepared tender package also means that bidders’ time is not wasted. this is in everyone’s best interests long-term. Onerous tender response preparation very often costs the client more in the long run.

Ultimately, the whole process means that there are fewer surprises during construction phases.

So the next time you are working on an AV-related project it is worth putting yourself in the position of the tenderer and ask yourself “can I price this without asking any questions?”

Or better still give us a call and we will take care of everything for you!