Many of us begin working as newly appointed public procurement practitioners with no idea of what to do or where to start. And it may take several years before we develop a system for being more efficient and effective in our work. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that to quickly achieve proficiency in public procurement management, there are seven things you need to do.
1. Study the Public Procurement Rules
Most public procurement organizations are governed by a legal framework (procurement rules) consisting of a procurement law or regulation (sometimes called “the Act”). This is further developed into policies and procedures, procurement and contract administration manuals and guidelines, including standard bidding documents which are used for inviting bids and proposals. The language of public procurement policies, procedures, guidelines, manuals and standard bidding documents must align with what is stipulated in the public procurement legal framework. Adherence to the public procurement rules is obligatory and infractions are punishable by law.
You should study and get familiar with these documents because they pertain to your work and how you should do it. You should start with the procurement law or regulation, then study the procurement manual (or manuals, if there are many), then the standard bidding documents for each of the procurement categories (goods, services or infrastructure works) that you will be expected to work with.
The procurement rules govern everything from the identification of a requirement through to the closing out of a contract; sometimes including disposal, reutilization and destruction of goods.
2. Learn the Public Procurement Principles and Follow the Code of Conduct
Procurement principles are the foundation of public procurement. You need to get to know them well, even if they are not clearly spelled out in the procurement rules. You should also follow the code of conduct, which should be based on the procurement principles. However, although most procurement organizations have a code of conduct, many don’t. So you will need to be guided primarily by the procurement principles.
As a public procurement practitioner, officer or specialist, you must have a clear understanding of the public procurement principles, and know how to apply them to guide your procurement related decisions. By integrating these principles into your work ethic, the results of your decisions will always be in line with the goal of public procurement.
As a public procurement practitioner you are also a public servant. You manage public funds, are bound by an ethical code of conduct, and are accountable for what you do or fail to do when managing those funds.
3. Understand the Public Procurement System
What is usually called the procurement process or cycle is really a procurement system made up of different (sub) processes that are completed in successive stages. It is important for you to learn all of the processes in which you will be involved and especially those for which you are responsible.
Some important processes you need to learn are the:
- procurement requisitioning process
- Bidding and selection process
- Process of approval of:
- Procurement requisitions
- Bidding documents
- Evaluation panels
- Evaluation reports
- Draft contracts
- Bid opening process
- Record-keeping process
4. Develop and Use Checklists
If you are fortunate, there may be a few checklists in some of the legal framework documents that you will have access to and need to use. Some of them will be helpful and easy to apply; some will be confusing. I recommend that you develop your own checklists for the different procedures and processes you read about in pertinent documents, and those that you may be taught in a formal training setting, or learn from your own studies.
Checklists are important to your professional development as a procurement practitioner. When properly developed and used, they will allow you to remember all the steps needed to complete a process, so you don’t have to rely on memory. This is very important in public procurement where there are many different steps that need to be followed, and where missing a step could be misinterpreted and be a cause for embarrassment or even disciplinary action.
You should try to develop simple checklists, using your own words based on your understanding, to help you remember what needs to be done, when and by whom in the different processes that you are responsible for or are working on.
A few examples of what you can develop checklists for are:
- How to prepare an advert (What it needs to contain; what the approval process is, and how long will it take?)
- How to prepare a bidding document (What is the approval process and how long does it take?).
- Where does the procurement process start and where does it end?
- Preparing a procurement plan. How is it done?
- Preparing a procurement schedule. How is it done?
- What are the different things that need approval, who approves them and when?
- Process for selecting a procurement method; how is it done?
- Developing and filing procurement and contract records, how is it done?
As you may have realized by now, it’s essential to ask yourself (and others) questions, and to take notes and develop checklists for future reference. It is also important to verify the answers to your questions with a written document. Knowing the reference source is vital. In public procurement, the rules you need to follow should be in writing. And you need to ensure that you know where to confirm any information you receive, in order to ensure you are developing your checklists with verified information.
5. Get Organized
In public procurement management, you will be working with internal and external customers, different government departments, contractors, suppliers and service providers, and other stakeholders. You will also be working on different procurement requirements at various stages in the procurement process. This can all become very overwhelming if you are not organized.
Following are some of the applications I use to organize my work (and personal life):
- To organize my work, record ideas and take notes, I use Workflowy. I find it very simple to use for keeping to-do lists (and all sorts of lists), and I also use it for preparing checklists. The following video (click here) gives you the basics of Workflowy in less than 3 minutes.
- I use Google Calendar to set reminders of important dates for the different procurement requirements I’m working on at a given moment. It can also be used to send reminders to others on tasks they need to complete. Other types of electronic calendars could also be used.
Examples of information on which you can create reminders on your calendar are:
- Dates when a procurement process is expected to begin (as a reminder for you or someone else if you are not responsible)
- Dates when a particular procurement needs to be advertised
- Dates of pre-bid meetings and/or site visits
- Last date for responding to requests for clarification from bidders
- Bid submission date
- Bid opening date
Assuming you are using a computer, you need to develop a logical filing system for documents you prepare, and try to protect them from loss by storing the most important in the Cloud, as well as on your hard drive, to safeguard them in the event of hard drive failure or damage to your computer. Depending on your organization, you may be required to store certain documents only on the organization’s server, so you will need to find out.
For storing documents in the Cloud, I use Dropbox and, to a lesser extent, Google Drive. With both you get several gigabytes of free space to work with, so you don’t need to pay for using them. For a tour of Dropbox (click here).
6. Find a Mentor
Being new on the job, someone will/should be there to teach you what you need to do, but don’t depend on it. Take some time to get to know the people you will be working with and who seems to be the most knowledgeable, and try to learn as much as you can from that person. You may even need to look for a mentor outside of your organization.
Try learning as much as you can from those who are willing to teach you, and make an effort to verify what they are telling you to determine if it is in accordance with the procurement rules. Don’t just take their word for it. Verify the information you are given.
In public procurement most of what you do should be written down somewhere. Very seldom are there instances where there are no guidelines for what to do under a specific situation. When this happens the decision on how to proceed would not be yours to make. It would be the decision of your supervisor, a senior procurement person, or approving authority.
Ask questions. Many questions. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Also listen carefully to the answers to your questions. Keep notes and develop simple checklists, where possible, that will serve you as a reminder and for future reference.
7. Strive to Continually Improve
Continue reading and studying. Never think you know it all. Continuous learning and professional development through reading, and by trying to teach lesser experienced practitioners, is essential. By teaching someone else, you learn even more. So keep reading and pass on what you learn to others. The more you teach, the more you learn. The more you know, the better for your organization and career development.
Leave a comment if you found this article useful. Also share with us any tools you are using besides the ones mentioned.