Is tendering right for social software projects?

One of the most important stages in building a relationship with a new client is, in my opinion, requirements gathering. Partly this happens even before a deal is struck, because consultants need to know top level requirements before they can put together a proposal.

Once work begins there’s usually a more formal and detailed requirements gathering phase during which one learns about the client as much through observation as direct questioning. This period of learning is crucial. To do the job well, one must understand how one’s client thinks, how they work, what they are expecting, what they know, not to mention figuring out what the client thinks they want and what they actually need.

This is at odds with the common procurement procedure of having multiple companies/consultants tendering to fulfil an already detailed brief. I came across one of these briefs just the other day and it was a stark reminder of how the tender process fails horribly when the client doesn’t understand what it is they are asking for.

The tender in question was very detailed: seven pages of background, contract objectives and deliverables, specifications, timetables and milestones, selection criteria and more. But whilst it’s great to see that they’d put so much thought into it, their basic premise was so deeply flawed that I can only imagine two types of people who would tender for the job as described: a naïf with no real understanding of social media, or someone with flexible ethics.

The tender process is setting the project up to fail. A responsible consultant would respond to the tender with a counterproposal, suggesting alternative avenues of exploration that would be more fruitful and constructive. I fear, however, that once a project is at tender stage, so much work has gone into it and so many colours nailed to its mast that it becomes politically difficult to turn the ship around.

The sad thing is, when the project fails it will be social media that is blamed, not the project’s central concept. And had the organisation in question spent a little bit of money up front working with someone who knows their onions, they could have saved a lot of money in the long run. Penny wise, pound foolish.