(Adapted from Paul Emanuelli’s Precision Drafting: A Handbook for Tenders and RFPs)

When it comes to drafting procurement documents, we are often our own worst enemies. Our failure to communicate effectively with our suppliers is often a by-product of an even more fundamental problem: our failure to communicate effectively amongst ourselves. We need to achieve a consensus within our own team by answering the key question, What are we buying?

Never assume the answer will materialize as your draft develops. One of the biggest mistakes a drafting team can make is to use the drafting process as the way to build consensus. In fact, the key is to reach consensus before you start drafting. Once you have consensus as to what you are buying, you need to maintain it by not revisiting or revising your base assumptions as you proceed to develop your detailed requirements. Assembling your team and nailing this answer down at the outset is critical because it will serve as the touchstone for the rest of your drafting process.

This consensus-building can best be achieved through a “clean room” exercise, with everyone focusing on the common objective. The most effective way to quickly and clearly answer the basic question of “What are we buying?” is to assemble your drafting team in a “clean room,” away from your computers, charts, printouts and slide decks. Tell everyone to leave their communication devices behind, or have them check them at the door. Give each person on your drafting team a small notepad and a pen, and, as a group, have them develop a concise statement that answers the basic “What are we buying?” question.

In reality you may never have the opportunity to assemble everyone in the same room to engage in this “clean room” exercise. However, by whatever means are at your disposal, you need to focus your group thinking and highlight the importance of reaching a clear and simple consensus among those who will play a role in contributing content to your tender call document.

Some of your team members may try to dismiss the exercise as being unnecessary, saying, “Everyone already understands what we’re buying, so there’s no need to go over this.” But this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Also, your “clean room” will likely include subject-matter experts who would be more comfortable discussing the specific obscurities of their areas of expertise than the development of the initial mapping statement. However, subject-matter experts play an important role in crafting an initial mapping statement that frames your objectives in clear, plain, nontechnical language. After the initial mapping statement is complete, the subject-matter experts can expand on the details using more-technical terms in their discrete sections of the procurement document.

Read more about initial mapping statements: