Outcomes, with conditions
An outcome is a consequence or a result. It’s what the beneficiaries of a contract should experience to satisfy their needs. It should be specific, not abstract, to remove or at least minimise the need for the reader to interpret what the writer means.
Outcomes help to specify what beneficiaries should experience from the purchase and use of goods or services to satisfy their needs, just what,never how. Potential suppliers propose how they will achieve the what in the tenders they submit. The purchaser evaluates how well potential suppliers will, or are likely to, achieve their desired outcomes.
Outcomes enable each party (the purchaser and each potential supplier) to apply their experience and expertise to good effect because:
- Purchasers should be better able to specify what (desired outcomes) will satisfy the needs of beneficiaries
- Potential suppliers should be better able to propose how to achieve the purchaser’s desired outcomes
Qualify an outcome with conditions to increase its specificity and relevance. The more specific an outcome, the more certain potential suppliers are about what you need. More certainty equals lower risk, lower risk equals lower prices. If you can’t formulate genuine outcomes, with sensible conditions to qualify them, then don’t try; specify specific inputs instead.
Here are two examples that illustrate what outcomes are, and are not.
This is from Defra’s “Balanced Scorecard for public food procurement”. It is one of their award questions (their terminology) from the section on food safety and hygiene. They stated that most of their award questions were “framed to specify a desired outcome”, but I struggled to find the desired outcome.
Supply Chain (applicable to caterers and to the direct supply of products)
Please describe the systems that your organisation will use to assess risks and manage food safety and food hygiene throughout the supply chain, including how mitigating actions are linked to the outcomes of a systematic risk assessment, and details of any independently audited food safety schemes you will use.
Here’s how it could have been as a genuine desired outcome.
The food served did not cause illness (the what).
Now I’m on a roll could this question (below) replace the award question from the balanced scorecard, when used in conjunction with the desired outcome I’ve just formulated?
How will you make sure the food you serve does not cause those who eat it to be ill? (the how)
This is from a refuse collection contract. It shows the subtle difference between maybe and genuine outcomes, with qualifying conditions. My client wanted to purchase a service that emptied residents bins once every fortnight. Here are two versions of the same thing and only one is a genuine outcome, which is it?
Residents’ grey bins are empty once every fortnight, with no disruption to those living and working in the area.
Residents’ grey bins must be emptied once every fortnight, without disrupting those living and working in the area.
‘Are empty’ is an outcome because it has been done, whereas ‘must be emptied’ or ‘will be emptied’ is an input. I’m being a bit nit-picky to show you exactly what an outcome is and isn’t.
The condition to the above outcome is “without disrupting those living and working in the area”. We could add other conditions to further qualify this outcome such as, ‘without littering in the vicinity of the collection route’.
To be effective outcomes should be:
- What the beneficiaries will experience
- Succinct and straightforward
- Written in plain English
- No more than one sentence
- Few in number, say six at most for a contract
- Easy to see when achieved
- Mindful of unintended consequences
- Capable of communicating what you need to achieve such that:
- Beneficiaries, know how they will benefit
- Purchasers, know what they need to buy
- Potential suppliers, know what they are competing for
- Successful suppliers, know what they have to achieve
- Funders (budget holders), know what they’ll get for their money
- Everyone, will know what success looks like
For more complex procurements you could formulate outcomes that are:
- Specific to a lot
- Specific to groups of beneficiaries
Outcomes as performance measures
It should be apparent to all involved when a specific outcome has been achieved, otherwise there’s not much point having it as an outcome. This also makes it an effective performance measure.
In the first example good performance is when no one who has eaten the supplier’s food is ill. It’s clear, tangible and easy to measure. However, the consequences of not achieving the outcome, just once, could be life threatening. Therefore, it would sensible for the purchaser and supplier to put more effort into prevention to make sure the food is safe to eat.
In the second example good performance is when every resident’s bin is empty on the agreed date and the supplier hasn’t caused any disruption or made a mess. Again it is clear, tangible and easy to measure. The consequences of not achieving the outcome are less serious than in example one. A bin that hasn’t been emptied is a nuisance that can be put right with additional waste collections. However, it could be more serious if the supplier doesn’t achieve some of the conditions. Say they disrupt residents whilst emptying bins, this could damage the purchaser’s reputation and require substantial effort to put right.
Outcomes are vital
Outcomes describe what potential suppliers have to achieve and what beneficiaries have to experience for their needs to be satisfied. They should influence pretty much everything and everyone associated with the procurement. It is self-defeating to formulate a procurement strategy and tender documents without first determining outcomes that will satisfy beneficiaries’ needs.
Start your procurement with outcomes and administer your contract with outcomes (performance measures), focus on what, not how.