Bidding on Time: Understanding the Timeline of the Tender Process in Construction


In the UK construction industry, tendering is a standard procedure for procuring construction services. This well-structured process allows potential contractors to submit competitive bids for the project under consideration, ensuring transparency, quality, and fair pricing. The process, however, requires meticulous planning and careful time management.

UK Private Sector Construction Tendering

In the private sector, the tendering process in the UK is guided by industry best practices and recommended standards. Among these, the JCT Tendering Practice Note 2017 and the RICS Tendering Strategies, 1st edition stand out for their comprehensive guidance on managing tenders efficiently and effectively. They provide a framework that encourages consistency, fairness, and maximum value for money.

The Art of Timing in Tendering

The tender process is often a complex dance of documentation, reviews, and decision-making, all set to the beat of a carefully planned timeline. Proper timing is essential to ensure that each stage, from the initial tender notice to the final awarding of the contract, is executed smoothly and without undue delay.

The Importance of Scheduling

The construction tender process isn’t just about who has the best bid; it’s also about who can deliver on time. Scheduling in the tender process is not a mere afterthought, but a key element that can shape the outcome of the tender. Inadequate attention to scheduling can lead to rushed decisions, errors, project delays, and cost overruns.

This article aims to provide a step-by-step understanding of the timeline for each stage of the tender process, as applied in medium-sized construction projects in the UK private sector. By appreciating the timing of each phase, project stakeholders can plan more effectively, enhancing their chances of running a successful tender process.

The information will be largely drawn from established guidelines including the JCT Tendering Practice Note 2017 and the RICS Tendering Strategies, 1st edition. Through this, we hope to share best practices and highlight the crucial role of timing in securing a successful tender outcome. Read on as we take you through this journey, one step at a time.

The Tender Process: An Overview

The tender process in the UK construction industry follows a strategic path that moves through several key stages, each with its own unique significance.

Understanding the Tender Process

The tender journey begins with pre-qualification, where potential contractors are assessed for their project suitability. This is followed by the invitation to tender stage, where selected contractors are asked to submit their bids. The tender period is next, a window where contractors prepare and submit their proposals. After bids are in, they undergo thorough scrutiny during the tender evaluation stage. Finally, the contract award stage closes the process, with the winning contractor beginning the construction phase.

The Flow of the Tender Process

It’s crucial to understand that these stages are interconnected, each setting the ground for the next. Their collective outcome shapes the efficiency and success of the tender process.

The Importance of Timing in the Tender Process

Timing is pivotal in the tender process. Striking a balance between thorough execution and timeliness ensures quality decision-making without unnecessary delays.

When to Start the Tender Process

Starting the tender process at the right time is essential. The process should ideally begin in advance of the planned date for sending out tender enquiries, allowing sufficient time for each stage and fostering a successful tender environment.

The following sections will examine each stage in more detail, outlining their respective timelines and best practices.

Establishing a Tender Strategy

Laying out a strategic plan before launching into the tender process is critical. A well-crafted strategy guides the entire process and sets clear expectations for all involved parties.

Project Assessment and Contractor Criteria

Firstly, understanding your project in-depth is essential. The scope, complexity, and unique requirements of your project will shape the qualities you’re looking for in a contractor. This may encompass various aspects from specific technical skills to softer abilities like effective communication or problem-solving.

Setting and Documenting Assessment Criteria

Having clearly defined assessment criteria is an integral part of your tender strategy. Agree upon these criteria with the client and the professional team, ensuring they are relevant and understood by all. These should then be thoroughly documented in the tender strategy, providing a clear roadmap for the entire tender process.

Time Allocation

Finally, a strategy should be established well in advance of the tender period. Early planning allows for better time management for each tender stage, ensuring a smooth process. From understanding the project to setting the criteria and documenting the strategy, each step plays a significant role in determining a successful tender process.

Pre-qualification: The Starting Point

The tender process commences with the pre-qualification stage, a vital step that enables the identification of suitable contractors for the project. This stage involves the preparation and circulation of a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), which is a comprehensive document containing an array of questions aimed at understanding a contractor’s credentials. Aspects such as prior experience, financial stability, health and safety records, and more, are explored. Tailoring the PQQ to reflect the specific project’s needs is critical as it directly influences the timeline and overall outcomes of the tender process.

Following the creation of a comprehensive PQQ, interested contractors are invited to participate. This invitation can be open or selectively sent to a curated list of potential contractors. The contractors need adequate time to prepare and submit their responses, a timeline that is influenced by the project’s complexity and the depth of the information required.

Once the PQQ responses have been received, a rigorous evaluation process commences. This evaluation should align with the previously established criteria from the tender strategy. Upon thorough scrutiny and evaluation of the submissions, a shortlist of suitable contractors is created. This finalised list of eligible contenders marks the end of the pre-qualification stage and serves as the transition to the next phase in the tender process. The completion of this phase also establishes a timeline for the progression of subsequent stages.

Invitation to Tender: Setting the Stage

Invitation to Tender (ITT) serves as the formal request issued to the shortlisted contractors, inviting them to submit their proposals. It is the document that sets the stage for the contractors to prepare and submit their tenders. Understanding, preparing, and issuing the ITT are critical steps in the tendering timeline.

The ITT is composed of several main sections, including:

  • Project background: Describing the nature, context, and objectives of the project.
  • Work description: Providing details of the scope, requirements, and specifications of the project.
  • Commercial terms: Outlining the contractual conditions, payment terms, and any penalties or incentives.
  • Evaluation criteria: Specifying how the bids will be assessed, which can include cost, technical capability, past performance, and more.
  • Timelines: Indicating the deadline for tender submission and any other significant dates.

The professional team, and especially the quantity surveyor, is instrumental in preparing the ITT. This involves gathering all the necessary information, drafting the document, and performing a thorough review. The complexity of the project, the level of detail included in the ITT, and the efficiency of the team can all influence the time required for this stage. Generally, it can take several weeks to a few months to adequately prepare an ITT.

Once the ITT is finalised, it needs to be issued to the prequalified contractors. This should be done in a way that ensures all parties receive the documents simultaneously and have ample time to review and respond. The timeline for issuing the ITT should factor in a buffer period for any potential queries from contractors. In terms of response time, it is crucial to provide a period that is fair and realistic, taking into consideration the complexity of the project and the level of detail required in the tender responses. A typical response time could range from three to six weeks.

Effectively handling the ITT process not only sets the stage for the contractors to prepare their bids but also signals the robustness of the project’s planning and management, thus setting the tone for the tendering process and the project at large.

Tender Period: Tenderers in Action

The tender period represents a critical juncture in the tendering process. During this phase, tenderers are given the chance to understand the project requirements, prepare, and submit their bids. This stage needs careful management to ensure that it is efficient and effective.

Tender Preparation by Tenderers

The length of time tenderers need to prepare their tenders varies considerably depending on the project’s complexity, size, and the required detail within the tender response. Typically, a period of 3-6 weeks is allocated, but more complex projects could demand longer. Project managers need to bear in mind that tenderers are likely bidding on multiple projects simultaneously, which can impact their resource availability for tender preparation.

Tender Submission and Acknowledgment

The tender documentation should clearly set out the tender submission protocol. It should specify the deadline for submission, the format (electronic or hard copy), and the location for submission.

Once a tender is received, it’s best practice to acknowledge receipt promptly, providing a formal record for both parties. This usually should be done within a few working days, confirming that the tender submission is complete and was received on time.

Handling Tender Queries

A procedure for managing tender queries from tenderers should be put in place. This typically involves a designated point of contact who can collate queries and provide a clear, consistent response within a set time frame. Timely and clear communication with tenderers during this period can positively impact the quality of tenders received and helps to prevent delays.

Timing Considerations for the Tender Period

Deciding the length of the tender period involves a balance. It needs to be long enough to allow tenderers to fully understand the project and prepare a comprehensive response, yet not so long that it unduly delays the project start date. Factors to consider when setting this period include the complexity of the project, the volume of information for tenderers to review, and standard industry practices.

Setting the tender period too short may result in rushed submissions, potentially lacking in quality or completeness. Conversely, a very long tender period could imply that the project is not well defined, discouraging tenderers from engaging.

Tender Evaluation: Choosing the Best

In the tender process, one of the most crucial phases is the tender evaluation. This is when all the bids received are meticulously analysed to ensure the most suitable tenderer is selected. A comprehensive and careful evaluation is key to not just selecting the right contractor, but it also goes a long way in ensuring the project’s success.

Initial Examination

The evaluation involves several steps. Initially, there is a preliminary examination to ensure that all received tenders comply with the essential requirements laid out in the Invitation to Tender (ITT). This includes checking if all the required documents have been submitted and are completed correctly, and that the tender submission is in line with the requested format. Non-compliant tenders may be disqualified at this stage, allowing the evaluation team to focus on suitable submissions.

Detailed Review and Scoring

Once the initial scrutiny is complete, a more detailed review of each submission is undertaken. This involves analysing the contractor’s approach to the project, including methodology, programme, proposed resources and sustainability proposals, amongst others. It’s during this stage that each tender is assessed against the pre-set criteria that were agreed upon during the setting of the tender strategy. The evaluation team will score each tenderer against these criteria, allowing a fair and transparent comparison of each bid.

Post-Tender Clarifications or Negotiations

In certain procurement routes, there may be an opportunity for post-tender clarifications or even negotiations. These allow for any ambiguities to be resolved and for the project team to further explore the contractor’s proposals. It’s essential that these processes are carried out in line with the established procedures to ensure fairness and transparency.

Tender Report

Following the evaluation, a detailed tender report is prepared. This report outlines the process undertaken, the findings from the evaluation, and the recommendations for contract award. This report provides the necessary documentation for the decisions made and acts as a record of the fair and thorough process carried out.

Time Considerations

The timeline for tender evaluation can be influenced by several factors. These can include the number of tenders received, the complexity of the project, the detail provided within the tender responses, and the capacity of the evaluation team. At Multiproject, we usually require 2-4 weeks to prepare a comprehensive assessment. It’s essential to allocate sufficient time for this phase to ensure a comprehensive and careful evaluation is completed. After all, the decision made at this stage will have a significant impact on the success of the project. It’s therefore worth spending the time to ensure the right decision is made.

Contract Award: The Final Step

The culmination of the tender process is the award of the contract. While it may seem like the finish line, it’s crucial to handle this stage professionally to maintain relationships and ensure a smooth transition to the construction phase.

Informing the Successful Tenderer

The first step in this stage is to inform the successful tenderer of their selection. This is typically done via a formal ‘Letter of Intent’ or ‘Letter of Acceptance’, depending on the terms set out in the Invitation to Tender. It’s advisable to do this promptly after the decision has been made to allow the contractor to begin mobilising their resources.

Debriefing Unsuccessful Tenderers

It’s also considered good practice to inform unsuccessful tenderers, ideally providing them with feedback on their submission. This debrief can be a valuable learning experience for them and is an opportunity to maintain good relations for potential future projects. Time should be allowed for these conversations, though the length can vary depending on the number of tenderers and the complexity of the feedback.

Finalising the Contract

The final step is to finalise the contract with the selected tenderer. This includes agreeing on any final details, signing the contract, and setting the commencement date for the works. Again, time should be allocated to these tasks to ensure a thorough and professional conclusion to the tender process.

The timeline for the contract award stage can depend on a number of factors, including the responsiveness of the tenderers, the complexity of the contract, and the readiness of both parties to proceed. This stage is critical in ensuring a successful start to the project and will be covered in more detail in a separate article.

In conclusion, the tender process is a complex and time-consuming endeavour, typically taking several months with the initial stages running concurrently with design development. With careful planning, clear communication, and an understanding of each stage’s timeline, it can be navigated effectively to achieve a successful project outcome.