MONTEL INTERGALACTIC

13 Jun 2019 - by Teemu Kalvas

Public procurement, a resource’s perspective

All projects end, and then you have to find a new project, preferably without too much hassle, and one which you enjoy, and the client knows they’ve selected someone skilled and culturally fitting. The private sector is not the only possible source of interesting projects.

The law for public procurement in Finland is generally viewed as limiting the possibility of good quality control in hiring skilled contractors. It certainly makes it impossible to do quality control in an undefined manner after the fact. However, with advance planning and keeping in mind past mistakes, some approaches which work very well have been invented.

Method #1

The first method was to try to ask for exactly the right experience in the call for bids. While this can succeed to some extent with junior developers, it tends to go off the rails with seniors. Asking for 2400 man-days of experience in X, with proof by CV and references, is both very hard to manage even for those who have the experience, and also does not measure quality in any meaningful way anymore. I think that after maybe three years of experience in any specific thing in computing, while further experience will likely mean something, the amount of experience does not correlate with any meaningful way to how good any two different programmers are in X.

Method #1, version 2

A well-performing adjustment to this method has been to write in somewhat relaxed requirements for the necessary technologies (say, 1 year, with more points for up to 3), not require or give points for things which are not clearly requirements (so require REST and Clojure separately, not together), and most importantly, make it really easy to change your mind if it turns out that the winner is not performing as advertised.

Method #2

The second method is to interview, but do it in a way which fits the requirements of the law. This leads to slightly disconcerting interviews, as the only way to be sure that as a buyer you are giving equal consideration to all applicants is to say exactly the same things to each one. So it’s more like a game show where you get a new monologue topic every three minutes to surprise you and entertain the viewers, rather than an interview as such. Nevertheless, this mechanism makes it much harder to stuff CVs with non-existent experience.

There is really no reason to discard the adjustments used for the first method. No selection process based on prior data will forecast the future, and results in the actual project are much more indicative of the quality of work in that project than prior work.

As a (purportedly) senior programmer filling in the forms or monologuing in the interview, I find the interview actually less stressful. It is hard not to give an ongoing interview less than your full attention, so you don’t have the mental capacity to get too stressed about it, and it is over very soon. The only hope is that you actually know enough about the subjects to make it pretty much automatic that you say something relevant about them to score points. When filling in the forms, a lot of time gets spent on thinking how once again the form is asking the wrong things, or in a wrong way, or otherwise thinking how the call for bids should have been structured differently. Also the form-filling can take quite a bit of time, with multiple people poring over the details, when serious bid optimization starts.

Suggestion

It would be nice if the government allowed quality references though. Even if only government references were allowed, past customer satisfaction in public contracts (gathered by doing quality work) could be used to prove being fit for purpose in new public development projects. I understand that it’s not the project owners who get to decide this, as Finnish law on public procurement is strict. Of course in the simple form giving lots of points for past references tends to reinforce a small number of lucky winners which will then end up being an unofficial monopoly, so this suggestion is not yet ready. Maybe it even cannot be written in a way which wouldn’t be monopoly creating.

No matter which mechanism the customer uses, with public projects the contracts are long, and using a day or two to sell is a price gladly paid for the opportunity to work for months or even years in an interesting project.

If you have any questions or comments to me, you can contact me teemu@montel.fi or via LinkedIn.

If you think me or someone else from our team could help you, don’t ́hesitate to contact us. Tuba, tuba@montel.fi / +358 400636636 will be happy to tell more about our intergalactic services.

Teemu Kalvas

Senior Full-Stack Developer

Teemu is a software developer with over 2400 man-days of experience as a public procurement resource.

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