Writing Better about Risk: Tip #1

Many RFPs require narratives on the bidder’s understanding of risk and approach to risk management.  Often, what bidders provide wouldn’t be out of place in a textbook: plain-vanilla risk management processes that lay out standard identification, assessment, and mitigation steps.  Boring!  Worse, they show no sign of being tailored for this scope of work: Indeed, they show no sign of ever having done this scope of work. 

Now, granted, clients can do better than to ask about “approach.”  But even if they do give you this fuzzy question, it’s not that hard to do a better response.  Start by thinking about things from the client’s point of view. 

Procurement Environment

Is this the first time the client has bought this product/infrastructure/service, or the twentieth?

  • If it’s the first time, allow for their likely high level of  unease characterized by ill-defined concerns: They don’t know what they don’t know, but they know that this could bite.
  • If they’ve done it before, find out the history of similar procurements, good and bad, to assess their probable level of anxiety and their specific concerns. If armies are always getting ready to fight the last war, the rest of us aren’t necessarily much smarter!

In fact, while we’re at it, how sophisticated is this client from an overall procurement point of view?  In general, “more sophisticated” is “more better,” implying more mature, predictable (even reasonable) practices and, likely, more ability to specify their requirement in a way that reduces their contracting risk and your confusion: All good.

Just one more point.  You’d think that government contracting would be pretty mature, with established, not to say rigid, practices.  In Canada, you’d be half right. It is true of the folks on the process side: the contracting experts.  It’s not always true of the folks on the requirements side: the technical experts, who sometimes work on only one RFP in their entire career.  That one and only (or even just that first one) could be the one you’re bidding on.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can mean that you need to think a little more carefully about their perspective, especially on risk.

Thinking about risk from the client’s point of view allows you to submit a better risk-management response, in whatever form it takes, and also to show risk awareness throughout your entire proposal.  The company marketers don’t always like it – they often see it as negative – but nothing says “Been there, done that, and done good!” more clearly than a good risk answer.

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