Category Archives: Better RFP Responses

Use proven solution development, writing techniques, and editing standards to develop responsive proposals that score well against RFP evaluation criteria. Use internal and Red Team reviews to improve how you respond to RFPs and to win more bids.

Engagement

Remember me?  I wouldn’t blame you if the answer is, “No.”  Committing the mortal sin of social media – disengaging – I haven’t posted on this site since March 3rd.  Why not?   Continue reading

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How to Handle Page Limits: Tip #2

Page limits: They make life easier for evaluators, and help to separate the sheep from the goats, procurement-wise.  After all, those who are best at delivering a service or designing a product or building or software system are also best at explaining themselves succinctly, right?  Well, maybe.  Maybe not.  But whether you love ’em or hate ’em, page limits are more and more the way of government procurement, so it behooves bidders to get better at handling them.  Herewith, the second tip.

OK, so you’ve done the step of focusing on what the customer really wants to know, and you’re still over the page limit. What now?  That depends on how much you’re over.

About 10%?

Give your text to an editor, who will cut wordiness and repetition, and also turn long-winded paragraphs into terse bullets or tidy text boxes.

About 30%?

Give your text to a layout specialist or graphics artist, who will do two things:

  • Make the most out of the format/layout rules in the RFP – choosing tighter fonts and adjusting margins and line and paragraph spacing where possible.
  • Find graphical ways to scrunch big blocks of text, especially conceptual frameworks and sets of principles.

About 50%?

Go back to Tip #1.  You have to cut content, and you’re better placed to do it than an editor.

 

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How to Handle Page Limits: Tip #1

Page limits: They make life easier for evaluators, and help to separate the sheep from the goats, procurement-wise.  After all, those who are best at delivering a service or designing a product or building or software system are also best at explaining themselves succinctly, right?  Well, maybe.  Maybe not.  But whether you love ’em or hate ’em, page limits are more and more the way of government procurement, so it behooves bidders to get better at handling them.  Herewith, the first tip.

Let’s say the RFP asks any of the following:

  • Submit a preliminary project management plan – 10 pages
  • Describe your project experience – 2 pages/project
  • Explain your approach to risk management – 5 pages

And let’s suppose your experts are outraged!

After all, the company’s standard project management plan is 100 pages.  How can they possibly cut it to 10?

After all, the projects in question are worth tens of millions of dollars and involve, you know, rocket science.  How can anyone do justice to them in just 2 pages?

After all, the folks doing risk management (or quality control, or performance management, or logistics, or . . . ) each have five industry credentials.  Do you really think they can explain what they do in 5 pages?

Stop.  Breathe.  And focus.

Focus?  On what?

Forget what you want to tell the customer.  Forget what you think they need to understand about you.  Forget about all the push communication from the experts.

Flip it.

That is, pretend for a minute that you’re the customer, trying to select a contractor.

What would you want to know?

What factors would help you differentiate between bidders?

What facts or data or credentials or stories or concepts or principles would convince you to spend your money?

Now go and write those answers. Write what the customer is trying to pull.

And you know what?  It’s never a 100-page project management plan.  If it were, they would have, you know, given you 100 pages to write that very thing.

 

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Show, Don’t Tell

As the response schedule slides to the right, the project manager needs an update on my availability.

And so I start figuring it out.  It’s messy, but after a while I get it laid out clearly:

  • Good-to-go availability:  01 and 03 to 09 Dec; 28 Dec to 04 Jan
  • Part-day availability: 11 to 14 Dec; 16 and 17 Dec; 19 and 20 Dec; 22 and 23 Dec
  • Not available: 02, 10, 15, 18, 24 to 27 Dec

I’m pleased with my organization, but appalled at the thought of anyone actually trying to use this presentation to deconflict their schedule.

And so I try again.

Dec availability

Yes.  Much better.

In Proposal Land, as elsewhere, there is often a choice between telling and showing.  Showing is almost always better.

 

 

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Government-sanctioned Numbering

RFP article 5.2.A.4.b.ii clearly requires all bidders to use RFP numbering in their responses.  However, this directly contradicts the 14th bullet under Instruction to Bidders II.C.3.d.5.iv.3.z, which allows each bidder to structure their response however they please.

Yikes.

I guess we’ve all seen RFPs with obtuse numbering, ungraspable by the human brain.  Numbered headings are a great way to structure a document, providing strong hints as to where you are now, and to which subjects are related.  But after about three or four numbers in a heading, I lose track.  Additional numbering levels make it worse, not better:

  • Section 2.2.2.3.2.i
  • Section 2.2.3.2.2.i
  • Section 2.3.2.2.2.i

Ack!  And yikes, besides.  At some point, my eyes start to cross.

There’s a reason we learn and repeat our ten-digit phone numbers in bursts: three, three, and then four digits.  And that reason is that we just aren’t that smart: Holding more numbers than that in our heads at one time is, pretty much, not on.

So it is for numbered headings.

But don’t take my word for it.  In Canada, go straight to the source: the former (and not yet renamed as of this posting) PWGSC website on “The Canadian Style,” and I quote:

“Limit the number of levels of headings to three or four;
otherwise the structure of your document
will be cumbersome and complicated.”

Indeed.  And un-understandable.

Of course, if the RFP uses a ten-digit numbering system and requires you to follow it, then follow it.  But where you have a choice, make full use of it.

 

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