Category Archives: Management

Win more government and competitive contracts by using project management principles. Schedule proposal efforts and staff proposal teams for on-time delivery of compliant and high-scoring bids. Avoid version control problems and staff burnout.

How to Talk to the Contracting Officer

First, a word about their legitimate interests.  Well, three words: a good competition.

What is a good competition?

For a contracting officer, it’s one that does not require them to explain to their bosses any of the following:

  • Why their RFP attracted just one bidder
  • How their evaluation criteria produced just one qualified bidder
  • Why the lowest qualified bidder didn’t win the award
  • Why an unsuccessful bidder is suing

Is a good competition one that generates best value or the best technical solution?  Not necessarily.  Those aspects are more the purview of the technical authority.

What does that mean for you, as a bidder?

Do not confuse the contracting officer’s genuine commitment to keeping bidders in the hunt with a guarantee of a level playing field.  Evaluate your chances of winning for yourself.

Do not waste time trying to get them to do things against their interests:

  • Restricting competition by demanding experience levels only your company can meet
  • Setting personnel qualifications unreasonably high

For best results, align your suggestions with their interests and feel free to comment, respectfully, on the following:

  • The probable effect of existing RFP terms (SOW, draft contract, procurement methodology) on your decision to bid
  • The apparent fairness or objectivity of an evaluation criterion
  • The link between the procurement methodology and some stated client policy, especially in government procurement


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Asking Questions: Why it matters what you do with the answers

Actually, it matters what you do with amendments in general, not just answers to your questions.


There are no good outcomes to be had by missing changes (additions, deletions, amendments) to the RFP.  Nope, not even one.

Missing a changed SOW requirement could increase the cost of your solution compared to competitors, or make you non-compliant, or make you look unprofessional.

Missing a changed response instruction could make you non-compliant or make you look unprofessional.

What should you do?

If the client issues a revised RFP, distribute it/make it available to everyone, highlight the changes, and follow-up on the implications with those responsible for implementing them:

  • Technical experts
  • Writers
  • Volume leads
  • Editors
  • Production staff

If the client does not issue a revised RFP, then amend your master copy, and proceed as above.

See here for how to track your questions.


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Asking Questions: What to do with the answers

Short version

Track them, dagnab it.

Long version

List questions in a spreadsheet and assign a unique identifier to each.

Annotate the master copy of the RFP with those identifiers so you know something is outstanding about that aspect of the requirement, whether it’s the SOW, draft contract, response instructions, or evaluation criteria.

Update the spreadsheet when the answers come rolling in.

Comment the master copy of the RFP with the answer, especially if the client doesn’t issue an amended RFP.

And if you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, well, it can be.  So assign someone to be responsible for it.


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Asking Questions: The value of asking politely

I have made much in these pages about the importance of asking clear questions: here, for example.  And seriously, who can argue?  Unclear questions bemuse the client and frustrate your team when the answer given by the bemused ones is, itself, unclear or unhelpful.

But it isn’t enough to be clear.   More is needed.

There are two objectives when asking questions:

  • Task objective – One is to get information you need, to clarify an ambiguity, or to correct an error in the RFP.
  • Relationship objective – One is to let the client know that you will be good to work with: professional, respectful, helpful.  Begin as you mean to continue, and all that.

Asking clearly and early are essential for the first objective; asking politely is essential for the second.

Ask politely

Don’t be rude.  Don’t be condescending.  Don’t be snooty. Don’t be impatient.  Don’t be overbearing.  Don’t attack the client’s competence or integrity.  Don’t make threats, veiled or otherwise.

In short, don’t be a jerk.

You might think it would go without saying.

You’d be wrong.

The story

Working on a lessons-learned contract in a government department, I came across some questions from a participant in the earlier bid process.  Yikes.  They did everything but say to the government, “What?  Are you stupid?”

I went over to the contracting officer and said, “Umm, were these really submitted like this?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What was he thinking?” I asked, preferring not to refer to the submitter by name.  I’d met him around and about, but didn’t really know him.

The contracting officer shrugged.  “He was drunk.”

All right then.

Whether the cause of your temporary disaffection with your client is inebriation or aggravation, let it go when writing questions.

And then get someone else to review your questions for tone.


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Term: Gold Team

Most often used to refer to the executive review of the costs and proposed price.

Not a standard term in Proposal Land, however, and has been seen referring to what most folks call Red Team.

Does it matter? Nope. Not as long as everyone involved knows what is meant.

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