Tag Archives: Managing proposal documents

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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Filed under Proposals

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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Filed under Management

Repeating the Question: A Best Practice?

Repeating the RFP question in the response – something I never saw done in my early days in this business, a full quarter-century ago – has become more and more a standard practice in RFP responses.  Is it also a best practice?  Let’s take a look.

Why do it?

Why has it become more common?  I’m not sure, but I can see two benefits.

First, during response development, it facilitates reviews, making it easier to see three things about the answer to each question:

  • Whether it’s responsive (that is, actually answering the question)
  • Whether it’s complete (that is, answering every part)
  • Whether it’s in the right order (that is, in the same order as the question)

Eliminating the need to flip back and forth to the RFP itself is a real boon in these speedier times.

Second, it might also help the client’s evaluators:

  • Making it obvious which question you’re answering
  • Making it as easy as possible for the evaluator to see that the answer is responsive and complete, thereby garnering the most marks possible, given its content

Why just “might help”?  Well, evaluators are likely working with an answer key, a scoring sheet, or a checklist of some sort, so they might not need to refer to the actual question.

Why not do it?

Two words: page limits.

In the old days, clients rarely set page limits on sections or overall responses: now, that too is common.

Most proposals can ill afford the space to repeat the question, especially where they’re wordy, and especially since there are other ways to ensure that the evaluators know which question you’re answering.

If you do do it, how should you do it?

Do unambiguously differentiate the question from the response text, using text boxes or different font selections from the main text (colour, style, type), or use both of these visual cues.

Don’t use unnecessarily large graphics like fancy 60-point “Qs.”  The question is not more important than the answer.

Don’t summarize the question.  This effectively destroys the one clear benefit from the practice:

  • A summary can mislead in-house reviewers into thinking an incomplete answer is actually OK
  • A summary can annoy evaluators who realize that the question is not true to their original

If you don’t do it, what should you do instead?

Do use the numbering specified in the response instructions, exactly as given.

Do create a short, meaningful heading/title for each numbered section that helps evaluators confidently identify the question.

Do issue RFP questions to in-house editors and reviewers and brief them on how to use them to assess each answer.

Is it a good idea to keep the questions in until after the final review and them remove them?

Not if you’re working with a page limit.

Editing and formatting to meet a page limit is almost an art form.  Both editors and formatters will do their best work when they know the parameters from the outset.

Pulling all the questions just before going to production will have one of three results:

  • You’ll be bang on the page limit
  • You’ll be over, resulting in panicky, ill-considered cutting
  • You’ll be under, with no time to fill the extra space available

Me, I play the odds, and get a look at how we’re doing with page counts as early as possible.


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Filed under Proposals

Proposal Content: Financial Stuff

RFP responses can seem complex and intimidating, especially to the uninitiated.  Simplify the task by dividing and conquering.  After all, there are only four kinds of content in proposals. Herewith, some notes on financial content: what drives the requirement, what it looks like, and where your focus should be.

Where Does the Requirement for Financial Content Come From?

There are two underlying drivers for financial-content requirements:

  • To verify that all elements of a bidder’s technical and management proposal have been included in their quoted price
  • To assess whether a bidder has made unreasonable assumptions that could drive either “excessive” cost/margins, or a risk of non-performance

What Kind of Financial Content is Required?

Every RFP requires a price to be included for the goods and services as the bidder has offered them in their proposal:

  • One price for the whole shebang, or
  • One price that varies with the volume or scope of work (e.g. unit pricing of goods; hourly labour rates), or
  • A combination of these – one price for the Work as scoped in the RFP and variable pricing for additional Work that might be required

Some RFPs also require bidders to identify the following items:

  • Type of cost escalators used or proposed throughout a contract term
  • Assumptions that underlie the price
  • Things specifically excluded from the price

Even if these additional items aren’t required for proposal submission, they make valuable notes for the proposal manager and the executives (to negotiate a contract) and the operator or project manager (to deliver the Work).

Where Should the Focus be for Financial Content?

There are two things to consider:

  • Achieving presentation clarity and compliance with all RFP instructions
  • Getting the price as low as reasonably possible

As a general rule, the low price will win the bid.  If the company want to propose a solution that exceeds the requirement, the extra should be priced separately as an option.


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Filed under Proposals

Proposal Content: Management Stuff

Some notes on management content: what drives the requirement, what it looks like, and where your focus should be. RFP responses can seem complex and intimidating, especially to the uninitiated. Simplify the task by dividing and conquering.

Where Does the Requirement for Management Content Come From?

I’m thinking you’re able to guess this one: “The RFP.”  But what are the underlying drivers?  I think two things:

  • Client due diligence, especially around labour and the environment
  • Client risk avoidance

What Kind of Management Content is Required?

“What kinds aren’t required” might be a shorter list.  Here are relatively standard things:

  • A description of the bidder’s experience in similar work, both corporately and for the personnel being proposed
  • Narrative, tables, and schedules that describe how the bidder will design and staff the organization to deliver the product or services on schedule and budget, including a transition plan if someone else is now doing this Work
  • Narrative that describes how the bidder will manage the effort:
    • To deliver on schedule, scope, and budget
    • To meet quality and performance standards
    • To manage subcontractors
    • To handle client interactions
  • How the bidder plans to meet safety, environmental protection, and any other regulatory requirements
  • In Canadian defence and security procurements, an explanation of how the bidder will meet federally mandated regional development requirements (similar requirements to support small, minority-owned and/or disadvantaged businesses exist in the USA)

Is It a Good Idea to Submit Additional Management Content?

As with technical content, this is an imponderable.  You pays your money, you takes your chances.  Evaluators might reward or penalize additional content.

Where Should the Focus be for Management Content?

Like technical content, management content should be:

  • Clear
  • Compliant with any management requirements in the RFP
  • Complete against the response requirement
  • Consistent (tough, tough, tough to achieve, since management topics – think safety and quality –  slop across technical topic boundaries)

But, in addition, management content should focus on real-world credibility and plain-language examples of where the approach has been used, and to what effect.  Credibility is harder to achieve in management than in technical content, because the former has fewer hard, objective criteria.



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Filed under Proposals