Tag Archives: Managing questions

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

 

Comments Off on How to Talk to the Contracting Officer

Filed under Management

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.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Management

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.

 

Comments Off on Asking Questions: The value of asking politely

Filed under Management

Asking Questions: The value of asking early

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.

Ask early

If you want thoughtful answers to your questions – and you likely do – then submit them as early as possible, even before the deadline, to give the client time to think.

If you don’t want nasty surprises later on – and you likely don’t – then review all parts of the RFP (the SOW, the draft contract, the response instructions, the evaluation criteria) as soon as it hits the street, so you can submit all your questions soonest for the best chance at timely answers.  There’s nothing much more irritating than trying to assemble a document and realizing at that late date that the response instructions and the packaging instructions aren’t aligned.  And, yes, it happens.

A special case?

Maybe you’re using a question to ask for a change:

  • To the requirement – to add or delete a work requirement or to modify a service standard, for example
  • To the procurement methodology – to change the relative weights of the technical and financial scores, for example

Again, asking early is your best bet, while recognizing that any heavy lifting with respect to influencing the requirement really ought to have been done before the RFP came out.

Comments Off on Asking Questions: The value of asking early

Filed under Management

Asking Clearer Questions

Why unclear questions matter

Bidders submitting unclear questions about RFPs to clients risk getting back nonsense answers or not getting what they actually wanted.  But as a simple story illustrates, asking clear questions is hard.

The example

“How much do you want to golf when you’re here?”

On the extension, I thought, “Uh oh, there’s a problem.”  What might it be?  Let me count the ways it might be a problem:

  • It will be expensive for our host to rent clubs.
  • It will be hard for our host to book tee times.
  • It will be rude to leave behind the non-golfers.

In short, I heard this question as this: How badly do you want to golf when you’re here?

The person who responded, however, heard a different question — to wit: How often do you want to golf when you’re here? — and answered accordingly.

Who heard aright?  Not me.

How to do better – Tactic #1

Dramatically improve the odds that the client will hear the question aright by giving some context for the question that explains the point of confusion or concern:

Don’t say this: Please clarify requirement A.

Instead, say this:  We see requirement A and requirement H as mutually contradictory, because of such-and-so. Therefore, we ask that you either clarify these requirements to remove the potential confusion between them, or eliminate one of them.

How to do better – Tactic #2

Review your question for words with more than one meaning. Consider the situation when the SOW states that the Contractor must perform a given task every week.  If you want the client to reduce task frequency, then . . .

Don’t say this:  Would you consider dropping requirement X?

Instead, say this:  Executing this task weekly will be prohibitively expensive.  In our experience, executing this task monthly is sufficient for safety (or whatever purpose).  We therefore request that requirement X be changed to reduce the task frequency to once/month.

 

Comments Off on Asking Clearer Questions

Filed under Management