Tag Archives: Winning contracts

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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Writing Better about Risk: Tip #5

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.  Tips #1 to #4 are about thinking about risk from the client’s point of view.  This tip is about being coherent in your risk response; that is, if you create a conceptual framework, using it in all questions that apply.

The Questions

The RFP asked about risk management: two back-to-back questions in one section, and then again in another section.

Question #1 said, essentially, “How do you categorize risks?”

Question #2 said, essentially, “What risks do you see for this project?”

Question #3 said, essentially, “What risks do you see for this function?”

The Answer

Using text copied/pasted from a corporate plan (because that glue tastes so good, I guess), Answer #1 was a textbook classification.  Not wrong, you understand, but not super targeted.

Using text copied/pasted from another proposal for similar work, Answers #2 and #3 were much better targeted.

Hurray!  Right?  Well, maybe not.

The Problem

Looked at together, the three answers had, essentially, no common ground.  The classification framework introduced in Answer #1 was never used or even referred to again.

So.  What does it mean to have a clever generic risk classification scheme that we don’t, you know, actually use in thinking about risks on actual projects or within specific functions?

Not much, I’d say.

 

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Writing Better about Risk: Tip #4

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. 

Community/Political Environment

How private is this contract?  That doesn’t mean whether it’s being issued by a private- or public-sector client.  Is there a need to communicate with regulatory agencies, government departments, other suppliers, the public, or the media?

Understanding how this contract and your performance might affect your client’s profile in the world is an excellent start:

  • What topics or events will be at issue
  • What communication methods to propose
  • What frequency of communication will be appropriate
  • How your role supports the client

 

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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Writing Better about Risk: Tip #3

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. 

Work Environment

What risks does the work environment pose:

  • Regulatory compliance:
    • Environmental protection concerns?
    • Worker or public safety?
  • Security:
    • Personal information privacy?
    • Information security?
  • Performance:
    • Are there inherent problems with weather or restricted site access (seasonally or otherwise)?
    • Will the contractor have to work closely with other providers of products or services?

Explain how you’ll address the things that matter most to this client:

  • Everyone cares about regulatory compliance, but some clients are super sensitive to breaches that smack of insufficient due diligence.
  • Everyone expects security, but some organizations live and breathe it.
  • Everyone wants performance, but some work is mission-critical.

 

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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Writing Better about Risk: Tip #2

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. 

Size

Size may not be everything, but it can be a big thing.  So how big is this opportunity?  No, not in the sense of your anticipated revenues!

How big is it compared to the client’s entire operation? Quite reasonably, they’ll fuss more about relatively big honking activities than teeny-tiny ones.  Adjust your approach/response accordingly; for example:

  • Add dedicated staff where it makes sense to maintain control of outcomes.
  • Implement better performance monitoring systems and techniques so you get early warning of any problems.
  • Give clients direct access to performance-monitoring technology.
  • Communicate more frequently with the client about how things are going.

How big is it compared to the typical contractor organization?  Is the client likely concerned about potentially bankrupting a contractor, forcing them into default, or overwhelming their capacity to do good work, just because the contract is relatively large?  Explain why that won’t happen to you:

  • Show that you’ve successfully handled similarly scaled contracts before.
  • Explain how your proposed organization for the work, and your corporate organization, can accommodate the effort.
  • Highlight your financial depth.
  • Offer parental guarantees, if applicable.

Size and Scope

Is the opportunity so big and/or so complex (think pretty much any design-build activity and equipment or system development/acquisition) that several companies will have to work together?  If you have partners or major subcontractors, address the client’s legitimate concerns:

  • How will the companies manage their interfaces, both contractually and practically, day-to-day?
  • Who will be responsible if things go south?  How will they even know that things have gone bad?
  • What’s the back-up plan if one company fails?

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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