Page Limits: Tip #1 for RFP Issuers

OK, we get why you use 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 if you’re going to use them, here’s the first tip on how to do them better.

When is a page not a page?

When the pieces that comprise it are not defined.

Huh?

Here’s the deal.  You don’t really want to limit pages: You want to limit content.  To do that fairly across all bidders, you have to define what can go on a page.  Here’s how you do that.

Size of page – In North America, say it’s 8.5 x 11 inches.  An 11 x 17 page (useful for big organization charts and designs and drawings) should also be defined – will you count it as 1 page or 2?

Single-sided or double-sided – Me, I hate trying to read and evaluate double-sided text, but if you want to save paper (and can’t go with an entirely electronic submission), then state whether a page printed on both sides counts as 1 page or 2.

Margins – Specify minimums for margins, including the header and footer.

Font type – It’s not enough to state the font size.  Fonts of the same nominal size differ widely in actual size: Think Arial versus Calibri, for just one example.  Just specify the font you require.

Font size – It’s not enough to state the font size for text. Specify a smaller one for tables and figures.  Tables in overly large fonts are hard to read.

Character spacing – Take a look at the Advanced options under Fonts in Word, and specify all those options.

Line spacing – Specify the minimum, whether that’s single-spacing or some multiple.

Paragraph spacing – Specify the minimum space before and after paragraphs.

And those are just the tricks that I know.  Give your draft rules to a Word expert in your organization to see if they can think of anything else.

Complicated, eh?  Well, yes.  But at least you’ll get comparable bids.  And if you’ve chosen wisely, you’ll also get bids that are easy on your eyes.

 

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Term: Industrial and Technical Benefits (ITBs)

Revision to the IRB Program as of February 2014; focused on ensuring that defence procurements create jobs and leverage economic growth within Canada.

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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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Filed under Proposals

Term: Industrial and Regional Benefits (IRBs)

Benefits accruing to defined regions of Canada from a Canadian government policy requiring a contractor awarded a defence or security contract to award subcontracts to Canadian industry to the same dollar value as the prime contract.

Also used to mean the dollar value of said subcontracts.

Also used to refer more loosely to requirements to commit to such a benefit in an RFP.

Drive what looks to the uninitiated like onerous reporting, both in the proposal and throughout the contract term.

Acronymized as IRBs; pronounced by spelling it out.

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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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