What Do You Mean?

We will follow the Project Management Plan . . .

What? What are you going to do after developing this Plan?

We will follow the ISO standard . . .

What? What has supplanted the latest ISO standard for quality or environmental management?

We will follow the results . . .

What? What happens next?

In Proposal Land, “follow” can reasonably mean “to happen after” or  “to adhere to” or “to monitor.” Why not just say what we mean?

After developing the Project Management Plan,
we will write the associated SOPs.

To maintain consistency
we will adhere to the ISO standard.

By monitoring performance results,
we will learn how to improve them.

It’s a small point, but it illustrates one of the challenges of writing clearly: Words have multiple meanings. So choose your words as precisely as you can, as “least prone to momentary misinterpretation” as you can find: The person trying to understand them is not you.

Or think of it this way: The person evaluating them is not you.

Following me now?


Term: Shalls

Shorthand for Work required from the contractor as in, “The Contractor shall . . . ”

The “shalls” may specify a product, service, information, schedule, or performance standard and appear in the RFP, draft contract, and Statement of Work.

Not generally used when referring to mandatory submission requirements: It seems to be limited to the Work.

Just Three Simple Questions

Technical writers and subject-matter experts often struggle to explain their plan for delivering the work in a way that non-techies and clients can understand (or be impressed by). Too often what comes from the writer and/or expert is generic descriptions of the function that would look good in a textbook. The answers aren’t “wrong” in the sense of being untrue, but they’re definitely “wrong” in the sense of getting low marks, and being boring besides. Insult added to injury.

Editors sometimes use high-falutin’ phrases like “concept of operations” but what we want is specific answers to three simple questions:

  1. What matters for this function?
  2. What’s different at this location or for this client?
  3. How are we going to deliver on both?

Let’s unpack it a bit.

Continue reading“Just Three Simple Questions”

Tea is for Team

Like thorough evaluators, you should definitely read the whole article. Or you could just skim the conclusion:

Social worker Melody Wilding has written that whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, we should always stop to ask ourselves if we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Any of those feelings are likely to fuel poor judgment, which means that it’s time to stop what we’re doing, take a break, and either eat a sandwich or do some journaling or call a friend or take a nap.

These are all excellent ideas. Based on my experience in England, I would add that whenever we’re feeling anything at all, we should probably make some tea and offer it to whoever is in the vicinity.

At this point you have two questions, yeah?

First: “Tea?” Yes. (And if that was “Are you kidding me?” instead, then “No.”)

Second: “What does this have to do with proposals?” This.

Whether we’re on a team or managing one, it’s good to look for low-cost ways to manage our own stress and to contribute to team cohesion. Not to diss the “Wanna have a beer after work?” approach, but apparently offering a warm beverage is better. Who knew? Well, George Orwell.

A good cup, as George Orwell suggests, can make you feel wiser, braver, and more optimistic.

And we could all stand to be a little wiser, braver and optimistic-er in Proposal Land, yeah? So haul out that old coffee mug and re-purpose it today. Because effective teamwork (especially on ad hoc proposal teams) doesn’t fall from the heavens: Someone has to build it, from the ground up.

Related Posts

Want to read more on fostering teamwork? Try this Proposal Land series, based on a fabulous series written by Rhys Newman and Luke Johnson for design teams:

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #1 – Say good morning and goodnight.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #2 – Be optimistic, embrace failure, and laugh more.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #3 – Good studios build good walls.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #4 – Design the designing (i.e. the process to fit the project).

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #5 – Mind your language.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #6 – Meet out in the open.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #7 – Everyone leads at some point.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #8 – See the world through the client’s eyes.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #9 – Hire a bookie.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #10 – Bring the outside, inside.

How to Foster Teamwork: Tip #11 – No dickheads allowed.


I’m Firm; You’re Obstinate; He’s a Pigheaded Fool

In rhetoric, emotive or emotional conjugation
mimics the form
of a grammatical conjugation of an irregular verb
to illustrate humans’ tendency
to describe their own behavior
more charitably than the behavior of others.

They’re also called Russell’s conjugations, after the British philosopher who featured them in a BBC radio broadcast: the one used in the title of this post, and at least these two . . .

I am righteously indignant,
You are annoyed,
He is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter,
You have changed your mind,
He has gone back on his word.

Continue reading“I’m Firm; You’re Obstinate; He’s a Pigheaded Fool”