Proposal Land

Term: Security Requirements Check List

A Government of Canada form used to specify the security requirements in the contract to be issued to the contractor.

Usually annexed to the RFP, it allows bidders to cost and schedule any actions required to meet the security requirements that will apply at contract award (for example, security screening of personnel, establishment of secure zones in offices for document safeguarding).

Acronymized as SRCL; pronounced by saying each letter in turn: ess-arr-see-ell.

Tips for editors:

Add SCRL to your punchlist: for some reason, this particular scrambling of the acronym is common and easy to read through. Maybe it’s because the “SC” evokes the “security” part and we forget we need the “C” for “check.”

Pretend you don’t know that checklist is usually one word these days. Why this term violates the usual preference for TLAs is beyond me, but it does.


Value versus Cost

Better to pay a little more than you should
and get something you can use
than pay too little and end up with nothing at all.

Ah, Seth. He must have been watching when 14-year-old me bought those cute shoes in the discount basement of the department store. Or when 64-year-old me bought those cute tops in the discount store. Neither shoes nor tops stood up to being worn or being washed, which was pretty much their only job.

I’ve never been seriously tempted by the other end of the spectrum — overpaying for style — but I take the theoretical point.

Better as well to avoid paying a ridiculous amount
for something that never satisfies–
better to live without until you learn to see the curve.

What curve? Well, you’ll have to check out the post to see it, but I’m sure you already get the idea. Whereas some things really are too cheap to be good, some things are seriously more expensive than they’re worth.

Learning to see the curve–
that’s the benefit of deliberate experience, well earned.

What does this have to do with Proposal Land? Three things.

First, especially but not exclusively in sole-sourced contracts, it’s up to procurement officials to prevent over-specification of the requirement, the natural impulse of end-user types for several reasons. They just want what they want, you know? And then there’s the self-protection thing. You know?

“…the gold-plated RFP that comes from deep within the bureaucracy
is designed to avoid finger-pointing and blame,
not to actually buy something that gets us a return…”

Second, in competitive contracts, it’s up to procurement processes to prevent a bidder from “buying” a contract: deliberately underbidding to win the contract and counting on making up the shortfall through sneaky change orders (aka get-well amendments). (The competitive part of competitive contracting rules out someone adding cost for show, or winning if they do.) It’s hard to assess risk objectively, but scoring mechanisms that exclude any bids that are a pre-determined amount lower than the next-lowest compliant bid can push back on this nasty bidding trick.

Third, on the bidding side, it’s up to proposal management to set a reasonable target for proposal quality: detail, thoroughness, graphics impact, marketing whiz-bang, and what everyone today calls the Wow Factor. At some point, and sooner than most executives think, the proposal hits Good Enough. That’s the flat part of Seth’s curve. Spending more time, effort, and money is just spending more: It’s not getting any more that matters in an evaluation.

Where are we on the value/cost curve?

No matter where you reside in Proposal Land, it’s a good question to ask.


More Eyes Make Better Work

That looks funny.

The That can be . . .

A position title that is more description than title – a holdover from an early draft.

The reporting lines in an org chart that show some so-called managers with no subordinates, or dotted lines that should be solid (and vice versa).

The  layout of an org chart or other graphic that separates organizational parts linked by function or by geography.

A flowchart with no obvious place to start.

A position title in text that’s similar to ones you’ve seen but not exactly the same.

The line spacing in a table that some creative/rogue writer has adjusted to save space (unencumbered by authorization to do so).

The colour in a heading that doesn’t quite match the defined style. (Or does it?)

The name of some system that is unique to one section.

An entire page of bullets that turns out to be three sets of bullets, the lead-in lines now erroneously bulleted.

The That can be nothing at all, a minor or tricky formatting problem, a simple or tricky editing or graphics problem, a team-management problem (they’re all tricky), or a substantive solution problem.

If you’re a reviewer of any sort (technical or editorial; peer, boss, or executive; casual, informal, Pink/Red/Gold/Any-Dagnabbed-Colour Team), if it looks funny to you, speak. Right away. Even if it isn’t strictly within the scope of your review. It might be nothing, but it might well *be* funny as well as looking so. And if it’s not nothing, it’s always better to deal with it early.

And if you’re any sort of proposal manager, make opportunities for reviews. Of any sort.


Sum Up

Near the end of the proposal, the client announced that their “recommendation” of a page limit for each technical section had transmogrified to a hard cap. Yikes.

As the writers hyper-ventilated or banged their heads on their desks, I took every section and cut. And cut.

Flowery introductions? Out.

Repeats of content found in other sections? Out.

Long, thorough explanations? Out.

Promises of good behaviour unsubstantiated by specifics? Out.

Content-free graphics? Out.

Content that answered an implied question? Out. RTQ/ATQ.

Or, in the words of one family member who is just a little impatient with long-winded explanations:

Sum up.

In the background, of course, there was a full-court press on to persuade the client to reverse this decision as coming too late in the process and as unreasonable besides, given the detail they’d asked for.

But by the time that decision had been taken, every person on our team agreed that we preferred the lean, mean proposal-machine versions to the originals that had, like Topsy, just growed. We added back a few things that were just too good to lose, and carried on, much leaner and definitely feeling meaner.

It’s not a best practice to write whatever you want and then pretend you’re being forced to cut it, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. In an environment where every risk-mitigation impulse and every document review adds content and length — details, context, examples, caveats, kudos, explanations, experience, achievements, lessons learned, background, words words words — what would it look like if you really had to sum up? And would it be easier to mark?


Term: Template

A document (in a word-processing application) that provides standardized headers and footers and style definitions to try to prevent writers from doing their own formatting, which causes style conflicts when inputs from several writers are merged. If the client has specified the response requirement in detail, templates may also include the required headings and numbering, to prevent transcription errors and as a convenience for writers.

A document (in a spreadsheet application) that does roughly the same thing for costing information, but defining formulas instead of styles.