Proposal Land

Zen in Proposal Land

Getting better at proposals can seem like a daunting task, yeah? I know whereof you speak.

But here’s the thing with all daunts: Just start.

Zen says so, if I substitute “better” for “happier” and who would not?

Too busy to read it? Here’s the summary.

Start very small.
Do only one change at a time.
Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
Be grateful for every step you take.

Turns out Zen had more than one lesson to teach me.

 

Every Bloody Rake

As someone who spent a career in the bowels (and yes, the image that brings to mind is exactly right) of the procurement machine on the corporate side, I think this is an interesting albeit discouraging take on Canada’s system of military procurement.

Fighter jet procurement in this country is so fraught it once caused the birth of a new political party. Trying to buy helicopters helped bring down a government. We only successfully bought those helicopters after they became a greater danger to the personnel manning them than they were to any potential adversary. We have been running a procurement for the next generation of fighter jets for an entire generation. Even Yes, Minister writers would have given up on something that absurd.

Our submarine fleet seems to be almost permanently in dry dock. Our most recent ship procurement resulted in the absolutely monstrous prosecution of one of the country’s most accomplished military leaders.

And we just issued a revised bid to finally replace our Second World War-era pistols … last week.

Just cataloguing that level of incompetence is exhausting. No leader or party looks good. The civil service, as the one constant through all these cartoonish blunders, surely has to wear some of this, too. The fact that we seem to repeat the same mistakes can, at least in part, be attributed to a significant institutional memory failure on the part of the people trusted with having the institutional memory.

Now, it is worth noting in fairness that no nation has an easy time with large scale military procurement. Ask the Americans about the development of the V-22 sometime. But, still, no nation has mastered the ability to step on every bloody rake quite as well as Canada.

For similar rants, check out Matt Gurney in the National Post or on Substack. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any knowledgeable commentator with much good to say about the system.

The challenge, for government, companies selling to government, and citizens dagnab it, is to figure out how to do better.

 

Staffing Red Teams

I may — cough cough — have spoken (once? twice?) about the beast that is Red Team:

  • The ones that get into feeding frenzies, attacking everything in sight.
  • The ones that correct typos and flag irrelevant and idiosyncratic usage/style preferences but never address whether the response is complete, never mind compliant or well organized.
  • The ones that quite rightly tell you  to adjust the order of a presentation for greater marketing impact . . . but quite wrongly give you that instruction multiple times in every single dagnabbed affected section. Not that I’m bitter.

Red Teams are usually dominated by executives, and executives are like cats: You can’t herd ’em. I know, I’ve tried:

  • I’ve tried the careful assignment of sections to focus folks on their area of expertise.
  • I’ve tried the written briefing notes to lay out expectations (What we want, how we want it, what we don’t want).
  • I’ve tried the in-person verbal orientations delivered in a don’t-make-me-come-over-there tone.
  • I’ve tried every facilitator’s trick in the book during the melee.

All these can help, but Red Teams remain stubbornly unherded.

Why is that? As always, Seth has an interesting answer.

It turns out that most people are unpracticed
and unprofessional at giving useful feedback.

I can vouch for that, at least for the “unprofessional” part. The next question might be, “How do we change it?” Maybe that starts with specifying what we want from a Red Team, as with any feedback.

We don’t need unwarranted criticism or simple reassurance.
In fact, we need someone who understands genre
and has the insight to share what they know
in a way we can use.

So. A few things occur.

Sharing our insights in a way that others can use it is not necessarily an in-born trait. Maybe Red Teamers need the task to be defined, as noted above, but maybe they also need some useful feedback — neither unwarranted criticism nor simple reassurance — on their performance.

Do you know anyone who does that with Red Teams? I didn’t think so. With 30+ years in the business, I’ve never seen it done.

And yet. Maybe our organizations do have people — even, ahem, executives — who could learn to be better Red Teamers. Folks who could learn to give better feedback if we, too, could learn that very skill.