Better RFP Responses & Management
Advice to Proposal Professionals: Ask if It isn’t Clear

Advice to Proposal Professionals: Ask if It isn’t Clear

The technical plan shall explain
how it will address each element of the SOW.

Does this submission requirement mean that writers have to respond (in some way) to every SOW line item?

Who knows?

A SOW “element” is not a defined term in Proposal Land.

An “element” could be one of the distinct service areas being contracted out – usually countable on no more than two hands. For example:

  • In site services the “elements” might be facilities maintenance, fleet maintenance, O&M of utility plants, waste management, roads & grounds maintenance, and aerodrome maintenance.
  • In administrative services for benefits programs for client employees the “elements” might be website development, individual counselling, group presentations, financial controls, and reporting.

An “element” could be one of the four to seven major activities within each service area – often countable on one hand. For example:

  • In aerodrome maintenance the “elements” might be electrical/electronic maintenance (navaids, radar, weather observation equipment), snow removal in winter, wildlife management, prevention of foreign-object damage.
  • In reporting the “elements” might be financial reporting, performance reporting, and customer-satisfaction reporting.

And “elements” could, indeed, be every last numbered line item in the SOW – always too high a number to count.

There are likely other possibilities, but that doesn’t change the point. If the level of the requirement is not stated clearly, you should ask for clarification. Early. Clients aren’t trying to trick you: They just don’t know that such language is unclear.

Short of asking, the only safe alternative is to assume they mean every numbered line item, and to write a response to every line item. That’s a lot of work for something the client might not even want. Might, even, actively not want.

So while contracts experts read the draft contract looking for unclear or unacceptable business terms, and technical experts read the SOW looking for unclear or impossible-to-meet work requirements, assign some proposal experts to read the response instructions looking for unclear submission requirements, especially potentially onerous ones. Assign people who understand the implications of vague instructions and who know a vague term when they see one.

And. Then. Ask.


Related Post: Advice to Procurement Professionals: Be Clear



  1. Thank-you Isabel — several VERY good reasons to ask early.
    My personal favourite: “Might, even, actively not want.”

    Imagining (actively) what the reaction to the response will be on the other end is a worthwhile exercise.

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