Pandemic Procurement

Peacetime military procurement has been likened to a vertical chute with bars across the chute at frequent intervals. It appears to be, and likely is, designed to prevent money from being spent. Certainly its effect is to delay spending, with close (and highly risk averse) oversight taking precedence over everything else: cost, schedule, and performance.

War-time military procurement is an different beast altogether: All the bars are pulled out and the money falls straight through from the source (government) to the recipient (industry) in less time than it takes to describe it.

Not surprisingly, pandemic procurement appears to be more like war than peacetime.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators: These were the first face of pandemic procurement as the Canadian Federal Government tried to obtain supplies during a worldwide shortage, and to foster domestic manufacturing of supplies and equipment.

Then the emphasis shifted to vaccines, with the Government establishing supply agreements with several vaccine manufacturers, contingent on successful completion of Phase 3 trials.

Now the focus is on a humongous logistics contract: Putting in place the cross-country refrigerated transportation and warehousing that will be needed, along with mechanisms to get vaccines off the shelf and into the arms of Canadians in some still-to-be-determined order of priority.

The scale of the project is immense with more than 300 million potential vaccine doses set to be sent to the provinces and territories beginning as soon as January and running well into 2022.

Proposal documents show the government is looking to have a contract with one entity to handle the full process, leaving the potential for companies to team up into consortiums.

A briefing for the project was attended by airlines like WestJet and Air Canada, shipping firms like FedEx and Purolator, and pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart.

According to this National Post article, tenders closed on Monday November 9 and the Government intends to award a contract by the end of November. I’m guessing that price won’t be the most important factor.

The government wants whoever wins the bid to be ready to go by Dec. 15 and to have systems in place to track deliveries.

Zoom zoom.

The article gives no sense of the flurry of activity as industry players jockeyed to form full-service consortiums before knowing exactly which services would be required. The potential players have probably been working on this all summer, knowing that something would eventually be required.

As someone who’s watched several consortiums come together over a few decades, I’d love to know the back-room stories about this bidding process. Whoever wins, I hope that they work their way quickly through the “forming, storming, norming, performing” continuum of group behaviour. We’re going to need them to perform better than average, that’s for sure.


Term: SME

Subject matter expert; acronym pronounced either by spelling out (S-M-E) or as “Smee” (like Captain Hook’s sidekick).

Lovely example of internally redundant terminology: What is an expert expert in, if not some subject matter? Likely driven by perverse need to use three-letter acronyms for perfectly ordinary concepts, but that’s another book.

A Man Walks Into a Bar: Riff #8

Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

OK, this is a “picky” point. I “admit” it. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to “take offence” from this “rule.”

There are many valid uses for quotation marks, and you can check them out, here. In proposals, other than direct quotes from people (as in, for example, a kudo) . . .

Good job, buddy.

. . . the most-common valid use would be to indicate that the words within the quotes are to be read as the words themselves.

We will enter “Does not comply”
for any task where this applies.

The next would be to indicate that you’re using a term to which the RFP or SOW has assigned a specific meaning and that might (could, maybe) be misinterpreted or misunderstood otherwise.

We clean floors thoroughly,
but we don’t “strip” floors (as prohibited by SOW 4.5.2)
because it would pose a health-and-safety risk.

This latter usage is likely not needed for clarity anywhere near as often as it’s used, but it ain’t wrong.

The usage being demonstrated or railed against here is using quotation marks to put some distance between the writer and the word, to lessen its validity in some way. To make the reader question what the word means. There are no valid proposal uses for using the written equivalent of scare quotes.

That’s a bit “sweeping”, isn’t it?

No. It’s sweeping.

In conversation, scare quotes are cutesy. (Or maybe passive aggressive.) In proposal writing they’re just wrong. Say what you mean, dagnab it. Don’t dodge around it. If this isn’t the right word, find one that’s better. More accurate. More precise. More complete. Less emotive.

OK, this is a picky point. I admit it. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to take offence from this rule.


Is and Is Not

A proposal is not a glossy brochure.

Writers! Don’t use icky brochure-speak.

A proposal is not a technical specification.

Writers! Don’t use opaque, inert jargon.

A proposal is something between a brochure and a tech spec. It’s a document that must sell a technical solution while specifying it precisely enough that it can be costed accurately as well as litigated successfully if it ever comes to a contract-interpretation dispute.

Writers! We can’t tell you what to do
but we’ll know it when we see it.

But let’s not put all of this on the put-upon writers, because a proposal is not, primarily, a marketing-communications exercise either.

A proposal is a product-creation exercise, in the broad sense of product: something you offer a customer for money. It is a vision of How you’re going to deliver something to the client, and Why that How will be great. Really Why it will be great: not a made-up or meaning-free Why like “integrated, seamless, collaborative, or state-of-the-art.”

What’s a real Why?

More reliable. More effective. More accurate. More stable. Faster to respond. Easier to change. Harder to break. Or, oh yeah, cheaper.

Some folks call this a value proposition. Some folks even capitalize it. That’s OK, but it’s not necessary to use high-falutin’ language. In terms everyone can understand, it’s just the Why.

So, a proposal doesn’t start with the writers: It starts with the people designing the solution. When that’s done, and done well, the marketing-communications aspect is a dream: demanding but eminently satisfying work. When it’s not done, or done badly, the marketing-communications aspect is a nightmare: demoralizing and completely frustrating work.

Start with the How. And the Why.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before. It turns out not everyone was listening.


Term: Red Team Review

Traditionally, the executive and (one hopes!) senior technical review of the completed proposal. Generally shortened to Red Team.

In this usage, Red Team is the final review that can amend content before the proposal is submitted to the client. Subsequent reviews and changes should be limited to presentation niceties.

Postscript: This definition, and the associated one for Red Team, are from my book “Proposals: Getting Started, Getting Better.” I still concur with that 2014 view of my world, but see it as a wee bit messier than I did then.

Death to Red Team