Proposal Land

Just Three Vertices

Almost every project comes in a little bit late
and a little bit over budget.

Oh, that wacky Seth. What a cute idea: a project coming in “a little bit” late.

In Proposal Land, of course — well, in public-sector procurement and strict (i.e. large) private-sector procurement — there is no such thing as “a little bit” late. Late is late. Late is catastrophic. Late could be the end of your career. The end of all your hopes and dreams.

Well, let’s not get carried away. It’s just work.

But late is late. And it doesn’t fly.

But something’s gotta give. If not schedule, then what?

Cost? Sure, theoretically, although I’ve never (ever) seen a company add resources after, say, the Red Team review. Reassign? Absolutely. Add? Never. (And it’s not even clear that adding out-of-the-loop resources in the end stages would actually make things go faster. Adding more people at the outset? Sure. It’s still rarely done.)

But in addition to cost and schedule the project-management triangle has another vertex: performance. And that’s what’s gotta give.

It’s going to cost more than we thought,
it won’t have all the bells and whistles we can see are possible,
but it will, by golly, be on time.

That’s what the powers-that-be — and you, and I — have to come to terms with. Or a challenging work environment becomes an abusive one as *they* push the team to do more with the same amount of time — or we push ourselves.


Red Team: Reason for Being

What’s the primary point of Red Team?

Is it to improve the proposal with the superior insight that comes from the elevated status and greater wisdom of seniors, organization-wise?

Is it to harass the proposal team by repeatedly pointing out the same obvious flaw in the document?

Is it to force the proposal team to finish their sections to the stage that they can be reviewed?

I’ll take Door #3, Alex.

In 30 years in this business, I have heard maybe 10 ideas from Red Team that I couldn’t have come up with on my own, given the time to breathe. Ten ideas: risk-management approaches, presentation enhancements, document organization improvements, creative presentation tricks, out-of-the-box ways of looking at questions. Ten.

But if I hadn’t had to get my sections ready for review, I wouldn’t have forced myself to conclusion on a hundred or a thousand times that many items. I wouldn’t have got around to thinking about the document from an outsider’s point of view. I wouldn’t have finished, likely.

Is it really only 10 new ideas from all those Red Teams? Could it be even fewer? Maybe. Could it be a few more? Sure.  Dunno and don’t care, really. Nothing hinges on the exact number: the order-of-magnitude is right. The point is this: Red Teams add the bulk of their value simply by existing as a hurdle for the proposal team. Any truly bright ideas they come up with are a bonus.

That’s good for proposal teams to remember. It’s even better for Red Team to remember it.


After Red

We’ll catch that after Red.

As in, after the dreaded and infamous Red Team review, about which the less said the better.

As we charge hard to make a deadline, even for review, it’s tempting to defer changes and corrections to what seems like an expansive period of ample time for everything “after Red.”

As Seth points out here, fixing stuff late in the day is the hardest, most expensive time to do it. As I point out here, this also applies in Proposal Land, especially to necessary standardization.

Got typos? Fix ’em after Red.

Got solution and terminological and graphical inconsistencies? Fix ’em soonest. Better yet, put the planning and coordination effort in at the beginning to prevent them.


Term: Request for Expression of Interest

A procurement tool used to identify probable level of competition in a planned procurement, by requesting non-binding expressions of interest on the opportunity as defined.

Sometimes called Request for Letter of Interest.

If Expression and Letter of Interest are meaningfully different, the distinction escapes me.