Term: Red Team

Technically, the group of people conducting the Red Team Review, but used just as often to mean the review itself, as in, “When’s Red Team?” This terminological sloppiness is common in Proposal Land; in this case, there’s really no harm because it’s always obvious from context whether the reference is to the players or the game.

Postscript: This definition, and the associated one for Red Team Review, 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

The Cost of Distance

Doing proposals from home was my new normal long before COVID-19. It sort of snuck up on me. One year I was staying in worn Toronto hotels for weeks at a time, eating room-service meals at 8PM, and the next I was tip-tapping away in my home office, jumping up to move the laundry over when the buzzer went.

I like working from home, mostly. I even turned down a contract last year mostly because it would have required me to work from a downtown office for information-security reasons.

At home, I can work my own schedule, as long as I meet deadlines. I save time and money and wear-and-tear in the commute, whether that’s by car or by bus. I save money in lunches out. I avoid most interpersonal conflicts. I can concentrate better, with fewer interruptions and no disruptions. All good, right?

Not quite.

Whether it’s just me or the whole team that’s working remotely, there is an administrative cost to working at a distance. It’s hard to quantify but it’s real nevertheless. It’s the cost of communicating with people I never see.

It’s the time to develop detailed but clear spreadsheets to track and communicate the status of each proposal section, rather than just maintaining a sheet on the wall. It’s the time to check in with everyone by email or phone or video conference rather than just catching them when they walk by. It’s the delay in getting an answer on a simple point — a clarification on the operations concept, the latest title for a given position — when the person you need to connect with is not sitting on their phone or email. It’s the time to untangle miscommunications and misinterpretations that would never have happened in person — and the delay in even realizing that they’ve occurred — when you can’t see that glazed look on someone’s face.

On one distance proposal where I was coordinating a gaggle of writers and editors, I figured that extra communication took an hour or two out of every day. That’s a whack of lost productivity.

But even in the absence of a global pandemic, there’s no going back to full on-site proposals. The measurable costs are too high: office space, computer infrastructure, travel, and accommodations. As businesses re-jig their space and their processes to enable work-from-home (WFH, the newest acronym I know) for public-health purposes, they could do worse than to check with their proposal teams to get a realistic assessment of what it’s going to cost.


A Man Walks Into a Bar – Riff #7

A misplaced modifier walks into a bar
owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.

Looking for love in all the wrong places, eh?

Well, not exactly. But looking for meaning can be a challenge, too, when the words are in all the wrong places. Or even some of the wrong places.

Of all the silly mistakes I make in writing, this is one where at least I know *why* it happens: I know what I’m referring to when I add a modifier, so that should be good enough, right?

Well, not exactly. Just as staring at an offending passage on the screen doesn’t move my cursor to the right spot for deleting something, merely knowing what I mean doesn’t get the words in the right place. This is why we get others to read our stuff. Unencumbered by any knowledge of what we were thinking, they read what we actually wrote.

The good news? These mistakes are usually easy to fix, although since each one is its own beast, it’s hard to give step-by-step instructions. My general principle is to put the thing or person you’re talking about first, followed immediately by the description.

A misplaced modifier walks into a bar
owned by Ralph, a man with a glass eye.



Term: Responsive

An answer that responds to the question and all parts thereof, with the information that is actually wanted. (I know – what a concept, right?)

The opposite of the canonical teenaged response to a parental enquiry:

Parent: Where are you going?

Teen: Out.

Parent: When will you be back?

Teen: Later.

Advice to Procurement Professionals: Keep It Simple

Where are we at? Is 2.4a.2 done?
What about 2.2a.2? And 2.3a.2?

I’m listening to two editors trying to sort out what’s done and what’s not.

I’m not sure. I finished 2.1a.4 yesterday
but I don’t think I’ve seen 2.4a.2.



Where’s Ryan Gosling when you need him?

I understand the impulse to keep related sections together and to number similar sections similarly. The problem arises when there are too many levels. What looks logical and tidy on a spreadsheet, where you can indent or add colour to distinguish sections, doesn’t look quite so clear in other formats; for example:

  • 2.1a.1, 2.1a.2, 2.1a.3, 2.1a.4 – experience sections – corporate
  • 2.1b.1, 2.1b.2, 2.1b.3, 2.1b.4 – experience sections – key personnel
  • 2.2a.1, 2.2a.2, 2.2a.3, 2.2a.4 – technical plans
  • 2.2b.1, 2.2b.2, 2.2b.3, 2.2b.4 – other technical requirements
  • 2.2c.1, 2.2c.2, 2.2c.3, 2.2c.4 – operations plans
  • 2.3a.1, 2.3a.2, 2.3a.3, 2.3a.4 – staffing plans

Worse than its eye-crossing appearance, though, is that it’s impossible to keep it straight when talking about it.

Im. Possible.

If you want to know four things about each bidder (experience, technical plan, operations plan, and staffing plan) for, say, three major technical functions (fleet management, facilities maintenance, logistics), then consider one of these instead:

  • Assign a different number to each of the major things-to-know and a letter to each function:
    • 1A, 1B, 1C – this keeps together all the experience responses
    • 2A, 2B, 2C – this keeps together all the technical plans
    • 3A, 3B, 3C – this keeps together all the operations plans
    • 4A, 4B, 4C – this keeps together all the staffing plans
  • Flip the organization and assign a different number to each technical function and a letter to each of the things-to-know:
    • 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D – this keeps together all the responses related to fleet management
    • 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D – this keeps together all the responses related to facilities maintenance
    • 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D – this keeps together all the responses related to logistics

Does it matter whether you start with a number or a letter? No.

Does it matter whether you organize by thing-to-know or by technical function? Not really. People think of these things differently. You might have a preference based on how you’re going to evaluate the response, and that’s fine.

What does matter is that you don’t get into three-level numbering before you’ve asked for a word of response. What does matter is minimizing (or eliminating) the dagnabbed decimals.  What does matter is using no more numbers and letters than you absolutely need. After all, 10 files numbered 1 to 10 will sort just the same as if they were numbered 2.2a.1, 2.2a.2, 2.2a.3, 2.2a.4, 2.2a.5, 2.2a.6, 2.2a.7, 2.2a.8, 2.2a.9, 2.2a.10, and nobody’s head will explode.

Keep. It. Simple.



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