Sunday, June 30, 2013

Listen to Me or You Will Lose

Shezammm – I just went through an interesting and fun experience with a great proposal team.  Yet, when we showed up they had a non-compliant, non-responsive proposal destined to be scored a solid bright bloody crimson red. 
So what happened?  They were 2 months into the proposal and with 3 weeks left to deliver – they got an early start which was good.  Yet somehow the proposal took off on a tangent due to a surprisingly common yet basic error:   writing to what they think the customer wants, not the RFP requirements.
The executive owner of one important section is a work associate of mine, who I’ve known for about 3 years.  We have a great working relationship which helped when it came to resolving his critical section of the proposal.  I thought it was non-compliant and devoid of commitment - which by the way, commitment was a key hot button for the customer.    I pointed this out to him and the following paraphrased conversation ensued (after two previous similar conversations):
Him: “We talked with them, I know what they want”
Me: “It’s lacking commitment – give them real performance metrics, the RFP requires them”
Him: “It’s not what they want”
Me: “It’s what the RFP asks for”
Him: “It’s not what they want”
Me: “It’s what the RFP asks for”
Him: “It’s not what they want”
…OK, that went on for a bit, only to get to this part…
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”No”
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”No”
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”No”
…that went on for a while – with a noticeable crescendo at the end, until I said:
                  Me:  “what if someone else reviews this – not the person you talked to”
Me: “What if they shred this section and give it to someone else to evaluate – not the person you talked to – that’s one heck of a risk to me”
Him:  “Dammit”
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”No”
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”No”
Me: “Commit!”
Him: ”OK”
Later we had a chuckle about this, and the “commit – no” exchange became a mantra of sorts for the proposal team. 
The lessons learned…
It is absolutely necessary to have customer insight and understanding of their issues and hot buttons.  This insight leads to compelling, winning proposals – but not at the expense of proposal DQ due to non-compliance. 
Always answer the mail - always be compliant.   Don’t be so smart you get tossed out.

The Proposal Triad of Crap, or TOC

It’s the three most common mistakes in proposal writing, and it makes evaluators crazy: 
TOC item 1 – Restating the SOW or PWS requirements.  The RFP says “offeror shall build X”, and the proposal says “we will build X”. 
TOC item 2 – Writing a past performance citation, oddly enough this usually happens in concert with restating the requirements “we will build X.  We have built X on 15 other programs; we have the demonstrated experience to build X fast, better and cheaper” (or some other proposal fluff)
TOC item 3 – Writing a tutorial.  This one really insults the evaluators.  The RFP states: describe your approach to implement the ITIL framework.”  The proposal says: “The Information Technology Information Library (ITIL) is a framework consisting of five core services;  Service Strategy,  Service Design,  Service Transition, Service Operation, and  Continual Service Improvement. Blah blah blah…”
Although the TOC happens most commonly with inexperienced proposal writers, I’ve seen the TOC come from seasoned proposal authors as well.  I usually know the proposal is headed down the TOC path when the section starts with:  “We understand your environment….”.  When you see that, or if you write that, watch out.  You are headed into the grasp of the TOC.
So how do you avoid the proposal TOC? 
First off, start early and institute a proposal culture of “How”.  Always ask “How” the approach satisfies the requirement.   The response has to have the “How”.
Secondly, if you are struggling with the “How”, use the Demming Cycle approach to lay out the “How” by using Plan, Do, Check, Act.   Here’s an example for a generic project:
Plan:  We will develop a project implementation plan and coordinate its approval with the Government during phase-in.  The plan will include project charter, roles and responsibilities, deliverables, milestones, resource loaded schedule, critical success factors, KPIs and key metrics, gate reviews, budget and cost control approached, etc., etc., etc….
Do:   At project approval, we will conduct a kick-off meeting with all stakeholders.  We will obtain the resources per the project plan and allocate them to their specific work activities. Daily status meetings will be held….We will conduct Systems Requirements Reviews…Critical Design Reviews….Acceptance Testing, etc., etc, etc….
Check:  The project manager will track planned work activities against actual work completed.  This will include % work complete, schedule completion, budget tracking, etc….    Our Quality Assurance Manager will evaluate actual work products against the Critical Success Factors and metrics.  Variances will be analyzed using our Lean Six Sigma process and handled in accordance with our ISO-9000 QMS (….oops, here we go – proposal fluff). 
Act:   We will apply lessons learned and root cause analysis techniques to develop enhancements to our processes and rectify any deficiencies….blah blah…and some stuff on continuous improvement…
I frequently augment the PDCA with the 5 W’s and How: 
Who will do the Work?
What will be produced?
When will it be produced?
Where will it be produced?
Why is the product produced?
How will the product be produced? – rolling right into PDCA.
I have a handy dandy MindManager template to use for all this located right here>>>>
Thirdly, do lots of in-process reviews – at least weekly.  Have the authors present their approach to satisfying RFP requirements to a group of their peers as well as external observers.  This doesn’t have to be a long presentation, just have them get up and explain: “How”.  You’ll quickly see gaps and get them corrected before you are in a real time crunch. 
As always, the key is to start early on most proposals, and always ask “How”.  Don’t wait for a pink or red team to find out you are overwhelmed with the Proposal Triad of Crap. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Please Don’t Bid (even though you’ll make me lots of money)

You’d think that a company would listen when the consultants they pay to write proposals tell them to no bid a job.    Sure, we’d make money on the proposal - but we’re not doing our clients justice by knowingly helping them to essentially waste their B&P funds.   So, today I advised a client not to bid a job…and it’s not the first time either.
Revenue Demands.  The pressure to win more work to meet aggressive numbers in this tight economy is relentless.   So rather than circling the wagons and focusing on less opportunities that have high pWins, I’ve noticed a trend in some companies to go in the opposite direction.  They choose the shotgun approach, seemingly hoping that if they submit lots of bids, something will eventually win.  In almost every case they are wasting time and money.  And more importantly, these efforts take resources away from better opportunities with higher pWin rates.
From a proposal management perspective this approach is really frustrating – it’s akin to playing the Super Bowl with a middle-school team.  Bidding on a low-probability RFP hurts our win rates and makes our job really difficult – we want to write good proposals, write them in a chaos-free pace, and we want to win. 
What is a proposal consultant to do?  It’s really quite simple – tell your client you think it is a bad idea to bid the job.  But, you need to support your case.   Compile your own Bid/No-bid briefing based on really basic concepts such as:
  • Strategy development including themes and discriminators
  • Customer intimacy and domain knowledge
  • Capabilities against requirements
  • Relevant past performance
  • Price to win and maturity of pricing solutions
  • Teaming arrangements mapped to requirements
  • Maturity of management and technical solutions
  • Proposal Risks

Proposal Risks can make powerful BNB cases.   Develop Proposal Risks with impact statements and risk management plans – remembering that some risks cannot be mitigated and must be accepted.  
Prepare this information and present it to the Capture Manager and any other pertinent stakeholders.  Explain that all these factors minimize your ability to write them a compelling, winning proposal.  Be concise yet complete.  There is no guarantee they will cancel the bid, but at least they go into the proposal informed - and you fulfilled your obligation to be forthright with them. 
Full Charge.  Then it’s all out as you give it your all to win despite the obvious challenges.  But, review the risks frequently with the client and keep them handy for the proposal Lessons Learned and the win announcement lessons learned.