Just in time

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I have been involved in developing proposals and business plans with no regard to  the deadline, the final product is usually ready for submission only moments before it occurs. As the deadline nears, the stress builds up as Murphy’s law is proving its point, i.e. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at some point in time.”
Why is this so? Why is it that we don’t seem to be able to complete the documents well ahead of the deadline? There must be too many uncertain factors interfering with the smooth flow of activities during the entire process. Let us begin with having a look at what the process would ideally speaking look like. Then we will try and see why we have to adjust our planning all the time along the way, until time is up.
A pre-announcement is floated by the tendering agency, including an invitation for an information session.
A date is set until which interested parties can submit questions online, followed by a date at which the answers are published.
The tender is floated and includes guidelines and instructions, formats and legal requirements, as well as the date, time and place at which the proposal must be submitted.
Interested parties appoint a bid manager who forms a bid team, indicating who will be involved and what role each bid team member will play, e.g. lead writer, co-writer, expert, budgeter, controller, logistics services provider.
The bid manager makes the bid plan, outlining the methodology (how are we going to go about it?), the time schedule of steps (when are we going to do what?), the locations from where the team will work (where?) and the logistical support required (e.g. computers, printer, copy machine, scanner, internet connection, transportation, accommodation, etc.).
The bid manager also makes a budget, to be approved by management. After all the entire bid process is a substantial investment in human resources, time, travel, equipment and materials, which costs must be calculated and paid for.
So far so good, the process to write the proposal can begin. What can possibly go wrong? Let us have a look:
Information that the tender is in the process of being floated reaches management too late. As result the information session is missed and precious preparation time is lost.
The opportunity may also be lost to submit strategic and important questions, which may help management in making the strategic decision whether to respond to the tender or not.
The floating of the tender is missed, resulting again in losing precious time in responding effectively.
Essential staff, capable of putting a good proposal together, are only partly or not at all available, forcing management to reshuffle staff and their assignments. This does normally not help much as the bid team must be able to fully concentrate on this assignment. Alternatively, external consultants are hire, which come at substantial additional costs.
There are gaps in the bid plan and the bid manager has to compromise the plan on one or several items, reducing effectiveness and efficiency in developing the proposal.
The budget is not fully available, forcing the bid manager again to compromise on some elements of the bid plan, resulting in less quality of the proposal development plan.
Finally, many logistical thing can go wrong, including interruptions in electricity and internet, hacking and virus infections of computers, breakdown of equipment, even traffic jams.
Indeed, Murphy is in full swing now and if not dealt with effectively and pro-actively, the chance of missing the deadline is getting bigger by the day. So, what can we do to make sure we deliver quality work and deliver it in time?
Have a system in place that provides management with intelligence about upcoming tenders and calls for proposals. In other words, have your antenna’s out and scan the environment. This includes internet information but also active networking. This takes time and thus money and therefore needs to be budgeted for in your annual plans.
Develop skills amongst your essential staff to be able to play a significant and effective role in a bid team. Writing, budgeting, and consolidating are essential skills and more importantly, you need to respond to the information required by the tender. Beating about the bush is not difficult. Remaining focused, to the point and using clear terminology and language is much more difficult. They should also have the skill to make clear links in the proposal between activities and budget lines. You don’t want the assessor of your plan get tired or frustrated by having to search for it. The budget should clearly indicate budget line, activity, unit costs, number of units, totals, all linked with formulas in the spreadsheet.
In addition of having skilled staff, have a data base of external consultants with an excellent track record and establish trust relationships with them. Again, make sure you have the budget to afford them. Winning bids will pay back in the end.
Budget for bid plans. You don’t want to miss any opportunity or have to compromise on quality because you don’t have the finances to carry out a bid plan effectively.
Delegate the bid manager. After approving the budget for the bid plan, give the bid manager full authority to carry out the plan. Have agreed moments of reporting back on headlines only.
Finally, provide sufficient logistical support. In the end the proposal needs to be presented in an attractive way and in time. This requires consolidating, printing, copying, binding, having all the legal supports documents included.
In the end, it is about winning, developing a proposal that is better than others. That means we need to plan to win and develop a proposal that can win. Now have the courier stand by and deliver the documents in time. Not just in time!

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