Friday, June 25, 2010

General proposal tips, how to read an RFP, compliance matrices, editing, simplicity, past performances and the single most important question

This all comes from one source, so there are clearly other valid viewpoints. If you know of any other sources of good info (free helps too) please let me know. 

  • Use a compliance matrix to ensure you meet RFP requirements

    • Use the Section L and M of the RFP requirements to develop the matrix
    • Requirements can help show you a logical organizational structure to use
    • Include win themes in the compliance matrix to ensure you are incorporating them
    • Allocate win themes throughout the response evenly
    • Include criteria in the compliance matrix that ensure content answers and exceeds the requirements
  • Know how to read an RFP

    • Section L. Where you'll find the instructions for formatting, organizing, and submitting your proposal. When reading Section L: Look for instructions regarding page count, page layout (margins, fonts, page sizes), media (disk, CD-ROM, video), submission method, and outline/content.
    • Section M. Where you'll find the criteria that will be used to evaluate your proposal. When reading Section M: Look for scoring method, score weighting, evaluation process, past performance approach, and "best value" terminology.
    • Section C. This is where they say what it is they want you to propose (the Statement of Work). When reading Section C: Look for requirements (are they explained, understandable, and/or ambiguous?), contradictions (between requirements as well as Section L and M), feasibility, and opportunities for differentiation between you and your competitors.
    • Section B. This is where they tell you how to format your pricing. When reading Section B: Look for correspondence to the requirements and evaluation criteria.
    • And sometimes they hide important stuff (like the Statement of Work) in Section J, attachments. 

  • Editing

    • No passive voice, active verbs only
  • Be specific

    • Spend time on how you will do things, not what you did in the past
    • Results, not promises
    • Talk about the criteria that you will use to make decisions, and list the things you will take into consideration. Talk about having processes for getting things done without saying what the steps are. Talk about the benefits that will result without saying how you will deliver them. Talk about all the things that you can do for the customer, without saying what, when, or how you will do them.
  • Words to avoid
  • Keep it simple

    • <5 sentences per paragraph
    • Enough content for the expert, but clear enough for the layperson doing the evaluation by checklist
    • <20% passive voice
    • 40-50 range Flesch Reading Ease stat
    •  >9 but <12 Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level stat, use this for more stats

  • Write about benefits, not features (very good link)

    • Write out the benefits first
    • 2nd person, say "You"
    • Make a features to benefits table
    • Use discriminators, which are themes that set you apart from the competition (a unique selling point)
    • Meet the needs of the RFP, and the unwritten one's too. Have to know what else is going on (GAO Reports are great)
    • Similarities are key, similar solutions, similar environments, similar clients
  • So what?!?

    • Why does that feature benefit me?
    • Why would I use that product?
    • Why should I buy your service/product over any other?
    • What's in it for me
  • Make their job easy

    • Cover the requirements clearly (see above)
    • Call out important items, make them first in the proposal, first in a section and first in a sub-section
    • Explain important risk factors, how to mitigate them, what will cause problems
    • Avoid patronizing by making it a statement of your understanding. "We do … because we understand the importance of … This ensures that any risk of … is mitigated. We have made this a key feature of our proposal because we understand that any approach that does not include … represents a source of unmitigated risk."
    • The summation of your proposal should leave no doubt that we are the only possible option
  • Past Performances

    • Have them! (1) How complete is the past performance archive? (2) How is the process of preparing the past performance going to be managed? And (3) who is going to write the past performance?
    • How many past performance citations are required? What are all the technical / experience areas that must be addressed by the citations? How many of the requirements will need to be addressed by citations from subcontractor firms? Given the situation, how many person- hours of labor will be necessary to complete the past performance section? Which citations are long-lead items requiring advance planning because of the need to interface with subcontractors or develop information lost from corporate memory?
    • If the past performance section is complex at all, do audit of the solicitation requirements. Determine what are the important elements of experience required to do the job. Format the past performance so that each citation addresses as many parts of the spec as possible. At the end, audit the the citations to ensure that you have conclusively demonstrated the capability to do all parts of the spec.
    • 4-8 hours per PP
  • Questions to consider/answer in the technical section and your Management Plan. Make sure it is a quality plan.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Front-loading a proposal - a key to success

Tasks to do, and/or documents that can be created, at the outset of the proposal. These are items that will end up saving you come proposal crunch time by either having them checked off, preventing you from making a mistake, or just doing better/proper planning -
  • Review prior Proposal lessons learned 
    • My employer has a few options for this internally, we can use a message board, write blog-like posts, and have explored a "database" lessons/tips
  • Develop "win themes" that are tied to customer needs
    • And your company's capabilities. This should be obvious, but a lot of people mess this up
  • Create a compliance checklist based off of Sections L and M of the proposal,
  • Review the expressed (and unexpressed) needs, 
  • Develop a proposal schedule
    • Distribute it to your team
    • Manage and execute the proposal to the schedule
  • Review company Past Performances for applicability, 
  • Obtain or develop the Past Performance questionnaire for GPOCs to fill out
    • You'll want to give your POCs as much time as possible to respond, as this always ends up being last on their priorities list.
  • Create proposal template
  • Create or obtain team logos
  • Contact RFP POCs to discuss timelines, ask questions, etc

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IT considerations of a small professional services firm

Here are some off the cuff things that any new or small "professional services firm" (aka consulting firm) will need to consider: 

  • Things common to small businesses -
    • How big is the company
    • What can you afford
    • What are the needs
    • Are the needs generic like msft office or specific like detailed timekeeping or graphics

  • How will you communicate with clients -
    • Email obviously, but will you ever need to do blog posts for them?
    • How about microcommunication services like Yammer?

  • What security level do you need
    • Federal, state, and local government all have their own specific security requirements as customers
    • Are you under HIPAA requirements? In many respects this is less stringent than having a Federal government client, but has its own peculiarities and challenges
    • Do your IT needs create any special office space / facility needs? Federal government and HIPAA certainly will

    • Billing needs
      • Will your clients require you to submit billing invoices to them in any specific way? 
      • Do you need to track billing on a per minute basis? Per hour?
      • Do you need to track specific billable actions like writing a memo or email, making a phone call?
      • Who will you be billing, and are there any industry-mandated

    • Location of staff
      • Colocated?
      • Across the world?
      • A mix of the above where some are together, some are in another country, and you have part-time people elsewhere?
      • How about special subcontractors?

    • Do you need IT to be controlled on your servers

    • How will you want to collaborate internally
      • See above on "Location of staff", but even if you are all within earshot you may prefer to have collaboration supercharged via 
      Pictures:- by ob1left
      -  From lucky_dog
      -  by Philo Nordlund

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      Four more things you can do to get hired

      Often times, the biggest thing standing between you and getting hired is yourself. I interview a lot of people in my job, and most people come prepared and have done enough interviewing that they are relaxed. They aren't complicating the situation. But others...

      Here are some tips to help you get hired:

      1) We really REALLY want to hire you. Most people don't typically enjoy combing through resumes, calling references, and doing interviews. So you honestly have no reason to be nervous.

      2) Unless you aren't prepared. So while your #1 tip is true, I have found that a near majority of applicants who I interview are under prepared. A shockingly high % don't even know their resume well. Others don't research our company and what we do (we're consultants to the federal government).

      3) Be very very careful with that "embelesh" stuff. It's one thing to say you were really proud of a project or a team when you maybe weren't (though, that is actually lying and if I found out that you said you were proud and later admitted you hated your team, I'm not going to be happy and will question your ethics going forward). But under no circumstances are you to mess with the facts. Don't say you saved your company/client $1M when it was really $100k, etc.

      4) Have a plan of attack, it should help set you at ease. Most people only do behavioral interviews where they go through your resume. Maybe they'll ask some questions about a particular experience, client, product, etc. But in reality, most interviews are overly simplistic. So relax. Know the drill, know your resume, know what you want to highlight.

      5) Remember that you are marketing yourself, your skills, your experience. You're the only one selling yourself, so if you are shy about saying you did something well, get over it. Don't be a narcissistic braggard, but be willing to say "I think such and such project went well, as did the customer because we met all their objectives."

      6) Have a story to tell, and align it to what the needs of the organization are. What, you don't know this? Well then you didn't do your homework. Research the company, read the position description several times (if they didn't have one, call them and ask; or start off the interview by asking to learn more about what they want so you can "better answer their questions"), and then know what parts of your resume you want to highlight.

      Don't take 15 minutes telling me about how great working at McDonald's was when you were 16. Tell me about your recent and relevant experience.

      And did a Prezi presentation on how to write a good resume -

      Pictures in order of appearance:

      Thursday, June 10, 2010

      The definitive guide to Rehobeth Beach, Bethany Beach & Dewey Beach

      What follows is the quickest overview of the Delaware Beaches (hopefully to become part of the "Delmarva Coast" tag line).

      Rehobeth is more "open" and has the most to do of the three. It feels like a modern beach spot, but retains small town charm. Best restaurant and shop options.

      Bethany is stuck in the early 1970s, in a good way. It has a couple of restaurants and bars, more than enough shops for a long weekend, and tons of beach houses for friends or family.

      If "Virginia is for lovers" then "Dewey is for drinkers". Only a small handful of restaurants (Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar and Grille was good) and lots of 16-24 year olds roaming around looking for beverages and a new "friend".

      Best time of year for sports? Now is the dark horse candidate

      Doesn't this time of year have to compete for the best of sports?
      • NBA post-season - I don't really watch, but whatever, lots of people like it and watch. ESPN is crammed full of articles and posts etc
      • NHL post-season - I watch more than the NBA, but not much; but hockey fans are obsessed and the finals are back on NBC. The Olympics really lifted this sport into the consciousness of the sports world again.
      • MLB - early in the season, so no one is knocked out yet and teams still have a "we could win this" feel; maybe you haven't even given up yet if you follow the KC Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates.
      • Men's College World Series - Gets later TV coverage than the other post-season items, but is really fun to watch. The Super Regionals should start soon
      • Women's College World Series - Insanely competitive and addicting if you like baseball/softball, which I really do. The pace of the game is real quick, which makes it fun to watch. Faster than NCAA baseball. And the smaller field dimensions mean ground balls are always very close plays. Plus you get to watch 5'6" 130lbs and 5'10" 190lbs girls hit home runs.
      There's also random golf tournaments, the French Open for tennis, etc.

      That's a really good group.

      The other competition as I see it is NFL / NCAA hoops (preferably the conference schedule time), & March Madness.

      Saturday, June 5, 2010

      Visiting Lewes, Deleware

      We are visiting Lewes, Deleware right bow. So far I give it an eh.

      Amp it up Lewes!

      Post visit notes: check out my Yelp profile for my recomendations, but the town shuts down at 5pm.

      Lijit Ad Wijit