[AEC] – The Single-Most Effective Way to Guarantee a Low Proposal Score

The Single-Most Effective Way to Guarantee a Low Proposal Score

Where you invest leadership matters.

Technical proposals for large design-build, CMGC, or P3 pursuits can receive low scores for any number of reasons. In my experience over the past decade spent leading these types of proposal efforts, these low-scoring proposals fall into three main categories of risk:

  1. Carelessness: These are fatal flaws that will sink any technical proposal and possibly result in disqualification. These include missing signatures on forms, omitted sections and/or non-compliance with the RFP, and fraudulent claims or statistics.
  2. Unfocused Vision: This can occur with larger, multifaceted teams that fail to form a cohesive, unifying vision for the proposal. These include non-responsive sections, a lack of differentiation from competing teams, and an ineffective or poorly-defined win-strategy.
  3. Ineffective Leadership: Low-scoring proposals mainly result from ineffective and non-authoritative leadership. Proposal efforts that fail this crucial litmus test will always score lower.

Receiving a low score on a technical proposal is like the flashing red light in your rearview mirror – it means there is something wrong, and it should get your attention.

Flip That List Upside-Down to Discover the Main Issue

When you flip this risk category list upside down a funny thing happens. The new list reveals the most common reason a technical proposal receives a low-score.

The Single-Most Effective Way to Guarantee a Low Proposal Score is Investing in Ineffective Leadership

Ineffective Leadership: Low-scoring proposals mainly result from ineffective and non-authoritative leadership. Proposal efforts that fail this crucial litmus test will never score high.

What Ineffective Leadership Looks Like

The majority JV partner fails to appoint an Executive Pursuit Manager. I’ve seen this numerous times and it’s always perplexed me. The majority JV partner should always drive the vision for the project and supply the key management for the pursuit phase (if the project is a P3, this will be the concessionaire’s role) with a designated Pursuit Manager who can get the job done, and work closely with an empowered Proposal Manager. Without this key figure acting in combination with an empowered Proposal Manager, a leadership vacuum results.

The minority JV partner fills this leadership vacuum with their executive. In the absence of a #1, then I don’t blame the #2 for stepping up to take the lead. Any leader is better than no leader, but not by much.  This scenario isn’t the best solution either. It creates confusion for the pursuit and proposal staff, who presumably are led by members of the the JV majority partner’s organization. The Proposal Manager has no clear line of responsibility and rarely feels comfortable reporting to another firm’s executive.

Proposal reviews become bloodbaths. I’ve witnessed this as well. Senior management personnel -who haven’t contributed to the development of the win strategy and/or the proposal content- are included in the Red Team Review and their resulting comments are often hypercritical because they don’t understand the evolution of the proposal’s current content. The lack of consistent leadership from the majority JV firm is now exposed and complications arise.

Recovery from the Red Team now involves a major substantive change in direction. This creates havoc where none should be. Recovery should be about fine tuning the sales message, not shifting the technical approach to the project. Further, it now complicates the limited timeline between Red Team and production of the proposal.

What It Should Look Like

Planning the pursuit with two strong and empowered leaders makes all the difference. I’ve been a part of teams that functioned in this regard and outcomes were exponentially more favorable.

The majority JV partner is a proactive leader of the pursuit. The majority JV partner drives the vision and supplies the key management for the design-build or CMGC pursuit with a designated Pursuit Manager who can get the job done.  He/she, in turn,  invests invests the Proposal Manager with the necessary authority to drive effective results.

Because no leadership vacuum exists, the minority JV partner executive can focus on driving his firm’s role in the pursuit.  The Proposal Manager has a clear line of responsibility to his firm’s executive and coordinates with the minority firm’s executive to help drive proposal content.

Proposal reviews become productive.  When senior personnel play an active role in the pursuit and contribute to the development of the win strategy and/or the proposal content, the review is focused on fine tuning the message instead of revising it. Recovery from the Red Team is focused on final changes instead of a substantive shift in approach.

Investing Authority in the Proposal Manager Can Prevent the Rest of the Problems

An astute Pursuit Manager will understand the necessity of investing the Proposal Manager with the authority he/she needs to do their job. Ideally this is done publicly at the kick-off meeting to put all project personnel on notice that when the Proposal Manager sets a deadline, it carries the same weight as a directive from the Pursuit Manager. The two manager, working together, manage different but equally important phases of the pursuit.

By flipping the risk category list upside down, you’ve now revealed the single-most effective way to ensure a higher proposal score. By shifting attention to the importance of effective leadership, the two remaining risk categories are eliminated. Careless errors and an unfocused vision are no longer issues.