Bid writing, Roles & Responsibilities

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity

Guest blog post by Jack Strickland

I recently offered to assist a project director in drafting sections of his content for a bid submission. I have worked in construction for over 20 years, and whilst I may not be able to lay a brick wall, I can write a compelling explanation of how you go about it, given even a scant explanation from somebody with a bit of technical expertise.

The PD in my story, however, looked at me as though I’d just confidently advised him that the Earth was flat. It struck me that the role of bidding people in many organisations is more confused than ever. Our work crosses over with that of so many others, and yet we often find our work constricted by fear, rooted in a lack of understanding of what we do. We’re asked consistently to do more in order to get our projects over the line, but also simultaneously to do less as our organisations backfill bid teams with dodgy consultants and ill-suited operations staff.

Bidding professionals must carefully define our identity and purpose. In many cases we cannot control or suitably influence what those around us are doing, and it then becomes critical to clearly understand who we are, and what we do.

This will largely be achieved by development of strong and capable teams, and understanding what leadership really means in the context of a bid process. These two elements, in equal measure, can have massive impact. They are also major contributors in fortifying the position of the bid team, and offering protection when dealing with challenging situations. The impact of the stresses of our roles should never be underestimated, and the more effectively we mitigate these through a bid process, the better the service we can offer.

So, a few things to think about as you go into battle. These are by no means exhaustive, but represent some of the more important concepts that I’ve tried to imbue in those I’ve managed over the years.

Be the best that you can, before expecting it of others

Something that bidders and non-bidders alike will know, is that the sector is awash with people doing the job, but by no means excelling. The profession is fun and exciting, and is well-paid for relatively junior people lacking in experience.

To identify yourself as outstanding, there is a real need to set great examples and achieve. Winning is paramount, of course, but a rigorous and structured approach to management of process helps enormously in governing the way your stakeholders will behave. The same is true of a wide assortment of other traits – clear, open and honest communication, all the way through to maintaining and metronomically distributing updates to your bid plan. By asking more of ourselves, we can expect more of others.

This statement has become especially critical to success of late, in relation to a creeping realisation of the criticality of assessing the service of our suppliers – particularly recruiters. Offering the best service means doing so by sourcing the best people. All too often I find that recruiters ask us to accept mediocre, or to interview a candidate with spelling errors in the opening line of their CV, because that’s the one to hand (rather than the one that’s right for me). I truly believe that standards are raised by a collective push to do better, which has to start with us.

Bidding and the associated outliers – consultant writers / managers, repro firms, 3d printers, 4D visualisers, graphic designers et al. – Need to be made to work harder for their (often considerable) money.

There’s a strong and clear reason that your employer offered you a contract…

Businesses need bidding people for an array of reasons, but principally it is because we offer something that nobody else can. The combination of strong project management twinned with creativity, plus sheer grunt when absolutely required, is a mix that is rarely found in any sector.

Always remember that you can offer many valuable things to a delivery team, no matter what industry. The ability of bidding people to apply logic, process and concept to somebody else’s ideas should never be underestimated.

… And it’s not because they needed another administrator!

In construction, particularly, our offices are awash with administrative staff fulfilling ill-defined roles – businesses do not actively seek bidding people because they need another to add to their ranks.

In any business, however, we all need to remember that the specialist knowledge provided to us as the components of an offer are often simply not that complex. Our contributors would like us to believe that their words are tantamount to complex works of genius, but it is our task not to be cowed by this. Having the courage to speak with confidence, with the aim of achieving the best outcomes for the working group, is a key component in establishing a bidder as being credible.

Whilst everybody should be treated fairly and not have to prove themselves, we all also know that it can be necessary. Remember your value to the process, and leverage it within your team.

“Why am I here, and what am I doing?!”

Jeremy will love the fact that I’m saying this, but it’s increasingly becoming a problem in construction – the roles and responsibilities of each person working on the bid must be clear to them, and moreover must consist of things that they can achieve.

For instance, on a massive recent bid we had upwards of 30 people contributing. A clear definition of what each of them needed to do is the very thing that would have assisted us in reaching a successful conclusion. However, we had a commercial director giving feedback on artwork; a design manager who believed his only task was to fill pages; a project director wasting meeting time complaining that he was too busy (although also not then contributing the bits required of him); an operations director being asked to complete sections of content even though we all knew he wouldn’t do it…

Lots of the contributors we all face don’t work on bids all the time, and in fact it may have been a long time since they last did so. Helping them to understand what they need to do will go a long way to limiting your frustration. Moreover, by properly briefing everybody at the start, it removes their ability to renege on fulfilment of their tasks.

Define the outcomes for yourself, nobody will do it for you

Usually referred to as ‘being the master of your own destiny’, the point is the same. Bidding as a profession, in terms of the elaborate and complicated form it takes presently, has not existed for a very long time. 15 years ago in my industry, a tendering exercise involved a sheet of paper featuring some numbers, placed inside a brown envelope.

In this sense, a lot of what we’re doing is entirely new. The ‘best’ or ‘right’ way in the eyes of one person is not always suitable for somebody else. Bright and capable young people get into this profession because there’s the opportunity to develop new and innovative ways of working which can have real impact.

I’m not a fan of the APMP personally, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work wonderfully for many people around the world. The point in its value is that a group of people took a chance on its development, and the validity of a set of tools. There are not many types of work where just a few people (or even one) can have that sort of impact, but ours is just that.

If we think we can do better – understand the problem, devise a solution, and then make it work. Never be afraid to challenge the accepted norm.

Conclusion

The title is a quote from Tsun Tzu’s Art of War, which a friend of mine recently gave to me as a birthday gift. The sentiments contained within it are hundreds of years old, but have stood the test of considerable time to now be used as a guide to effective business practice. This has stood the test of time because it was created to test the boundaries of what was possible, and to look to define an entirely new way of thinking.

As bidding folk, if we can be effective in the use of everyday methods whilst simultaneously innovating and exposing others to new and untested practice, we can lead our teams to victory.