Be Prepared: Lessons learnt from the Boy Scouts

“How long does it take to prepare a tender response” is one of the most frequent questions I come across. The unsatisfying answer is “it depends”. Why? Because it depends on how well prepared you are; prepared in terms of having your business processes and methodologies documented, illustrated and readily available. If you have this in place then the time and cost will be greatly reduced. In this sense I am a firm advocate of the old Boy Scout motto of “be prepared”.

A Case Study of Two Companies

To illustrate the point let’s look at two companies (JillCo and JackInc) that are tendering for the same project. Both have years of experience, are successful and know their industry very well. The key difference between them lies in their systems. Both companies request and receive the RFT documents for a $5 million project on the same day and note its due date 25 days hence. How long do you think it will take them to develop and deliver a competitive tender? Let’s take a closer look.

JillCo has documented its business processes and can support them with process flow charts and other related management tools and diagrams. They have a range of sample project plans that demonstrate their ability to deliver projects within specified timeframes and a series of risk management plans that show their foresight and capacity to keep projects on track.  Their RFT process looks something like:

  • Day 1: Interpret the RFT; decide on their response strategy and the structure of their tender.
  • Day 2-3: Write the draft document, drawing heavily on their prepared material.
  • Day 4: Editing proposal to ensure it is tailored to the client’s Statement of Requirements and the evaluation criteria.
  • Day 5: Send proposal to an independent reviewer they have worked with before to conduct an independent and objective review to make sure they are on target.
  • Day 6: Consider the reviewer’s amendments and format the final bid documents.

A total of approximately six days.

JackInc on the other hand has experienced and stable staff who know their jobs inside out. When a new project comes in the JackInc team meet to discuss the brief so everyone emerges with a clear understanding of what they need to do and then they just “get on with it.” They are all professionals, are reliable and have always delivered before. So how does their RFT process look?

  • Day 1: Review the RFT
  • Day 2: Fret about how to answer the SOR and the evaluation criteria.
  • Day 3-5: A few days to absorb the information and “let the dust settle”

Day 6-12: The struggle to describe their business processes in words and pictures commences.  It’s a struggle because the staff find it difficult to be objective in describing the business processes accurately and in a manner the evaluation panel can follow easily. The team keep getting impatient and want to jump straight to describing the final outcome and why their solution is the best.  Eventually they call in an outside expert for assistance.

  • Day 12-14: Outside expert reviews the draft and gets it back on target.
  • Day 14-20: JackInc takes a few days to incorporate the changes and finalise the tender.

Total time – 20 days or more.

Be Prepared!

The final difference between the preparation time for JillCo and JackInc can be up to 15 days in my experience. How much it that worth? It can be $000s when you consider salaries and opportunity costs of staff not working on the next best project. And which tender is more likely to win? Would it be the one developed in an organised fashion over six days or the one that started from scratch and worked under pressure?  You guessed it – JillCo, simply because they were better prepared.