There comes a time, at the end of every proposal development process, where the final document needs to be reviewed. This was no exception. The proposal delivery date was just around the corner. Time was running out.
Now I'm not saying that I'm the world's leading expert about reviewing documents, but I do know a thing or two about what can be seen as useful when reviewing … and also what is completely useless!
This particular final document review was about to test my patience to the ends of endurance.
Picture the scene. It was coming to the end of the bid proposal process. Everyone had been working frantically, often in isolation, trying to bring the key elements of the proposal together. We were short of time; no surprise there! The deadline was looming ominously. People were getting tetchy and irritable, cursing at the very thought of being involved in yet another frantic bid!
In fact, despite the lack of time, everything seemed to be going quite well with this particular bid. We'd reached the stage where we'd completed a Win Strategy Review. We'd even done a terrific Competitor Analysis, including some decent bidder comparison activity. All really did seem set for fantastic outcome. Indeed, once we had managed to hold a decent Proposal Strategy Review, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Or was that a train coming in the opposite direction?
I'd been called in early on in the process to mentor the bid manager, an experienced man who had several years of bid management behind him. Unfortunately, he'd had little success in terms of holding proper reviews. In effect, his style of bid management was to outline a set of tasks, let everyone get on with things in isolation and then hold a last-minute review when all was complete. Consequently, it always seemed to be slightly ad hoc in nature. I was there to help smooth out the process as best I could!
Consequently, during the process, we'd managed a successful series of reviews. We'd reached the stage where the Final Review team was due to meet midweek prior to the bid being submitted during the following week, on the Friday.
The bid manager had sent out invitations to a team of people that were to make up the the Final Review team. He'd done everything correctly. Copies of the proposal were available, copies of the RFP were circulated prior to the meeting and he'd produced a series of blank comment sheets. The team had its own room and all was set for success. We even had refreshments booked!
And then things started to unravel spectacularly.
Having met the team, the bid manager briefed them and told everybody what was expected of them. It became clear, however, that one of the main board directors was intent on being disruptive.
I bristled. The one thing I've always known is that, during a Final Review, disruption isn't needed. It's very simple. If the person concerned is not prepared to give fulsome and constructive comment on the final proposal, don't have them in the room.
The review started on time and on schedule. Almost immediately, however, there was a sound of tut-tutting from the director. This was closely followed by mutterings of “Oh dear" and "For goodness sake". Clearly, he was unhappy about almost everything.
By this time, I had reached the end of my patience. I asked what the problem was. He complained that there was "Clearly an issue with standards in the Use of English" and repeatedly asked, rhetorically, "Don't they teach people grammar these days?"
I explained that we were looking for constructive comment about content and that he should refrain from worrying about grammar and spelling too much, although such comments would be gratefully accepted for sure. I told him to make a note of any issues that he found, with a view to them being sorted after the main review process. We had already agreed that a proof reader would be employed after the review, one not being available before.
The day proceeded quite well, but then came the wash up session at the end of the process where we looked at the comment sheets.
And this was where my blood really started to boil.
Most of the team had made a very good effort at identifying areas for improvement and making useful comments, with one exception. Yes, you've guessed it; the main board director. He'd seen this as a great opportunity to boost his ego and to put his stamp of authority, as he saw it, onto the process, belatedly.
His comment sheets were littered with words like "This doesn't do it for me" and "I'm concerned that we are missing a trick here". My particular favourite was (actually, favourite is the wrong word in this instance) "I can see nobody reading this paragraph except out of the purposes of idle curiosity". Ugh! Come on!
Not one of his comments were, in the widest sense of the word, useful. He saw this whole process as a form of weird sport, taking the opportunity to highlight the weaknesses of the bid team, as he saw it. It was debilitating and utterly demoralising to say the least. Additionally, it was such a waste of an opportunity for him to add real value to a process that had been going on for some time in the organisation.
He and I had a fairly blunt conversation. It became absolutely clear that he didn't see my point of view at all. In fact, he saw my input, and that of the remainder of the team, as fairly low level when compared to his efforts.
Suffice to say that the proposal went in poorly prepared and without some of the key components that someone of mainboard status could have usefully added. It was a wasted opportunity and guess what? The bid failed.
The moral of the story is very simple. If you're going to take the opportunity of having a Final Review, then this must be handled positively and provide real constructive comment. If handled well, it's a process that can add real value to a proposal in the final stages. Additionally, if they're prepared to engage constructively, senior managers and directors can add real value.
If you ever find yourself in a similar position of having someone in the Final Review team making fatuous and pointless comments, solely to boost their own ego, take my advice. Get rid of them swiftly and ensure that they are never involved in such a process again, no matter what level of seniority they are.
Here are some points for running successful Final Reviews:
Make sure that the date for the Final Review is set in stone at an early stage. Don't allow people to change this once they have agreed to attend.
Ensure that you select people who have knowledge of the solution being proposed and who can add real value during the review.
Make sure that the team is invited formerly and that they know what their responsibilities are before they arrive at the review.
Appoint a leader who can control the workflow of the review and collate the resulting comments.
Make sure that there is a room available and that there are copies of the RFP and the proposal available, together with sufficient comment forms to fill in.
Comment forms don’t need to be complicated and should be easy to complete. The basics should include where the comment relates to in the proposal, what the comment is and, crucially, what the subsequent action must be to improve the proposal.
Once comments have been collated, the leader should debrief the proposal manager appropriately.