Questioning the questions? Ask the Proposal Doctor

Dear Proposal Doctor,

The battle over which questions to send to the government customer on a long and not-very-well-written RFP has begun. The desktop publishers want to ask about fonts. The graphics people want to ask about color and foldout pages. The solution architect wants to ask about specifications and performance metrics. The contracts people want to suggest new terms and conditions. The pricing people want to ask about….everything.

Just collecting, vetting, discussing, formatting, and submitting the questions could eat up our entire response time. What is a proposal manager to do? How can we streamline this process?

-Questioning the Questions

Dear Questioning,

You’ve touched on a subject near and dear to my heart. Yes, this could easily spiral out of control. Worse yet, you could give away important information through your questions and, worse even than that, you could get back answers that only obfuscate the situation further. It has been known to happen. For this reason, I’ve developed a few principles to rein this process in.

First, I am sorry to say that you do need to cast the net broadly and ask everyone who has knowledge of the RFP to submit questions to you and the capture manager. That doesn’t mean they will all go to the government. There is a really good chance someone is going to catch something important, and it is almost certain that no one person can catch everything. For the initial capture, more is better.

Second, select a small team to sort the questions. Separate the technical questions from the non-technical. For the questions that involve legal, pricing, or contractual issues, see if they can pass this test:

  1. Does the question itself reveal anything about us that we don’t want known?
  2. Have we figured out the worst possible answer we could get to this question, and can we live with that?

For the technical (including formatting) questions, there is a different test:

  1. Can we submit a compliant proposal without asking this question (in which case, don’t ask)?
  2. Have we figured out the worst possible answer we could get to this question, and can we live with that?

If the answer to number 2 is no (for either category of question), don’t ask. Make an assumption, state your assumption, and move on. Remind the team that there is a good chance that whatever you don’t ask, someone else will.

If you put some boundaries around this activity, it won’t eat you up alive. But, you might have to be draconian about it. It’s often easier to debate questions than to get on with the real work of responding to the RFP.

Hang tough on this one. I know you can.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor