In the interests of transparency, I must admit that I have never been involved directly in commercial bidding for contracts. However, I have sat on the ‘other side of the table’ as a client project manager, assessing bids from a range of IT service providers. As such, this book review represented an excellent learning opportunity, enabling me to better understand the bid-writing process and how to respond robustly and effectively to client requirements. This is Cleden’s second book after Managing Project Uncertainty and he clearly draws upon his 25 years of working in public sector IT to provide this must read guide to conducting successful commercial bids.
The book begins with an excellent preface, which helps to set the tone and the style of writing, as well as the author’s own recommendations on how to get the most from the text. Written in the style of the internal dialogue that most people have when reading books on a niche subject matter, there is an engaging monologue of Q&A, helping to orientate the reader with the book’s key objectives and intended audience.
“So: Another book on project management?”
“Not really, Although this book is aimed at managers, particularly those with some experience of commercial projects…”
Whilst the content of the text is certainly comprehensive, the author also recognizes that busy project managers may want to dip into the book for specific guidance on aspects of the bid writing process. Indeed, the author recommends that those readers who are already engaged in bid writing can head straight to Chapter 4, which contains lots of practical tips and information to improve their bid.
Do I like this refreshing approach to text navigation? Yes, absolutely. It’s a great way to assist busy project management professionals as they cope with the many demands on their time.
By the way, I’m not simply advocating that you ignore the rest of the book, and simply head for Chapter 4. In fact, if you decide to read the book from cover to cover, you will be furnished with a sensible, comprehensive framework for the process of bid writing. The author (thankfully) does not focus on winning a bid for the sake of winning, but instead encourages bid-writers to follow a conceptual structure which focuses on the client’s needs, and considers how best to respond in a feasible and credible way. The intention is to construct a high quality, robust project framework which is realistic, and can be delivered effectively within agreed budgets and timescales. And we all know that this is the way to a satisfied customer’s heart.
For the £65 RRP (yes £65!) you get a book that recognizes and balances the art of bid writing with the science of bid writing. By the ‘art of bid writing,’ I mean the bid-writer’s ability to get under the skin of the client’s needs – what problem needs solving, and how can the bid and project proposals respond intelligently to those requirements? The ‘science of bid writing’ incorporates the tools and techniques that a bid team use to produce that winning bid – and this book provides many good examples. In particular, Chapter 4, Analysing the Requirements in Depth, should be required reading for all staff involved in project teams, not just bid writers, as it focuses on how best to dissect key themes to provide a comprehensive listing of implications, benefits to the client, assumptions, dependencies and the tangible evidence backing up the assertion. Likewise, the section on discriminators (elements of the bid unique to your organization) and differentiators (aspects of your bid which makes your bid stand out from competitors) are designed to give any bid that winning edge.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that whilst bid-writers are clearly the core, intended audience of Cleden’s work, and the content would certainly support existing bid-writing professionals or teams to re-think or improve their approach, it seems to me that this text is equally relevant to project management professionals who regularly undertake procurement exercises for such services. Cleden’s work enables professionals working on both sides of the fence to better understand what constitutes a quality bid.
This book is a standout example promoting best practice in the bid proposal process. Reflecting on some of the bids I have received from prospective vendors, it’s clear to me that if more commercial companies started using some of the approaches advocated by this book, then we would avoid a situation where vendors over-promise and woefully under-deliver. And, gone too would be the vendor approach of bidding low to win the contract and then relying on change control to charge for ‘new requirements’ or ‘scope creep,’ resulting in final projects costs which far exceed those proposed by other vendors with more comprehensive bids.
In future editions of this book, it would be helpful for the author to focus on some of the emerging trends in commercial service offerings such as Software as a Service (SaaS) which will affect the bid-writing approach. There is a growing trend for service providers to offer standard platforms to companies with minimal or no customizations allowed – an approach which needs to be handled carefully, so that the benefits – as opposed to the limitations – are effectively communicated and understood by the client
The title of the text certainly does what it says on the tin, and whilst the book’s design does little to attract a readership, it is clear that the content is underpinned by the author’s extensive knowledge and experience in effective bid writing. And in my book, substance always wins over style. In summary, this book is a vital resource for serious bid-writers which is likely to make a significant impact on the overall quality of any future bid writing ventures.
November 2011 – ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Andy Budkiewicz is a PMP and PRINCE2 certified project manager with a decade of project management experience in a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company Global IT PMO, delivering application and Infrastructure projects. Follow him on Twitter @Andybud; or LinkedIn; or visit his blog ‘The Project Manager’s Guide To The Universe‘