Thursday, September 02, 2010

A year later am I still scared? And some lessons on proposals

A year ago, when I started my current job at SAIC, I referenced a Tom Peters quote about how your projects should scare you. Well, a year later, I'm no longer scared if the new job will work out, if I will hate it, if there will be enough billable work to keep me employed--or at least from spending too much time in IR&D-land. In fact I'm not scared at all, although I'm certainly being challenged. This is a good thing, obviously.

I'm at that point where I'm at thought I would be based on my standard 18 month cycle. It is interesting how this cycle has repeated itself as I've moved from job to job. About now, things are firing on all (or maybe too many) cylinders and I have the confidence that I lacked for a while. That confidence partially comes from having gotten over that "prove yourself" hump. (One of the consequences of switching jobs is that you have to prove to yourself and others at the beginning the way you don't if you stay in the same role years and years. Of course if you have a continuing stream of new projects where you have to prove yourself to new clients, you get some of that but it is not the same level of stress)

Right now, I have too many projects (this week I billed to 6-7 different charge codes, which is way too many as there is a reason you should have only 2-3 projects at a time) and tasks and they key challenge to to delegate and distribute the load so I don't burn out.

And to say no. I will never forget how during my interview at Hewitt the to-be-CISO asked me if I could say no. I don't remember my answer, but I learned why it was necessary and I certainly see that now. And the need to disengage. Tonight, I told my boss (or at least my boss for a few more days now if the rumors are true) that I was taking the night off and my wife and I watched The Edge of Heaven. Highly recommended if a bit slow moving at first. No, I wouldn't be working on that proposal tonight.

Which leads me to the original idea for this blog. So proposals? What have I learned about proposals? Right now, I'm going through one of those frustrating periods at work were I'm doing less technical work and more proposals and pricing than I'd like. These periods are a necessary evil and they are worth the thrill of the award, but they are not fun. I thought I hated technical proposals but pricing is worse. And there are things worse than pricing, but I wont go there.

So it seems like I've done a lot of proposals in the last year. Maybe I have maybe I haven't relative to folks in similar roles in similar sized companies, but there has definitely been variety. A few technical proposals I've written from scratch (more or less) and done all the pricing and am now leading the project but most where I'm part of a larger proposal team. And this is where the idea for this blog came in mind as I was stuck in traffic on 695 this afternoon.

What are some lessons of writing projects proposals (or at least participating in proposal teams) from the last year?

Who is the boss? This seems easy but it doesn't always happen. Even if there are multiple PMs or team leads involved, you need to appoint one who will run the proposal process. Ambiguity as to who is driving the process can be a disaster. It will screw it up.

Err on the side of more conference calls and less emails. I can't believe I'm saying this. Especially if there are folks that haven't worked together before or are from different organizations. You have to build up that trust. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone. Just sending out calls to contribute and review a document isn't going to cut it.

Divide and conquer. Assign tasks to specific questions in the RFP. Yeah, the folks assigned may screw it up and somebody may need to clean it up and rescue that section, but there needs to be clarity on who has to write what.

Tell folks when things are due. When does the client need it? What the internal process hurdles? When are you tasks due. Open ended tasks also won't get done. Especially if folks are using spare cycles they need to know when to perform that context switch.

Get some sleep. Yes, since proposals are typically on top of your normal project it does require nights and weekend.

And on that note.

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