Executive Compass has been involved in numerous larger-scale bids, and bid writer Mary Marshall has recently been seconded to work exclusively with a client bidding into the criminal justice sector. The client had five months to develop the solution and prepare the tender documents, comprising 200,000 words in total – approximately 400 pages.
We take a look at how Mary integrated into an external bid team to provide bid writing support for this particularly large tender submission.
The project overview
Due to the size and duration of the contract being tendered for, the client (who must remain anonymous) assembled a bid team comprising internal operational experts and external bid writers. This was mainly freelance writers who had worked with the client previously, and, in addition to this, the organisation approached Executive Compass for additional bid management and writing support. From our team of bid writers we selected Mary, who went through an interview process with the client to discuss suitability for the industry sector (as this was a niche area) and to understand more about the project, ahead of being seconded from the Executive Compass team.
Each of the six external bid writers (myself being one) was assigned a section or series of questions to produce, and was paired up with an operational lead from the client organisation, with whom we worked to develop how their respective element of the contract would be delivered. Following this, we then each wrote our individual section of responses for the bid. For the first few weeks, I had regular meetings with my subject matter expert (SME), during which we discussed the questions, the company’s responses to previous tenders, and the planned approach for this contract. Informed by these discussions, plus research into industry legislation, guidelines and best practice, I produced the draft bid responses that I had been assigned. The responses were developed iteratively, as the company continued to shape their solution. For example, as my SME researched and met with potential partners, he then shared their proposals with me to incorporate into my bid responses for the overall tender.
Interim support: what was different to our usual bids?
Executive Compass work on around 600 bid and tender submissions each year, varying in contract size from £80,000 per annum to multi-million-pound contracts, most of which take a matter of weeks from start to finish.
The client here was bidding for a £300 million contract in the criminal justice sector, for which the timeframe from release of contract notice to submitting the bid was five months. The key difference here was the length of the bid and integrating into a wider, external team (Mary being one of six external bid writers). The five-month timespan allowed for a good proportion of the time to be allocated to planning, creating strong win themes and firming up the client solution for delivering the contract. As Mary explains above, the 200,000-word submission was split into sections, with each bid writer working through a particular section. This allowed for focus and a methodical approach, with regular collaboration via Teams meetings to discuss how the whole bid came together and to ensure continuity.
The bid process: what was the same?
The key to success with a bid of any size is the application of effective project management and quality assurance processes.
To manage the 400-page submission, the bid team used a deliverables matrix to track the progress of each response, similar to those Executive Compass bid writers use on a daily basis. The team held weekly whole-team meetings and separate weekly writers’ meetings, during which we reported progress on each question and discussed any challenges or delays, so these could be addressed early. The team also made use of MS Teams to facilitate ongoing communication throughout the project.
A series of milestones was agreed, including first drafts, second drafts and final drafts; at each stage the responses were reviewed by a senior member of the client team, who fed back ideas and suggestions. This phased approach meant that any issues with responses were identified early. As a result, by the time responses reached ‘final review’ by a director, they had already been peer-reviewed and improved, meaning there were minimal edits to make during the final stage.
This mirrors Executive Compass’s approach, in which responses are reviewed by one of our quality managers, with amendments made before they reach the client. However, this particular bid took much more project management by the client as it was larger in scale and had many different contributors, including specialists in facilities management, health, security and rehabilitation.
A team of proofreaders were then assigned to complete robust proofreading of every response during the last two weeks before submission. Having the proofreaders on hand at the crucial time ensured all responses were professionally reviewed and polished versions ready for submission. Similarly, at Executive Compass, our team of proofreaders are on hand to review the 20,000+ words generated every day by the team for our clients.
Lessons learnt from a larger, interim bid project
Communication and management with the internal stakeholders, other bid writers and contributors, and the client management team, were key. When working as part of a large project, even with a five-month timescale, it is crucial everything is kept on track and there is accountability from each member of the bid team.
The project gave Mary a greater insight into the client solution. We always work closely with our clients to help them clarify their proposed service delivery models. However, in this case Mary provided more enhanced support: the contract represented a new venture for the client organisation, which meant the bid team were part of the conversations around how and what was going to be delivered as part of the contract, in much greater detail than we are normally party to. This then allowed win themes and USPs to be created, with responses centred around these.
This bid was a collaborative project, with Mary fitting into a large team of operational staff and other writers. As always with multiple contributors, collaboration and consistency of voice were crucial across the bid. At Executive Compass we regularly have two (or sometimes more) bid writers supporting one project, so this is something we are used to. However, on this scale and with this many bid writers it was imperative that the voice and message were consistent throughout – highlighting the importance of the review stages.
Ongoing communication amongst the writing team contributed to the achievement of a comprehensive and cohesive bid, completed ahead of schedule. Mary said:
This has been a great opportunity to immerse myself within a company and sector. I have used my previous studies (I have a First Class degree in Crime Science), combined with my experience of bid writing and management, which I applied to make a valuable contribution to this major bid. Through the experience of becoming embedded in a new team, I have learnt more about techniques for effective team-working with different people. I look forward to hearing the outcome!
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