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In response to clients’ complex procurements, many proposal professionals across industries, markets and geographies are working as part of consortia. Merriam-Webster defines a consortium as “an agreement, combination, or group (as of companies) formed to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member.” How can you align differing capabilities, capacities and organizational cultures to win the business? Here are five considerations to improve collaboration within a consortium:
1. Team dynamics
- Develop trust quickly. Use video calls where possible so you build rapport via eye contact, facial expressions and body language. Take time to ask people how they are doing before you get into what they are doing. For example, you may ask questions about team members’ virtual backgrounds, home office set ups, pets and coffee choices.
- Leverage your counterparts (other proposal managers) to share the workload and avoid duplication between organizations. Be curious about team members’ communication styles and adapt your style accordingly. For example, communication methods (posts on collaborative software, calls, texts) and frequency (daily, weekly, biweekly) may vary.
- Play to your strengths. Gain insights into team members’ roles on the proposal (often very different from job titles) and why they have been selected to work on the proposal. Assign tasks based on capability (skill set) and capacity (availability). However, be prepared to flex your approach when this is not possible. For example, you may have a subject-matter expert (SME) who is available but is a weak writer. You could buddy them with another team member or interview them for proposal content. You may also have a highly skilled SME who has limited availability. You could ask them to attend a short storyboarding or outlining call and then delegate proposal content creation to another team member.
2. Information management
- Help the team become comfortable with any collaboration software. You may be using your own software, the prime contractor’s software, or the consortium may have decided to invest in software specifically for the proposal. Consider teaming with the software provider or your internal technology department to deliver training to your counterparts (other proposal managers) or the wider team. Record the session for any team members who are unable to attend.
- Avoid email where possible. Consortium email distribution lists can be unwieldy, and team emails may encourage “reply all” traffic that impacts productivity. Consider posting within your collaboration software. Discuss any significant risks or opportunities at your stand-up calls.
- Encourage discipline. Maximize the use of everyone’s time by scheduling short stand-up calls with a structured, actions-based agenda (stand-up meeting agenda and action item tracker available within the APMP Body of Knowledge). Communicate and agree upon best practices for version control at the kick-off meeting. For example, only using online master versions, track changes or comments.
- Consider proposal governance. Agree to your escalation and issue resolution processes upfront. You may have a steering committee comprising senior leaders from each organization within the consortium who meet regularly. They will need visibility of high-level updates, risks and opportunities.
- Assess how your consortium will answer the client’s questions. To minimize review cycles and re-work, use storyboarding and outlining sessions to agree on content direction early (content plan template available within the APMP Body of Knowledge). If senior stakeholders are unable to attend the sessions, ask them to sign off on the storyboard and outline content before any writing begins.
- Recognize that individuals and organizations have different proposal review processes. Due to team size, you may wish to opt for review sheets (notional comment form available within the APMP Body of Knowledge) rather than redlining or mark-ups. You may need agreement from all organizations within the consortium for significant edits. Use an issues log so you have visibility across proposal sections, a plan for resolution (with an owner and deadline) and a record of how each issue was resolved.
4. Compliance and quality
- Drive accountability. With a large group of stakeholders, anticipate some variation in ownership levels. You may need to remind each team member of their page count limits and the client’s evaluation criteria more frequently than usual. Communicate the impact that a team member’s work will have on the overall success of the proposal. When someone does not meet expectations, provide constructive feedback on the required edits and the reason for them.
- Request quantitative feedback. Invite reviewers (one from each organization within the consortium) who are not part of the core proposal team to undertake mock scoring of each proposal answer or section. By providing objective, targeted feedback from the client evaluator’s perspective, you will be able to challenge individual and organizational assumptions and improve proposal content.
- Solicit qualitative feedback. Assess your end-to-end draft in addition to section reviews. Consider a specific reviewer (non-technical) to focus on whether win themes and messaging are explicit. Their review will include identifying any inconsistencies and adding cross references (and hyperlinks) as appropriate.
5. Visual and written identity
- Consider the legal entity and brand you are bidding as. Are you bidding as the prime contractor or as a NewCo? You may engage graphic design resources to develop a name, logo, color palette and image selection guidelines.
- Create an editing and proofreading guide. Writing styles differ between organizations. Consider overall voice, naming conventions for the consortium (and the organizations within the consortium) and industry-specific abbreviations and acronyms (writing style checklist and editing checklist available within the APMP Body of Knowledge.) Provide the guide to all writers and editors at the storyboarding or outlining sessions.
- Opt for editable diagrams. If you anticipate a high volume of diagram edits, ask your graphic design resources to convert diagrams from Adobe InDesign to Microsoft PowerPoint. You and your counterparts will then be able to make minor text edits directly, allowing your graphic design resources to continue working on high-impact, high-value tasks. Track your diagrams carefully. (Graphics development log template available within the APMP Body of Knowledge.)
Conduct lessons-learned sessions post-submission to enable continuous improvement within your consortium. You will see particular benefit for multi-phase procurements where the organizations within your consortium will regroup for client presentations, workshops and negotiations. Executed correctly, collaboration within a consortium will improve your efficiency, productivity and engagement.
Ceri Mescall is a senior pursuit strategist at EY in Canada. An APMP member for 11 years, she achieved Foundation certification in 2010, Practitioner in 2013 and Professional in 2019. She was named one of APMP’s 40 Under 40 in 2019 and received the APMP Fellows award in 2020.