Sunday, July 25, 2004


The Wit And Wisdom Of Proposals

The Chinese Fire Drill is extending through the weekend, as we need to "tell a consistent story" in the upcoming deliverable. Of course, as in camels, any document designed by committee is going to have a lot of different styles and messages, and rationalizing them into a unified document has historically a) never really worked, since most management consultants can't use words like "concomitant" properly and any of the better writers can't dumb down what they're writing and b) introduced so many logical errors at the last second that the document is more incomprehensible than it was in the first place. I remember an RFP response that was due at 3pm one Friday, and a pointy-headed boss decided to change the flow of a paragraph at around 1:50. Unfortunately, he also introduced something that totally changed the meaning of what we were trying to say, and after 50 minutes of scrambling, tearing out and inserting new pages, I ended up jumping in a taxi with a banker's box full of RFP responses to get to the client in time. I made it with all of 5 minutes to spare, bumping into a friend from a competing consulting firm also laden with a banker's box full of proposals as I cleared the security desk in the lobby. The hilarious thing about this RFP was that the person who issued it for the client had absolutely no permission from his superiors to do so, and the entire process was cancelled unceremoniously on the following Tuesday. I figure an awful lot of sales projections went down the tubes at consulting firms all the way across Manhattan that day.

We had one manager who had a rather benign, gnome-like countenance, however, he was astonishingly ineffective as an engagement manager (he managed to louse up a major bank relationship), and he thought he could sell business (he was tag-teamed with a salesman who apparently previously worked for Vandelay Industries). Whenever this guy's name and the word proposal were uttered in the same sentence, it was like an apartment when you come home, turn on the lights, and all the cockroaches scatter - every consultant in the building regardless of their bench status or workload level would suddenly find themselves engaged so as to avoid working with this guy on a proposal. One afternoon I was sitting in the office, and my wife phoned me saying "R's looking for you". I expressed surprise that he would call my house, when I was across the hall from him, with the door open, but I walked across and asked what was up. He said, "We've just received a major RFP. It's a financial services technology gig, right up your alley. Put together a team and write the response". With no out, I said OK, and asked the particulars. It turned out to be due that Friday (it was Tuesday afternoon), and then when I asked for the particulars, I received a forwarded e-mail with a few bullets. "So where's the RFP?" "This is it" "Whaddya mean, this thing has no Ts and Cs (terms and conditions), a lot of this is field work we don't do..." and about a hundred other objections came out from me after reading this thing. But R made it very clear that we were responding to this thing, even though it was obviously not in our area of competency and so vague that I probably could've put a Franz Kafka story in as a response and it would've gotten an equivalent review. So, given the authority to drop R's name with the various resource gatekeepers, I played like I was Oberkommando Beraterkraft, and called total mobilization of everyone on the bench to respond to this idiotic thing. I spent the next day and night trying desperately to put something coherent together, and at the point of exhaustion on Wednesday night(it might've already been after midnight), I was informed that there was a seven AM conference call with the company putting out the RFP. Mandatory. OK.

So I dragged myself out of bed and got on the conference call. On which, the client says, "well to be honest with you, we've really decided to go with XYZ, but we sent you the RFP as a courtesy".  My #2 and I excused ourselves from the conference call, and we said "R really thought we were going to have a chance with this?". We finally got him on the phone and after telling him the events that transpired, his response was singularly interesting. "You mean you didn't tell him about our firm's value proposition?"


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