We often bid for government work ourselves and have found, over time, that the key to a successful bid process is effective communication, something that can be harder than you anticipate when working across departmental and regional boundaries.
We’ve started using Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) to manage our bids and we thought we’d share how we use the tool and the benefits it brings. Its worth mentioning a little bit about Basecamp, although it is billed as a project management tool, it feels more like a collaborative communication tool to us. What it does best is to centralise all the communications between a team and then channel those communications to the individual tasks in a project. This makes it perfect for managing a bid, especially across teams working in different locations. Basecamp also allows for individuals from different organisations to be included on a project so sub-contractors and lawyers can also get involved in any bid.
Our first action is to add the key dates to Basecamp’s calendar, giving everyone a clear view of the time constraints involved in the tender. The next thing we do is to break down the whole bid into a series of distinct tasks. Doing this job thoroughly and precisely is the most important part of working with Basecamp, missing out key elements can have severe consequences later on. We usually break down the tasks in four main groupings as follows: Compliance, Response, Sub-contracting, and Submission.
Compliance covers legals, approvals and any other pieces of attending documentation that are required for the bid, e.g. indemnity insurance certificates or questions to the buyer. Our Response tasks detail each of the questions requiring a response for the tender. Sub-contracting covers any communication or tasks that are specific to working with sub-contractors and finally the Submission list lays out all the tasks relating to compiling, formatting and publishing our tender submission.
Writing good tasks
Recently we’ve been focussing on trying to make our task list as precise as possible, so we’re trying to get away from writing up imprecise tasks like “Indeminity Insurance Certs”. Instead we’re trying to make our communications more effective, so we split the task down “Check indemnity insurance is compliant”, “Check indemnity insurance renewal dates” and “Upload Indemnity Insurance Certs”. This level of precision requires an up-front time investment but it means that we’re much more prepared and always completely aware of what is left in order to get our submission done.
Basecamp offers the chance to run discussions against any task, uploaded file or calendar event. It also has the ability to create general discussions for the whole project. We use the general discussions to consider ‘global issues’ such as which lots we will bid for, with task and document discussions for the nitty gritty associated with getting approvals. Task discussions are actually where we do the drafting of our responses, as one person can submit the copy they want to see in a response and then invite others to comment. This prevents a situation where a bid writer or manager is holed up for days writing a full first draft before anyone else reviews or responds on anything. Breaking down each response into a task allows other team members to comment on every bit of copy as soon as it is written. Team members can check and review our submission on a daily or even hourly basis, senior staff are more involved and they can build their reviews into their working days rather than having to carve out time to review a full draft.
Compiling our submission
As individual responses are refined, they are added to a Basecamp text document, again this can be the subject of further discussion if you want, but we prefer to just use this tool as a compiler for the final document. Once we’ve compiled all of the completed material, we can output the text file to a proper word processing package for proofing, formatting and presentation. We’ve consciously decided against using document mark-up at an early stage, that’s because its rubbish if you’re making wholesale changes to a document, we only use it when changes are small and limited (every ten words or so).
Working on bids with Basecamp has given us some interesting benefits, firstly its easier to involve more people earlier in the process, so we take fewer wrong turns during our bidding. Secondly, everyone can easily see what needs to be done by when. This puts an end to some of the more unrealistic expectations especially when there are multiple bids to submit over a short timeframe. Finally, everything gets securely held in one place, where it can be accessed by anyone working on the bid.
So, if you’re looking for a bid management tool that covers the basics of getting everyone to input and submit a bid on time, you should definitely look at Basecamp.
We should also mention that Basecamp isn’t a complex bid management tool, if your bid is so large and unwieldy that you can’t do the pricing on a spreadsheet, then Basecamp probably isn’t for you. We tend to work on research and professional services bids, so that are usually fairly straightforward, so it is perfect tool that makes managing a bid much, much easier.