When a new client approached us to manage their high-stakes multi-billion-dollar tender submission, we were extremely excited. But when we found out that half the bid team would be on the other side of the world…? We knew we would have our work cut out for ourselves. Co-locating an entire technical team from Europe was never going to be practical, so we needed to build a new kind of bid management model to cater for remote collaboration and team building through technology.
Our client was a global industrial company entering the Australian market for the first time. The bid team included a number of different consulting firms, as well as a lot of new employees to the business. The majority of the team had never worked together before, and there were some strong personalities with some excellent experience across the industry. Adding to this complexity was the fact that this company had never submitted a tender response in Australia.
Two other companies had been shortlisted to respond to the Request for Proposal (RFP), and both had an established presence and relationship with the client in Australia. The competitors were big players in the market, with established supply chains and a track record of delivering solutions to the client. Our client was definitely the underdog, but they had an excellent product and global history of delivering.
We were brought in as the ‘big guns’ who would get the job done on this highly complex tender, and it was a ‘must-win’ for our client. The pressure was palpable.
We were engaged to work on the strategy development, content development, editing, graphic design and production. The majority of our client’s team was based in Europe and we were in Canberra. Our client had some budget constraints that meant that international travel was to be kept to a minimum. Some of our work could be done remotely, but the crucial task of building a team and an environment that promoted a competitive bid mindset, fostered creative thinking and enabled collaboration to develop a winning solution – doing that remotely was a challenge. So, how did we tackle the challenge?
Technology optimisation for processes and communications
Crucial to any bid management approach is communicating the process and expectations at the start of the bid. In this instance, we were aware that all communication needed to be conducted in two distinct ways. Firstly, we could communicate directly with our Australian cohort using traditional methods such as presentations, meetings, workshops – all face-to-face. Secondly, we could communicate with our European cohort via Skype video conferencing, instant chat, SharePoint, telephone and email.
Here’s what we did to maximise the benefits of the geographical split and the technology at our disposal:
- For both groups, we articulated the processes and methodologies with which we would manage the bid, the timing of key milestones and the expectations for performance through Skype meetings at times of the day that were classed as ‘work time’ in both countries (first thing in the morning or last thing at night).
- We leveraged the time difference. When one cohort was sleeping, the other would be working, so we could achieve a complete 24-hour working cycle. Thanks to the time difference, we actually benefited from increased utilisation.
- We used multiple online tools to help with daily processes and management of the bid, namely:
- SharePoint for all documents, including rigorous version controls and optimised file management, SharePoint’s timeline feature for project milestones, including alerts for upcoming deadlines
- Microsoft Office suite’s Groups and Yammer for daily non-action-based and administrative communication to free-up our inboxes
- Weekly work group meetings conducted via Skype, with agendas constrained to issues, red flags, and technical queries that couldn’t be managed online.
Engaging the team: The people element
An important part of any bid is team engagement, and for this you just can’t beat person-to-person communication. A truly engaged team makes an enormous difference, especially in times of high stress and long hours, such as in bids. A crucial part of engaging our team was assigning each work group an Aurora Marketing tender writer. This tender writer, on top of their content development responsibilities, was nominated as a ‘communication champion’ to attend every one of their work group meetings and be on hand at crucial time zone cross-over points (early in the morning and later in the evening) to answer questions.
Each day we held a different work group meeting – 5 pm was the preferred time, due to the different time zones – so that every day we could check in with progress on documents, milestones and reviews. For each cohort (remote and domestic), we implemented the same ‘battle rhythm’ to engage the team with all activities required during the bid, including the various technological methods outlined above.
As I write this, the decision for the bid is still in process. But despite the decision, the cohesive team working towards mutual outcomes was a testament to what is possible in today’s technological age. But this positive outcome doesn’t change my key recommendation here, and that is to aim for ‘old school’ co-location wherever possible. If you can’t co-locate, due to financial constraints or other issues, you need to ramp up the team engagement to counter the effect of the distance. Equally, each team member’s responsibility also needs to be ramped up – if somebody misses a deadline or a milestone, or doesn’t deliver the quality you expected, there is less chance to recover the situation when your team is dispersed.
So, if you’re facing the reality of a dispersed bid team, ramp up the team’s engagement, use technology for daily team management and administration, and make sure every team member is fully accountable. As with this case study, it is still possible to formulate a compliant and compelling solution despite the remoteness of the architects of the solution.