The following is a blog by Tom McGrath, a recently joined graduate bid writer:
Storyboarding is a key part of Kittle’s bid process. As the vital bridge between clients and our bid teams, it might even be the key part. Our experience has shown us that storyboarding is the best way to convert the specialist knowledge of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) into winning bid responses. Before I outline the benefits that storyboarding brings for both clients and the bid team, I’ll begin by explaining exactly what we mean by the term.
Storyboarding usually takes the form of a face-to-face interview between the client’s SME and the Kittle bid writer. For example, a Request for Proposal (RFP) question asking about how catering will be delivered in a hospital will likely involve a storyboard with the client’s Catering Manager.
Before the interview, the bid writer will analyse the RFP question and marking criteria in depth, drawing out all relevant details and highlighting difficult points. They will use this to put together a set of questions which will be used as the structure of the interview, although this will not be followed strictly (and this is one of the reasons why a face-to-face interview is better than just exchanging emails). The bid writer will instead follow the natural trajectory of the interview, asking for more detail when they need it, responding to suggestions as they pop up, and working through the SME’s solution with them in real time.
The length of a storyboard will vary depending on a few factors, including the scope of the question, how detailed the response needs to be, how much the bid writer has learnt from reading bid collateral, and how prepared the SME’s solution is. By the end of the interview, the bid writer should have a concise set of responses to their questions, additional narrative, and strong evidence with which to draft their response to the RFP question.
This process has significant benefits for both clients and writers. The most important of which, for both, is that it results in the strongest possible bid. This can be seen by comparing storyboarding with the two main alternatives: (a) writers working mainly from collateral, and (b) the SMEs writing a first draft which the writer then corrects.
Looking at (a) first, if a writer works purely or mostly from collateral from previous bids then the quality of the responses will suffer. Every RFP, and every project, is different. Collateral from previous bids will therefore lack important details, emphasis, and evidence. To some extent, a writer can tailor information from collateral for a new RFP, but there will almost always be significant gaps.
For example, a previous bid about delivering surveying equipment for Ministry X might sound ideal for using in a bid about delivering the same equipment for Ministry Y. But, as is often the case, while Ministry X’s mark scheme scores collaboration highly, Ministry Y’s mark scheme scores continuous improvement highly. So, the collateral and evidence used in the bid to Ministry X has all the wrong emphasis and evidence, being designed to show collaboration and not continuous improvement, and therefore needs to be completely rewritten with new evidence and solutioning. A storyboard is the best way to do this, as the bid writer can ask directly for the precise evidence they need. Better still, start with the storyboard.
Storyboarding is also preferable to (b), in which the SME writes responses to the question first, which are then ‘tidied up’ by the writer. This model is inefficient and ineffective because:
- Professional writers are better at creative compelling narratives, and directly answering the requirements of the questions in an easily understood, clear, concise way, so they should be enabled to write the response from the ground up
- Bid writers have studied the RFP in detail, and will have worked on similar RFPs. They will therefore know what kind of evidence or details will score highly, and so the SME’s efforts can be directed to getting these, rather than potentially wasting their efforts on finding irrelevant information
- Bid writers know how to write simply, reducing technical language to readable narrative which a (potentially non-technical) procurement professional will understand
- SMEs can be ‘too close’ to what they are writing about, including projecting personal feelings about aspects of the RFP or solution which are not relevant or conducive to the proposal receiving high marks from procurement teams
- It’s much faster to have a two-hour storyboard, for example, which gets the answer right first time, than for the SME to write a response and then spend many hours or days sending this back and forth to iron out errors or add appropriate detail
- SMEs have a day job outside the bid, and so having a bid writer take ownership of the end-to-end writing process frees them to continue their everyday work, improving productivity.
In practice, SMEs often benefit from simply having someone to consult, and help them work through their solution. In these cases, the storyboard sessions allow the bid writer to assist on an ad hoc basis by asking the right questions, pointing out where solutions don’t seem to make sense, and ensuring their solution is consistent with other parts of the bid. For example, if the SME for a catering response is unsure how many catering operational staff they will have in their team, the bid writer might check the organisation chart in the organisation response to give them an indication. Or, if the SME is unsure how to demonstrate their best-practice collaboration, the bid writer might propose some ideas, such as a schedule of meetings with the Authority’s Representative. While the SME ultimately provides the solution, the storyboard is not merely about collecting information, but involves constructive challenge and giving SMEs a chance to work through ideas with someone who has studied the project specification in depth. As a creative process it therefore brings out the best in both the SME and the writer.
Given that storyboarding plays such an important role in improving bids and producing them efficiently, Kittle writers put great care into how we prepare and deliver them. This means:
- We make sure our service is flexible. Different SMEs and clients have different needs – sometimes this means that a brainstorming session is more appropriate than a traditional storyboard, that further storyboards are necessary, or that we go through the bid line by line to discuss the finer details
- We understand that SMEs might be worried about being interviewed, especially on the first occasion. We therefore make sure to explain the process at the start and put them at ease. Our experience tells us that once SMEs have tried storyboarding, they seldom want to go back to writing bids themselves!
- We prepare our storyboard questions carefully to get all the information we need as efficiently as possible, with the right mix of overarching narrative and fine details, always keeping in mind the specific demands of the specification and RFP. This might mean starting with more general questions to get a hold of the big ideas, before narrowing down to small details and specific evidence.
As a bid writer, storyboards are one of my favourite parts of the role. They enable me to add real value for clients by assisting in making sure their solution meets the criteria and specification, and helping SMEs provide the most relevant, detailed information possible. Bids that involved a heavy storyboarding element are invariably the most polished and closely tailored to the RFP marking criteria. Kittle Group’s clients can rest assured they will continue to profit from the wide range of benefits that storyboarding brings.