Forget my advice regarding proposals: Quantity trumps quality (at least when you are learning how to master the process)

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quantity vs quality
Herbert Liu’s piece about why quantity trumps quality.

I frequently advise (and quote others) that, when it comes to RFP responses, you should be selective in how many you pursue. Be sure to have a solid go/no-go matrix, and spend more time carefully preparing great proposals for current and potential clients who are likely to do business with your organization, rather than chase every possible opportunity that might remotely have a chance of success.

However, there is a counter-argument, especially if you are starting out and want to become great at producing proposals that really work. Here, the numbers game counts far more than your work quality or likeliness of success.  More numbers . . . more success, or, as Herbert Liu writes in Better Humans:

Quantity trumps quality

Let me elaborate: quantity should be a higher priority than quality, because it leads to higher quality. The shorter path to maximized quality is in maximized quantity, and executing on the feedback after each finished product. (Some may say that this is a less refined form of deliberate practise.)

In other words, if you repeat the effort, and not worry so much about results, you’ll more likely achieve the quality you seek.

He adds:

As David Bayles and Ted Orland write in Art and Fear:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Liu continues:

It’s easy to get caught up in analysis paralysis.

For example, I’d recently watched a Vice magazine clip with Kanye West, who says he would rather spend more time focusing on 14 tracks rather than spreading them across 40. But even in 2007, when the interview was conducted, West’s skills and vision for music production were already on a much higher level than the majority of people are with anything.

This observation leads to some interesting considerations in the AEC environment:

  • If you are a junior in an AEC organization, volunteering to review/craft/and assess — and draft — RFP proposals, you should not be afraid of, nor angry, about a massive workload. Your goal should be to churn out the proposals as fast as you can without worrying about their quality.
  • There may be an argument for setting up an intern or SWAT team to grind out proposals, where the objective measure of success is the number of proposals you can crank out within a set time, not their quality (or even their success rate).
  • Another way of looking at this might be to establish a farm team or “B Group” for all the proposals your go/no go analysis suggests are borderline. The goal of this team should be to produce technically compliant proposals set at deliberately high margins that you have little hope of winning as fast as possible with minimal use of corporate resources. (You certainly don’t want to submit “successful” proposals that are so unprofitable that you will lose money on the job if you win.) The sheer volume of effort will help your team develop skills and capacity — and the numbers game might well result in some surprising and highly profitable achievements.

I realize this advice is unconventional, and welcome your observations or contradictions.

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