The debrief: Can you read between the lines?

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debrief feedback
Certainly, you should request debriefs whether you win or lose jobs . . . just be realistic about what you can learn from them.

Matt Handal has written recently about the debriefing process — the opportunity you have after a competition (generally for public-sector work) has concluded for you to learn the basis of the selection board’s decisions.  This information can help you understand why you performed well (or poorly) in the competition, especially relevant in the US for architectural and engineering professionals and anywhere where Qualification-Based Selection (QBS) rather than low bid wins the job criteria apply.

Of course, as Handal indicates, debriefs themselves don’t necessary lead to 100 per cent truthful perspectives.

You must be realistic when it comes to how much of the story you expect to get from debriefs. Nobody in their right mind is going to tell you they already had a firm in mind and the procurement was just a formality.

Nobody is going to tell you that they chose you, but then it went up to the Mayor’s office and the contract was given to another firm.

One top of that, there are two psychological principles working against clients wanting to give you the full story.

First, once we decide, we begin to feel stronger about that decision. If you go to the racetrack and place twenty dollars on a horse, as soon as that bet is made…you’ll feel strongly that it was the right decision. The same concept applies to a selection committee choosing a firm for a contract.

Second, it’s hard for us to articulate, or even know, what our decisions are truly based on. We might not understand the psychology of why we choose that brand of peanut butter when we were in the grocery store. And in the instances when we do understand our decisions, it’s sometimes hard for us to be honest with ourselves. And it’s even harder for us to verbalize that to others.

That said, Handal suggests the key to effective debrief analysis is not a single debrief. You want to gather data from several different projects, including the ones where you were successful. If you see repeated themes or specific points raised by the debriefers, you may gain insights into your strengths and weaknesses.

It certainly makes sense to ask for a debrief if one is available. Just be realistic. You won’t win the job you have lost, and the information will be valuable, but the debrief itself will only provide clues, not the entire answer, about why you failed.

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