Leaning Pursuits: A Case for Change

-Meg Winch

This is the first blog of our new series on ways in which communication can positively impact organizations, projects, and team members. Each week, we’ll explore a new topic of interest based on our current work and issues of importance to our clients. We’ll also post training materials and information graphics that teams can use freely to support internal growth and development within their own organizations. As our first blog we decided to present our philosophy on marketing and business development in the A/E/C industry.

FACT: The average team spends about $3,500 a minute to present their qualifications and approach for a project to a selection committee. When you add up the business development, marketing, and team costs to get in front of the committee, this figure is certainly much higher for larger or more complicated pursuits. When we consider the cost of a pursuit this way, all of us in the design and construction community—both owners and design/construction professionals—should start thinking differently about how we work. Simply, it’s time to ‘Lean’ the pursuit process.


Owners need to engage more deeply in their projects at the planning and RFP stages. Anyone concerned about waste in our industry should be appalled at the unnecessary expense incurred by design and construction teams due to a poorly written or generic RFP. In my view, owners should take great care in understanding what they want and need for their project and should consider what they really need to know in a proposal—or from a presentation—in order to make an informed decision.

In addition, no owner who has done this level of preparation should ever shortlist more than three firms/teams for a project. And, any team shortlisted should have a fair opportunity to win the work. The cost, both economically and emotionally, of a failed pursuit is too high for the team not to make this early decision. Additionally, an ineffective or ‘rigged’ selection process hurts the organization in terms of team dedication and the ability to attract the best professionals to projects.

Design and Construction Firms:

Successful firms have detailed and well-developed Go/No Go processes that make sure they are pursuing work consistent with their values and that they can win. A wise client of mine, Carl Roehling, told me many years ago something that has transformed how I think about markets and marketing: “An RFP is NOT a subpoena.” In other words, sometimes the best thing a firm can do to enhance its hit rate and maximize the value of BD and marketing dollars is to say No.

Firms also need to invest in both standard operating procedures, and the training to support them, for proposals and presentations. If teams know what to expect, and what is expected of them, they can be more engaged. Successful firms expect full team engagement in the process, and hold people accountable to active participation. In my experience, teams that know what to do, how to do it, and that they will be expected to perform, are able to execute creative and effective proposals and presentations much more efficiently.

Team Members:

This price tag should wake every writer and speaker up enough to realize that boilerplate and standardized quals information doesn’t win work. At $3,500/minute in the interview, proposals need to set teams up for focused, impactful content, and interviews need to be designed to maximize retention and communicate clear, unequivocal value propositions. Speakers need to make each minute pay dividends in selector confidence and perceptions of team value. Anything less is waste.

Teams also don’t have time for weak speakers. A weak speaker can both waste time and cost a team the project. This means that design and construction professionals need to make an investment in improving their writing and presentation skills. The good news is that both are 100% learned behaviors; the bad news is that both involve hard work. Successful professionals who work on some of our community’s signature projects value great communication and take the steps to master a suite of effective communication skills.

In the past year, I’ve received my Lean certification through the AGC, and several team members and I are now working toward ‘black belt’ certification, so Lean is top-of-mind in much of our work at CRNW. As a result, we’re on a crusade to minimize waste in business development and marketing through transparent and well considered selection processes, competitive and qualified teams, and prepared and engaging speakers. Business development and marketing is the next frontier for continuous improvement in our industry, impacting clients and design/construction firms alike. By leaning the selection processes, proposals, and interviews across markets, clients and design/construction firms can add value to our industry, enabling investment in people and projects vs. unnecessary process.