mastering the art of writing project proposal in digital age

Writing the megaproject proposal is akin to writing CV. The proposal is your only platform to communicate your expertise, "knowledge" leadership, breadth of your services and capabilities. It is a persuasive document.  

The difference is that googling "writing megaproject proposal" produces zero results. And not without reason. What makes this task is next to impossible is an information volume constraint – your proposal shall be digested (read, understood, categorized, analyzed) by the evaluation team within 2 - 3 weeks.

Information volume for the megaproject needed to design it and estimate its cost is measured in hundreds of Megabytes. For example, the documentation package for Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) and Front End Management (FEM) of 440 MLD desalination plant offered by for free download is 970 Mbyte.

So the project proposal shall be an executive summary of the FEED and FEM packages. Then it is used for compiling the formal executive summary of the project.

It reminds me double zipping of files. The big difference is that the first is always undergone with the loss of the information consistency, traceability and granularity. Zipping breaks cause-and-effect logic. Patched with assumptions and promises, it creates a sense of incompleteness – the opposite of persuasiveness sought after.

Every EPC contractor has its own proprietary "algorithm" of double-zipping – what information pieces shall be trimmed and hidden or deliberately shown (fake it till you make it) to distract the customers' attention.  

Today customers are much more knowledgeable and quicker at learning, thanks to internet. So to produce the winning proposal, the EPC contractor should know the audience – who is on the evaluation team, and move attention to core domains of the team experts.

Transparency level of your technical proposal is huge differentiator. Transparency is a game. Low level impairs the proposal quality. Too high level creates a quick sense of "thought" leadership, but inevitably leads to a loss of the corporate know-how. On the other hand, it gives the customer clues how to downgrade other proposals.

"Technical" implies broad range of subjects from design, to engineering & construction, to performance & maintenance, and to execution & validation. They are touched in my post "How to win projects and influence clients". The problem is how to select a set of key points "truly" representing the holistic picture. It reminds me the parable of the blind men and an elephant.

hierarchy of project proposal

Inherent information incompleteness, constantly evolving customers' audience and the transparency game turn writing project proposal into Art.

How to master this Art in Digital Age fostering hyper-connectivity and virtual reality?

True north is the Digital-Twin-based model of the project engineering. It keeps the information structure and cause-and-effect links unbroken. Two biggest components of this model - the FEED and FEM packages - shall be paperless and fully accessible via internet.

To preserve the information traceability (the tech driver of the activities transparency), all the data in the project proposal shall be web-linked to the information sources contained in FEED and FEM. By the same token, the executive summary links shall lead to the project proposal.

This model poses a question - How to maintain all the links & data updated and synchronized between all the pieces of the puzzle - executive summary, project proposal, FEED and FEM? Can a human being (like the proposal engineer) do this?

The model described does not need the human intervention any more. It produces summaries from big pools of information like FEED and FEM by using Text and Data Categorizers. Text categorizers are a workhorse of multiple news sites today. They are fed with information automatically fetched from other sites, selected and "zipped" by categorizers. Surprised?

Unlike text categorizers pruning the second-in-importance information, data categorizers not only select, but add new data. They produce the project metrics. It builds up the client's trust without the know-how leak. It is a winning formula.

The hard-to-accept truth about categorizers is that with time they become more skilled and articulate than a man.  Categorizers replace "writing" for "auto-compiling" and turn the Art of writing project proposals into the Artificial Intelligence domain.

The described model lies at the core and drives the development of the platform. Its current writing skills may be judged by this technical proposal for the 440 MLD desalination plant. It contains 177 pages. (Upon registration you may view all the project proposals online.)

Actually, it is Plant Technical Specification. I deliberately use the "Plant" word instead of conventional "Project" as the latter is ambiguous: it has broader scope and includes design selection and optimization, project execution, handover, etc. The plant data are easy-to-validate as they are quantitative in nature.

Plant is a specific case of Systems Engineering, so it defines the proposal format consisting of 7 general sections.

  1. Selected processes narrative and functional requirements
  2. How isolated processes are turned into subsystems
  3. Subsystems scoping and subcontracting rationale
  4. Technical specification of subsystems and original equipment (OE)
  5. OE manufactures prequalification and/or pre-selection
  6. Functionality validation (direct and indirect)
  7. Non-tangible assets scoping (plant documentation hand-over & knowledge sharing)

Project Specification adds new dimensions to the proposal, hard to quantify and score. All of them are risk sources. (They are touched upon in my post "Handling Megaproject Risks".)

  1. Quality and time management
  2. Resources expertise and adequacy
  3. Past performance and experiences
  4. Transparency of risk-mitigation indicators

The Go/No-Go check of the proposal maturity is whether a bidder submitted the purchase orders time schedule (Gantt chart) or not. Procurement is the biggest risk source.

The second-in-importance time schedules are for work packages and submittals packages. The customer should know what she/he pays money for - the contents of each package and when it is planned to hand over.  

Current practice is to limit the packages count to 3 corresponding to 30, 60 and 90% of the project completion. The above proposal sample, for instance, lists the contents and submittal dates for each package. The user may easily change the number of packages.  With advent of Digital Twins this practice will be replaced with online submittals.

The winning approach to Quality Management is to provide solid dates and metrics of the work to be executed, beside Inspections and Tests Plan. Example is the inspections and tests metrics of the original equipment, piping and vessels. The customer will definitely be impressed with the total number of check points to be documented. For grass-root desalination plants of 20 – 200 MLD it is just stunning – from 400 to 1200.

To enhance the impression, add the metrics of commissioning tests and certifications. For example, includes only two figures (440 MLD plant). They betray the grandiosity of the work scope.

Total number of checks and tests to be executed – 210509.
Total number of assembly and calibration certificates to be signed off and filled – 10240.

These figures suggest that the impact of commissioning on the project schedule and the project budget is heavy; its mitigation recipes are part of the plant contractor know-how. This contractor may be you.

Selected by approach for Time Management summary is to provide the workloads and activities lists for each staff member. The customer entitled to demand that no substitution of personnel be tolerated once the contract has been awarded except in extreme circumstances and with the written approval of the customer. turns "Qualifications of Key Personnel" into the proposal strong point. It automatically generates CVs demonstrating qualifications in areas relevant to the scope of services from previously executed projects. It records, tracks and analyzes each and every move and touch of the user. can even assess the personnel's ability to produce and implement non-typical solutions – to innovate.

As maintains the database of the previously executed projects accessible online, the customer may easily check the contractor's past performance and experiences (including outstanding issues tracking and the projects changes)

The customer will definitely appreciate it if you explain the nuts and bolts of your approach to the risks identification, quantification and mitigation (instead of vague past performances and experience). automatically quantifies risks based on Project Complexity, Engineering Design Maturity, Costs Estimation Platform Maturity, and others. Details are described in "Handling megaproject risks".

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