There are a number of things any respectable consulting firm simply does not allow – because there is no good, reasonable, defensible, or Hail Mary excuse. For example, there are proposal deadlines or interviews with contract selection committees for big projects. As long as there is reasonable time to prepare a proposal there is no excuse to ask for an extension or plead forgiveness for an inept, disheveled pile of dung. Reasonable preparatory time for a straight forward project not requiring subs might be four weeks. A more substantial project in the $1-2 million range requiring subs should get six weeks to produce a proposal. A multi year project in the $10 million range might take eight weeks, requiring a couple weeks to jockey for partners – it’s like a game of poker where you show a card or two to these guys, don’t look at those guys, talk in the third person anonymously about still another group of guys, and his other brother Daryl.
There are skanky tactics any upstanding firm would never consider or even admit to having considered these several years after the fact, let alone talk about, let alone do even in their weakest moment of temptation and desperation.
As I’ve mentioned in this blog several times, government projects almost always, always, always, always, go to the low bidder, unless possibly one can afford full time lobbyists for mega projects and there are no bids – just a price.
Take for example a hypothetical program-evaluation bid. This would be for all new programs – an entirely new portfolio, which hasn’t even been developed yet. Evaluations start in parallel with program development regularly as utilities and regulatory agencies want instant feedback and guidance as programs are developed. Everyone – the buyers, the selection team, hiring consultant, bidders, the waterboy, janitor and the pizza guy all know the scope is entirely nebulous and that detailed strategies and budgets are therefore impossible to nail down, write, and put numbers to. Everyone knows it is a qualifications-based selection and detailed scope of work and budgets will be negotiated as implementation contractors and programs are rolled out.
The entire process goes as usual. The 500 page proposals are developed and submitted. A couple weeks pass and a few firms are invited to interview in person. This all goes down by the book; very rigid and detailed with each firm having 1.5 hours and a dozen surprise questions to answer on the spot. A couple weeks hence, team A gets the call and later an official letter of intent to award the contract.
Now suppose firm B protests they were the low bidder and should have won. All professionals in this business recognize a low-ball bid when they see one. Do you suppose a firm bidding a commissioning project for $50,000 is going to produce the same quality, thoroughness, and value to the customer as everyone else – whose bids all fell within a relatively tight range of $105,000 to $120,000? Hell no. This is like expecting the Honda store in Madison to sell a new Accord for $15,000 while the best the Milwaukee store can do is $32,000. Yes, it is.
Suppose in the discovery process (of learning everyone’s bids), firm B finds the selection committee noted in their discoverable interview notes that firm B couldn’t describe how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and couldn’t manage a two car parade. Any visitor who wouldn’t shovel handfuls of candy into their pockets from the receptionists dish when she is away from her desk would sheepishly drop the protest and respectfully ask for feedback on the PB&J and parade thing. But noooooo!
Next imagine firm B, which has a million years of combined experience like everyone else, argues the RFP didn’t clearly define what the interviews were for or how that would enter into the proposal-evaluation team’s decision. Mind you everyone has been through this same process a couple dozen times on other bids. And they go on and on about a bunch of other technicalities to which anyone with any experience in this business knows is complete, 100%, Grade A, prime select, B. S.
If this were to happen, it would be cool to conduct a trial by peers with a jury of consultants and utility representatives.
Prosecutor: Sir, please explain in detail how you determined your bid. You are under oath.
Defendant: It’s very complicated sir. I can’t possibly remember that.
Prosecutor: Just provide some sort of methodology, some sort of basis for developing your fees.
Defendant: It depends on what “just” means. If “just” means “simply”, that’s one thing. If “just” means “only”, that’s another thing.
Prosecutor: Your honor, the defendant is evading common sense examination and I respectfully request that he cease with the petty games.
Judge: Listen twit, answer the questions. I have an appointment to have my car waxed and buffed for my date this evening so let’s get on with it.
Defendant: Well, you see we took the average of the dozen other project portfolios we have evaluated and weighted each program within those by…[he rambles on like Cliff Clavin 20 for minutes as the jury starts nodding off in boredom]
Prosecutor: Stop! Stop. Stop. Notwithstanding the fact I’ve never heard or seen such a preposterous approach, did you do any sort of benchmarking? I remind you that you are under oath and I remind the jury that you claim to have provided these services for 30 years and 67 evaluations.
Defendant: What do you mean, benchmark?
Prosecutor: For the love of Pete, a rule of thumb, a ballpark guesstimate, such as what are your fees as a percent of the portfolio budget? You’ve been in this business for 30 years. You must have some reference point.
Defendant: None at all sir. It’s vastly more complicated than such simplistic metrics.
Prosecutor: How many interviews similar to the one you did for this project have you participated in over your career?
[Skipping some back and forth unsuccessful evasive tactics]
Defendant: Perhaps 30 interviews.
Prosecutor: You claim to not understand the purpose of these interviews and indeed make the argument that the interview results are irrelevant in this case. Then why did you go? Why did you attend the previous 30? Did those have specific quantifiable consequences or do you just waste your time for all of these interviews? If those were well defined, and this one was not, why waste your time on this one? Why no questions before the interview regarding its purpose?
It would be so easy to turn this into a Lieutenant Kaffee / Colonel Jessup battle royal real easy but I’ll let that one lie. The good guys win. The case makes headlines in all the major newspapers across the country.
This would make the vast majority of good people in our industry feel like puking. We are not in the proverbial used car industry where things are bought as is but facts like flood damage are withheld. “Gee, I didn’t know that” – and he can get away with it because it isn’t written down or captured on film anywhere.
Well, I burned up the entire column this week just as a lead in to the real scandal that should be getting headlines, but isn’t. I’ll deliver on that next week unless another sizzling blockbuster lands in my lap.