DIY Project Descriptions: Part One

By Lindsay Diven, CPSM posted 10-14-2014 10:36


Sleuthing Out the Project Information

It's hours before the proposal is due and your Principal wants to use a project description from a project you either just won or have never heard of.

You are under the gun to meet the proposal deadline, but need to please your boss. The Project Manager for this past project is not available. Where are you going to find this description?

Whether you are under the pressure of a proposal deadline or just gathering qualifications for a client meeting, we have all been there. We like to think that we have processes in place for capturing new project information and updating that information throughout the life of the project.

However, in the real world, proposals take priority over any other task. So those processes get ignored until we actually need to use the data.

How do you create a project description on demand when the project manager may not be available?

In this post, I am going to share some places I look to find the relevant project information. In the second part of this series, I will provide you with the very useful Issues-Solutions-Benefits (ISB) Project Description Framework.

Review the Scope of Services in the Original RFP

Find the original RFP or RFQ materials that were used to get the project in the first place.

There is generally a section that describes the scope of services.

This is a good place to gather the project basics such as location, general facility or infrastructure, general square footage, acreage or mileage.

You might even get why the project is being procured in the first place (aka the client’s issues), which is great fodder for the marketing project description.

Most RFPs are very vague and the scopes of services often change by the time the contract is executed but this will give you the basics, which is especially helpful if you were not the marketing coordinator involved in the original proposal.

Read the Proposal

This seems obvious but sometimes we overlook this fact.

The proposal can provide you with your internal team structure, sub-consultants, proposed benefits, approach and maybe even the schedule and design fee.

In the project understanding section, you can gather the basics of the project as well as some potential client issues/challenges, your firm’s proposed solutions, and if it was a great proposal, even some benefits to the proposed solutions.

Just a word of caution:
Some aspects of the proposal may have changed during the negotiation and contract execution.

Review the Scope of Services in the Final Contract

For some reason, I have found that once the contract gets in the hands of the accounting and project management departments - they are a little harder to find.

However, if you can find the contract and get your eyes on the Scope of Services and teaming sections, you will have more than enough information to write the project features section.

It will give you insight on which portions of the scope will be performed by your firm as well as which portions will be performed by sub-consultants and maybe even the names of the other firms involved. It will also give you the initial design fee and schedule.

This is great information to gather not only for your project description, but also for the first project cut sheet. Else, you can input the information into your CRM database.

Ask Other Technical Staff

Chances are several other members of your firm are involved in the project. Sending them a brief email with very specific questions that are easy to answer will greatly speed up your response rate.

DO NOT send them a blank, open ended request for information.

With little to no guidance, it will be too complicated for them to stop their work to respond to you. Below is a sample of message that might get a quicker response. Feel free to copy/paste/adapt this to your needs.

Dear Mr. Mechanical Engineer,

I understand you are the lead mechanical engineer for [insert project name]. It is quite an impressive project and we would like to include this experience in the [insert proposal name]. Can you take 5 minutes and answer these questions?

1. What is the mechanical design system you are using for this project? Is there anything special or new about this system?

2. What are the expected energy savings? Is it designed to LEED standards?

3. Did you have to consider any special issues in your design (environmental, codes, lightning protection, seismic, etc.)?

4. Is the project a retrofit? If so, how did you refit the existing equipment capabilities?

5. Can you describe the equipment (chiller tonnage, number of chillers, boilers, PSI, cooling towers, etc.)?

To make it easier for you, just answer each question in short phrases or sentences and I will write it into a formal description. Please get back to me by EOD, tomorrow, [insert date].

Thank you for your help! Lindsay

Obviously, you will have to adjust some of the questions depending on what type of project and discipline you are sending this to. The idea is to make it simple and quick for them to respond with the information you need.

I found that answering questions is the best way to get some of the technical information. It does take more effort on your part to write the description, but usually we have to edit most engineers' writing anyway!

I suggest keeping it to not more than 4-6 questions that are very specific. You may even be able to take the questions directly from your current RFP. Avoid sending open-ended questions that focus on the marketing copy.

Examples of questions that you SHOULD NOT send are:
  • What innovative concept design are you pursuing on this project?
  • Describe the project.
  • What are the client's challenges and how do we best meet them?
Since these questions not specific to the aspects of the project that engineer may be tasked with, he/she will just put off answering them or give you something completely irrelevant to what you are looking for.

Note the Common Elements

After quickly reading through these documents, note the common elements that will start forming the project description:
  • What challenge is the client facing – Why they are undergoing the project
  • Solutions that your firm will provide – Your scope of services and/or innovative strategies
  • Benefits that your solutions provide the client – These are often found in the proposals
  • Project features – size, cost, delivery method, services provided, project team, etc.
Next week, in Part Two of DIY Project Descriptions, we will talk about writing your project description using the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework.

Before we get to that, I want to hear from YOU. Where are some places you have found project information to use in proposals or qualifications package? Was there a certain person you went to for a brain dump? Where did you sleuth out the project information?

Share your detective skills in the comments below.



05-04-2018 16:32


Thank you for commenting on my blog post. I completely agree. In parts 2 & 3 of this series, I talk about the Issues-Solutions-Benefits framework that I have used in the past. Take a look and let me know if this is more of what you were looking for. 

Part II-

Part III-



05-04-2018 16:06

This is really useful info about the "how" aspect of project descriptions. I'd love to see more about the "why." I think that a project description (PD) succeeds if it convinces the potential client that the firm writing the proposal can make her or him look good. Specifically, look good to their boss. The PD has to reassure the reader that the project will be in good hands because the firm has succeeded at similar work before. So I think that a PD that's full of details about the project and its scope of work are of limited effectiveness.

The PD needs to be a story, with a beginning (the original problem/situation), middle (what was done) and end (the outcome or result for the client). It helps if the story is written in an engaging and interesting manner, which is where marketers can add some value.  Do you agree?