Project vs. firm project experience

What can you use in a proposal? As it turns out, if you are careful with how you include the information, quite a bit.

I was recently asked about including a person’s experience with a previous firm in the experience and staffing sections of a proposal.

When an owner – whether a private sector firm or a public sector agency – looks for a team to perform a project, they have two questions that need to be answered:

  1. Do you understand my challenge and know how to respond to it?
  2. What else have you done that’s just like my project?

The first question is answered in your project understanding and approach section(s); the second is answered in your project experience and staffing sections.

The “experience” section. I have no problem using a person’s experience with a previous employer in the project experience section of a proposal if it is truly relevant to the project you are pursuing. But a lot depends on how the RFP asks for experience.

If the RFP asks you to detail “your” experience, you may use the experience of a proposed project staff member from a previous engagement. But be sure to state that Mr. or Ms. So-and-So performed this project in a previous engagement. I wouldn’t name the firm he/she worked for, especially since that firm might also be pursuing the project. But you do want to make sure that, in case the reader recognizes and knows something about the project, he/she doesn’t think you are lying about your experience. And I would put this experience after the firm’s relevant experience.

If the RFP asks you to detail “your firm’s” experience, the projects you describe must have been done under your firm’s banner. However, if your firm has acquired another firm, and also acquired that other firm’s project history, then the acquired firm’s relevant projects can be used. I would, however, indicate the name of the acquired firm under which the project was performed so the reader doesn’t think you’re stealing some other firm’s experience. Say something like, “Working as ‘XYZ Engineers’ (a recent acquisition), we completed this project, which included ….”

Where the RFP asked for “firm” experience but our proposed project manager had projects from a previous engagement that were particularly relevant to the current pursuit, I included brief descriptions of some of that person’s relevant projects at the end of the section, with an appropriate introduction explaining why these projects were being included.

The staffing section. The other part of this “answer” involves showing projects in a résumé that were completed while working for another firm. In my 39 years of participating in and leading proposal development for AEC firms, no client has ever singled out a project on someone’s résumé and asked for the name of the firm that wrote the person’s paycheck for that project.

A résumé is your personal professional history. It doesn’t matter what firm employed you during any project. And the projects on your résumé should be grouped by type and listed in the order of relevance to the current pursuit. If you are grouping projects by employer, you are scattering projects of a certain type all over the résumé and making it harder for a prospective client to find the most relevant projects.

If you only include projects performed with the current employer, you may be leaving out some of the person’s most relevant projects. For the same reason, I don’t list previous positions on a professional résumé. While important on a job search résumé, this information is not important in a proposal. And you don’t want to risk telling a prospective client that your project manager used to work for a firm that client’s selection manager hates.

The bottom line is that you should find a way to present any relevant experience your team members have within the guidelines of the RFP. After all, if you couldn’t use a person’s project experience from another firm, or the project history that became yours with the acquisition of another entity, no firm would ever be able to offer a new service.

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with the Siben Consult, LLC. He can be reached at 559.901.9596 or at siben@sibenconsult.com.

Posted in Archives | June 19th, 2017 by