This executive summary writing guide features tips on how to structure an executive summary for bids and tender responses by answering four simple questions.
The executive summary at the front of a bid is just as important as the rest of the document. To quote a previous Mia blog on the topic: “Tendering is just as much about differentiating yourself from your competitors, as it is demonstrating you can do the work. The best place to start is the executive summary.”
This executive summary writing guide will demonstrate how to structure an executive summary to bring out your capability, the reasons for choosing you, and the value you represent. I’ll also talk about how the executive summary sets the tone for your bid.
Structure the executive summary around four questions
I use the four questions all purchasing entities are trying to answer when they go to tender. In the Mia blog Government Bids: Answer Four Questions (With A Dash Of Secret Sauce) we raised the concept of the buying agency seeking to find the answer to only four questions in order to build a shortlist and choose a winner.
The four questions are:
- Does this supplier understand my department/agency/organisation’s needs?
- Will this supplier’s solution/service/product meet my needs?
- Will it work? (And, related to this, if they claim it works, what risks have they treated?)
- Will it return the value we expect?
The buyer is using the tender process to determine if there is enough evidence in the information provided in the response to conclude that the answer to each of these questions is “Yes”. If they assess it as a “No” or a “Maybe”, you fall down the list of prospective suppliers and possibly off the end of the shortlist.
The tender process uses many detailed questions about compliance, specification and track record to find this information. A supplier can easily get caught up in the detail of each response and fail to fully demonstrate why the answer should be “Yes” to each of these four buying questions. The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to make this crystal clear in the executive summary.
This also helps avoid the trap of limiting an executive summary to what it is you are going to do for the buying agency. This tends to look more like a solution overview, where you are trusting that your capability will be enough to win the day. And, yes, sometimes it works so it isn’t a bad way to start.
But here’s a better way, and one that serves my quote above in differentiating yourself from your competition. Remember who you are writing the executive summary for – it’s the Executive. And because it is an Executive you don’t have to explain everything in detail. It is a summary after all.
1. Demonstrate you understand their needs
After introductory remarks dive right into answering the four questions. Start at number one and proceed from there. In addressing the first question, to show you understand their needs have an attempt at describing the problem in both technical, business and political terms. Here is an example.
The Premier has told the Department it has to reduce costs over the next five years by 20%. The Secretary has asked each of the Deputies to enact cost saving across the board. The Deputy Secretary of Corporate Services has directed the CIO to establish a 50% reduction in cost of delivering IT services. As a result, the CIO is now procuring the provision of Managed IT Services from an external provider and has stipulated the preference to migrating the Department’s IT systems to a Digitised and Automated platform. The CIO has stated that preference will be given to providers who:
- Have a track record in government
- Have capability in IT-as-a-service
- Can take over the service with no net loss in employment of staff
- Can reduce costs over time
The timeframe for transitioning management of the IT services is six months while the digitisation and automation will require another 12 months after transition.
The consequences of not choosing a capable and reliable provider who can meet the deadline is delay in realising cost savings and benefits to the Department. For each month of delay, we have estimated the impact on benefits realisation is 3 to 5 points of cost reduction percentage. A six-month delay would remove the likelihood that this procurement will meet the CIO’s objectives with regard to the cost reduction targets set by and requested of the Department’s senior leadership team.
It is therefore critical to the needs of the Department that they choose wisely and focus on acting quickly.
If the CIO asked the assessors, “Does this supplier understand what is going on here?”, then the assessor would have to say “Yes”. A response like the one above will stand out as different and is probably correct in the most salient points. Even if the supplier is only half right, they will have set the tone for the importance and urgency for the procurement. Something any Executive reading the summary would appreciate.
2. Summarise how your solution meets their needs
Now for the second question. This is about the solution and we can lay out what it is we are going to do for them here. Keep it high level and again have a balance between technical, business and political aspects of the solution. Here is an example using the above situation as the lead in.
We propose to meet the needs of the Department in three steps. They are:
- Over the first six months migrate your IT services to a platform that is a hybrid of your current infrastructure and our IT-as-a-Service platform.
- The next phase will be transformative in moving the services you currently provide into a catalogue of automated and digitised services.
- The final phase will be the new steady state which is agnostic to and quick to deploy, the brands and types of new services your stakeholders demand.
The first step meets all the required IT specifications. Our methodology is compliant with your terms and conditions and will provide the basis for a safe and effective migration to the new hybrid platform. By the end of the first step the Department will have an accurate baseline for the current cost of IT service delivery.
Through digitisation and automation, the second step focuses on the economies of scale that come from IT-as-a-Service platforms. With the baseline established in the first step, automation will begin to reduce the costs of service delivery over time.
The final step takes the gains made in the first two steps and as demand for new services increases, the Department’s IT platform will be able to service this demand without the impost against the budget. In addition, the Department’s IT platform will be able to respond with solutions that quickly meet the stakeholder’s needs in the form that the stakeholder has demanded. This will build effective collaborations between the Department’s IT team and a broader range of stakeholders and avoid costs associated with compromised and disrupted projects.
Now we are building momentum and the Executive reading the summary may not understand all the technical statements, but they will certainly get the business and political possibilities being mentioned. They will know enough of the technical buzz words to have an understanding that the solution is heading in the right business direction using current or new levels of technology.
I am using information technology here in my examples. The same type of statements can be made for everything from hospitality, construction, medical, and many other industries. There is always a technical, business and political balance to your solution that needs to be laid out for the Executive to think, “hey, I want one of those.”
3. Demonstrate you’ve addressed the risks
The next thought the Executive will have is, “will it work?” And so onto question number three. This is all about risk.
You have options here. You can describe the risks that you see in what the buying agency is attempting to do. And, of course, follow each up with your treatments for these risks and how they are removed or minimised. Or you can discuss how your solution has done the same thing for others and present a synopsis of the project and its benefits to your other clients. Or both.
Again, describe each risk, balancing the technical, business and political aspects of how you make your solution work.
4. Demonstrate the value of your solution
Onto the last question, question number four, which is all about the value of your solution. In government speak this is all about ‘benefits realisation’. Much of the justification for obtaining the budget and permission to go to market was based on a set of benefits that are expected to be realised by the end of the project. The tender document will have outlined the background and articulated what is important about the project. If they have not clearly articulated the benefits they are hoping to achieve, then you may have to do a bit of digging.
One way is to take the problem statement which the procurement hopes to solve, and think of what benefits stand to arise. The examples above focus on reduction in costs over time, which is a typical benefit to be realised. And there are others. Here is an example of taking a problem statement and determining a measure of the benefits that could be realised.
Problem Statement: Congestion in commuter traffic moving west to east is disrupting the flow of freight moving from the airport to the southern industrial regions.
Solving this problem is the subject of a major civil construction procurement and project which we will call the North-South Link.
Business Benefit: The North-South Link will separate the impact of the west-east flow of traffic on the north-south flow and increase the flow of freight from the airport to the southern industrial regions.
Business Benefit Measure 1: The increase in the number of tonnes of freight per day travelling from airport to end of North-South Link.
Business Benefit Measure 2: The reduction of travel time from the airport to the end of the North-South Link
Political Benefit: The State’s gross domestic product will increase.
Political Benefit Measure 1: Industrial expansion in the south with 15 new businesses basing their operations in this state in this financial year
Political Benefit Measure 2: West to east commuters save on average 15 minutes in cross-town travel – a 30% reduction in time, fuel and environmental impact per commuter.
The executive summary need not go into detail about the facts and figures behind the benefits; however, there needs to be enough for the Executive reading the summary to see that this organisation not only understands what is going on, has the means to fix it (and safely), they also know how to drive the benefits looked for. You want the Executive to think: “These guys are worth another look. Put them on the short list.”
How to wrap it up
The end to the executive summary needs to capture the main points of your answers to these four questions. In summary…
Question 1: Reiterate your understanding of their needs, and encapsulate and describe the compelling reason for the Executive to act now.
Question 2: Reiterate your solution has business, technical and political value that is unique to your proposal. This part is all about differentiation.
Question 3: Reiterate your understanding that the risks of it not working are real, and how they will be handled. Refer to your experience with other clients – “Here’s what we did for them and here are the benefits they enjoy.”
And speaking of benefits…
Question 4: Reiterate the benefits that will be realised when your solution is selected.
Having summarised these points, now sign off with a courteous sentiment; something like how you are looking forward to discussing the proposal with them further. An appropriate sign off of ‘sincerely’ or something similar, along with your signature puts a personal touch to the executive summary. It provides the cue for the Executive reading the summary to eyeball the Executive who wrote it (perhaps on LinkedIn), and find out more.
Another example: I have worked with a number of tenderers who have used this format and all have been shortlisted, and most have been successfully chosen as the preferred supplier. So, will it work? Yes. It already has. If you don’t believe me, then ask them.
See how it works? Good luck.
Also see Deirdre’s earlier post: Why a tender executive summary is important (and how to write one)