Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Case for (Seemingly) Unfounded Optimism

A little over a week ago, a contract opportunity came out from a government agency.  For a whole host of reasons, we didn't think we had much of a shot (short response time, some ultra-specific requirements, experienced competition, etc).  Nonetheless, we did our due diligence, and we contacted probably 20 to 30 consultants.  Of that, only three thought they would meet all the criteria for which our client was asking.  And even then, one of them removed himself from contention just a few hours later.

So, I was down to two.  Both were experienced, solid candidates, with whom we had previously worked.  Eventually, we settled on one candidate to represent.  We'd been given a handful of days to generate a proposal and time was slowly fading away on us.

Even our candidate had the same reservations about the viability of this opportunity.  Nonetheless, like us, he decided to take a shot.

I knew - knew - that we weren't going to get this.  I also knew that our candidate could do the job and could meet all the requirements.  There was no internal conflict; these thoughts were completely reconcilable.  Unfortunately, the reconciliation was obvious.  The optimism could not win out.

The IT consulting market in Ottawa has been pretty dead for the past year.  We have seen fewer and fewer opportunities, and more and more consultants desperate for work.  Prices for consultants dropped rapidly, with senior consultants taking rates that intermediate consultants may have balked at in 2008.  Firms are slashing mark ups; no more is the much sought after 18% to 20% margin realistic.  Competition brought on by a buyer's market has brought everyone's expectations to Death Valley-like levels.  Optimism is in short supply.

Had the market been better, optimism would have been an abundant commodity.  The most public of public goods, it would have been for all and for as much as anyone desired.

Time ran out on me for this proposal.  I worked with our candidate.  We covered all the requirements and ensured that he was satisfactory.  We began building and formatting the proposal.  But time was scarce.  We'd been given so little time to respond that any snags were giant setbacks.  We approached the deadline and there was much more that I wanted to do to make the proposal perfect.  Don't get me wrong, it was fine; it was satisfactory.  I wanted it to be perfect.  (Did I mention the state of the market?)

Had the market been better, we'd have had no worry about this opportunity.  Upon seeing all the challenges and disincentives to respond, we would have disregarded this request, instead working on requests from other clients - requests that seemed viable.

Had the market been better, we never would have won this contract.  Score one for the contrarian case for optimism.

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