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How to Evaluate a Complex Set of Proposals

We all wake up in the morning, go to work to produce value, and to be fairly compensated for the value we produce.   



Deciding on the best value proposition can be simple for commoditized goods or services. Commodities are technically identical and suppliers normally compete on speed, price, and delivery reliability. While these qualities are always important, working in the land of ‘Advanced Technologies’ creates additional challenges.  When a technology is new, sophisticated, or not well defined, choosing the optimal vendor proposal becomes a more complex question. There are many different trade-offs between each of the vendor’s value propositions. Some of the evaluation criteria are simple and straightforward such as the price or delivery date. Other evaluation criteria are more art than

science to understand, based on a vendor’s reputation and other professional signals. How do you evaluate a vendor’s capability of delivering on the proposed date? Or if the vendor’s level technical support will be adequate to ensure system integration for the project’s success? 

Evaluate a Complex Value Proposition The ideal place to start is to create a score sheet that lists important factors and helps evaluate each proposal based on those factors. Below is an example of a decision making spreadsheet tool.


The criteria and the scores are customizable as long as they are consistent across all vendors and the total scores have a consistent basis. Weight certain criteria to be more important by giving more points in that category. Using a chart like this gives you the ability to quantify factors that are more abstract in nature. 

From here, you can have others fill out the same chart and compare, do more research into your top vendors, or figure out which factors you know the least about and ask more questions. A system like this helps guide decisions by visualizing the choices in a concrete fashion, cuts down on emotional decision making, and helps your organization move forward faster. 


Create a Coalition

As an engineering firm, our vision of the corporate world was backward from our vision today. We saw technical decisions as more important than commercial decisions. Today we see all technical decisions being governed by commercial decisions and commercial decisions being governed by the conservation of personal political and organization capital. On a happy day, in a well-run organization, these forces will be in alignment and technical decision making will be straightforward, alas the world often deviates from ideality. 

In organizations where there are strong fears of making a wrong decision, the decision-making process slows down significantly. Often there is liability dispersion across a group of stakeholders. If the results decision’s turn-out poorly then no one becomes directly accountable because it was the group’s decision. Worse yet, if this committee does not have a chairman who calls time on the discussion and brings the decision to a vote these meetings can drag on endlessly only to be repeated next week or month. For particularly hard decisions, some organizations stall for as long as possible and then panic. Organizational behavior teaches that a more productive method of decision making is to formulate a potential solution before ever coming to the meeting. Pre-meeting thought evaluation, resource evaluation, and consequence forecasting are essential to creating organizational alignment and stakeholder value. Proposing complex solutions in front of a potentially hostile group of company brass takes a good dose of courage and is a risk to an employee’s personal brand management. Selling an idea is more important than picking an idea. In some risk-adverse organizations, it may be necessary to corner each of the stakeholders in an elevator and convince them individually that your idea is the best idea for them. The heart of good engineering is

pressure testing an idea to see if it will fall apart under stress. If the idea holds up under the ‘worst-case-scenario’ then the idea should be blessed and implemented.   


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