Some organisations were already well equipped prior to COVID-19 to have their entire workforce work remotely with full access to all their usual systems.
For many others however, it’s a brave new world, with a steep learning curve along with technology teething problems. These problems can become especially apparent when it comes to managing a bid remotely.
Team members who never previously had to access or edit bid drafts are now getting directly involved and wrestling with file name conventions, version control and the dreaded Microsoft Office Track Changes (mark-up tools).
Frustrated and confused when accessing bid files and documents remotely? Read on for some practical tips
#1 tip for effective bid file and document management
Whatever your ‘new normal’ remote set up our number 1 tip for effective bid file and document management is to replicate your normal housekeeping and file protocols as closely as possible.
That’s assuming you already have effective bid file and document habits in place, that you can share and walk first time users through.
If you don’t, now is a great time to get those bid document management principles and practices agreed, documented and most importantly followed by your team.
Read on to learn some of JMA’s most effective bid file and document management tips:
JMA’s effective bid file and document management tips
Most of these tips will hopefully be common sense and already operational within your team, if so consider these tips a refresher:
No bid drafts or files should be saved locally on laptops, PCs or personal hard drives. Apart from being a data security nightmare, should anything happen to that team member or a catastrophic hardware failure occur there is often no way to retrieve this material.
If you sense team members lack confidence, know-how or are simply sloppy around saving and accessing bid documents arrange for IT to provide some training and check in to see that files are where they should be.
Use logical bid management folder hierarchies on your network with no more folders than needed. That is, avoid creating too many sub-folders within folders – too many folders deep can make navigating a shared network, drive or SharePoint a confusing space to work in.
Pro tip: Create a shortcut from your desktop to your current bid folders – this can really save time rather than constantly navigating long file paths.
A further reason to be concise, in File Explorer Microsoft also has a hard limit of 255 characters (including spaces) for file names and paths which is something to watch for when creating ‘zip’ files. Too long a name and it can be difficult for recipients to ‘extract’ zipped files.
SAMPLE SIMPLE BID FOLDER STRUCTURE
A simple and logical bid folder structure might be:
Pro tip: If you do lots of bids it can be helpful to have a master folder structure template that can be ‘copied’ and adapted for each new bid, that way over time any one looking at various past bids can quickly access ‘Finals’ or a copy of the original ‘RFT’ with minimum fuss.
Name files logically and consistently, make sure all team members know the ‘protocol’ and use it. A consistent and easy to understand naming approach will ensure maximum compliance and avoid running risks with different ‘versions’ on the go simultaneously.
Ideally the name of the file will be simple and meaningful to a human to make it very obvious at ‘a glance’ what it is that is being looked at:
ABC Co bid to XYZ – Section 1 – DRAFT 3 for ABB review – 20 05 2020
Even if you don’t have document management software that automatically generates unique identifiers for documents or an audit trail you can usually see and sort by ‘date’ and by ‘time’ in Microsoft Office file explorer which is the most recent ‘version’ of a document.
Tight version control to avoid version confusion
One of the greatest bid bugbears when working with bid files and documents is managing lots of complex moving parts that are all at different points in their development being added to by multiple contributors. Some simple boundaries around who is accessing what and when can really help head off ‘confusion’.
With time of the essence in deadline driven bid management poor version control can lead to confusion, angst and chaos.
In terms of controlling who has access to edit documents if you do have document management software that ensures documents are ‘locked’ once a user is accessing them great! Make sure it’s active and that everyone involved in editing bid content knows how it works. Document management software isn’t always foolproof but it does reduce the risk of people taking copies and creating a conflicting draft or going over your advanced draft.
If your system allows it you might also consider if you need to restrict access to certain folders or files, for example those containing commercially sensitive pricing data.
However, if your set up is more basic and there’s not an easy way to ‘check out’ a document, or create an audit trail there needs to be clarity around who is working on which section to avoid version control or double up issues.
A quick email to others who may need to work on that section can alert them that you ‘have control’ of the document for now. Or for more complex bids if you are working from a master project plan or run sheet you can note who is currently accountable for editing various sections.
As we flagged above another simple technique that can help is to agree and adopt consistent file naming protocols to preserve version control you can be sure ‘which’ version you are reviewing.
Simple options for filenames to indicate a ‘new’ version include adding V1, V2 etc to the end of the file name, or the time as well as the date which can be more meaningful, e.g. Section 1 – DRAFT 12 noon 23 Apr 2020.
Again, this makes it easy to see at a glance which version you are accessing at any point in time.
As with any critical business document it’s a good idea to save as you go – which means frequently. ‘Autosave’ is automatically enabled in Office 365 which means your work is being saved every few seconds in the background. If you are on an older version of Microsoft Office make sure you enable autosaving every 5 minutes or so.
Also with Office 365 if you are used to using “Save As” a lot you may have noticed in newer Microsoft products this feature is a little different. Many people are used to working on a file, and then using File > Save As to keep the changes in the copy or ‘new version’ and not the original. However, when AutoSave is on, your changes are continually saved to the original. So we recommend using File > Save a Copy before you make any changes if you want your changes to apply to the copy or ‘new version’ and not the original draft.
The best way to manage edits and feedback when managing a bid remotely is by using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature. Note other programs in the suite, PowerPoint and Excel do not have Track Changes beyond the option to add Comments.
If your bid is in the early stages of development and you anticipate there’ll be a some back and forth with multiple contributors consider developing the text heavy sections in a plain Word document to allow for Track Changes while you develop the ultimate format separately ready for advanced text to be dropped in.
Pro tip: If the desktop publishing isn’t part of the review being conducted we recommend turning off the ‘formatting’ in Track Changes Options which should reduce the amount of ‘bubbles’ generated in the marked up version.
Finally, if you have team members (for instance subject matter experts) really struggling to cope with Track Changes – neat and legible hand-written edits are often the best way, especially when you’re receiving input from multiple sources. Ideally if they have access to a scanner they can then scan their paper edits through, or alternatively in a pinch get them to take photos on their smartphone of the relevant sections and email through.
In time sensitive bid situations don’t confuse “high tech” electronic edits with efficiency if they are really struggling!
We hope these practical tips on effective bid file and document management have been a useful refresher around some of the best practice bid document management practices your team should engage in whether managing a bid remotely, or in person together.
If all of this is second nature to you and your team the next level up from basic bid document housekeeping is a shared bid content library which we’ll discuss in our fifth and final instalment of How to manage a bid remotely.
If you or your team need a hand on a tender, bid or proposal, why not get in touch, we can help.
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