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David Beats Goliath: How to Win that Big Job Against All Odds

Each one of us has been in a Go/No Go meeting and the discussion against pursing the project turns into "they are bigger than us" or "they have more experience than us".  For many of our firms, this is a regular occurrence but Howard J. Wolff of Full-Height Advice spoke on this very topic and provided action steps to beat Goliath.

Wolff provided case studies that taught these five lessons:

  1. Know why you are going for the project
  2. Get to know your clients hot buttons
  3. Assess the competition, differentiate yourself
  4. Have faith that you are going to win it
  5. There isn't one "thing" that will win

LessonsThe first discussion was about the novel "How the Weak Win Wars". This $100.00, 279 page book deciphers how under sized and underfunded armies have the ability to conquer the large powerful armies. When the army acknowledges their weakness and uses an unconventional strategy they had a 64% chance of success. How many of us wouldn't take a 64% chance of being selected? I know I would. 

Next up was the "Local Boy". This is the story of a hometown architecture company that wanted to pursue a project in their home town that had drawn the attention of many national firms. Their biggest issue was not the size of their firm but their lack of experience with the type of structure. Somehow they got shortlisted and had to prepare a presentation. The local architect teamed with very experienced, top notch firms and in the presentation he acknowledged his firms weakness (experience), complimented his teams strengths,  downplayed his role, explained how the role of his team was the most important and confirmed that they were going to play the major role. He build the trust of the panel because he was honest and he proved that he had the best team for the design. The "Local Boy" won.

A second design firm lacked the man power to go up against a national firm with dozens of designers but they knew they could provide a great design. The main designer had established a relationship with the owner of the project prior to the project being on the radar but knew that it wouldn't be enough. This firm was left with a few options, pursue the project and tie up all resources, not pursue the project and ultimately regret it or change the game. They were able to influence the selection process by suggesting a three day design competition that involved the community. This eliminated the advantage of a large design staff and only tied up the small firms staff for three days. They knew they had a great design and the community agreed. Relationships may get you in the door with a firm but solutions are what win. Don't be afraid to change the rules.

An additional example of changing the rules came when a firm realized that the dollar figures were higher than the anticipated budget of the owner.  Instead of dropping the proposal, they proposed a second option that included phasing. Each phase could be completed on its own and built as the budget allowed. Knowing that the engineers on the panel wouldn't care for this idea they spoke to the planners. The planners liked the idea and awarded the project.

Big firms tend to make mistakes. They don't try as hard and don't feel each job is as important. Often they think that it is "their job to lose". They don't put in the effort.

Follow the steps and don't forget:

"It's alright to be Goliath, but always act like David" Philip Knight, Nike Co Founder

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