Clear thinking

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Cooking up meatball charts

 May 23, 2017
by Paul Heron

Many RFP and RFQ responses today are page limited. You can supplement a page-limited narrative with appendices—but it’s essential to include a summary in the narrative. That’s because most evaluators either don’t read appendices—or read them only when choosing among the last few contenders.

So your challenge is to find ways to summarize and showcase your strongest points while using as little precious narrative space as possible.

Enter the meatball chart

One solution is a matrix with symbols indicating values where rows and columns intersect. We’re guessing here, but “meatball” likely comes from the popularity of dots Ÿ as the symbol of choice.

In fact, you’re not limited to one symbol. As in the example above, you can use various symbols to represent different results—but we recommend a limit of 4 to avoid confusing readers.

Typical uses

This chart type is ideal for summarizing proposed team competencies and relevant experience. But they have other uses too.

Proposed team: You may have an appendix of well-organized team member resumes, but a meatball chart lets you provide a compact summary. The choice of axis is up to you—one is to use rows for team members and columns for capabilities and credentials as in the example above. You can also use a meatball chart to show how many key individuals in a joint venture project have worked together in the past.

Relevant experience: Most bid requests ask for the bidder’s experience with similar projects. In this case put past projects on one axis and key success criteria on the other.

Other: We have seen meatball charts used to compare features when explaining solution tradeoffs or pricing models and to ghost other procurement options. Keep this format in mind whenever you need to make comparisons or show relationships among multiple data points.

Plan before building

It’s not easy to build a meatball chart that tells the story without confusing the reader. You need to consider compliance requirements, client issues and the content. It's easy to begin building a chart, only to find a different presentation is needed. We find a brainstorming session is a good place to start. Sketch out options until you find one everyone agrees is clear, and then flesh it out and circulate for feedback.

Include a selling caption

A meatball chart is like any other visual; it needs a selling caption to be complete. Give your caption a figure number, results-focused headline and a benefits-oriented statement that delivers the "What's in it for me?" message you want evaluators to take away.

Busy evaluators will thank you

Meatball chart construction isn’t easy. It takes a lot of thought—and often a few false starts—to find an elegant way to present your information. But both detail-oriented evaluators and senior reviewers will appreciate any effort you make to aggregate information.

And having evaluators appreciate you is always good.


Challenged to present your best case in a critical bid proposal?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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