Sundt Corp. Vice President Teri L. Jones says the owner's selection process is key. "How many steps are involved? Is the selection transparent? How are price and qualifications weighted?" she says. "We track win rates by markets, clients, project size, delivery method and account manager and weigh those against the cost of pursuit. We have passed on more opportunities in the past 12 months than in the past 24."

In its go-no-go process, DPR Construction relies on its "red-zone calculator," which includes a potential pursuit's objective measures, such as profit, and subjective impacts on the firm's workforce and reputation, says regional manager Mike Humphrey. Using an 11-point measure, "if you score nine out of the 11 or less, you have to plead your case," he says.

Lianne Becker, marketing information manager at Minneapolis design firm Hammel Green and Abrahamson Inc., is its full-time analyst of win-loss metrics. "In the past, a simple checklist score counted yes or no answers, which helped steer our decisions. But it didn't do enough," she says. "By recording the scores over time, we can evaluate outcomes overall and—filtered by practice group, principal or other factors—we can identify areas of strength and weakness.

Becker says, "A hit rate is a good metric, but it only accounts for a total count of submittals and the subsequent win rate. So, we combined hit-rate metrics with marketing dollars spent and net service revenue for an overall summary to become more objective about whether or not to pursue an opportunity." She adds, "A summary report is run each month for new data, and metrics are reported periodically as well."

Like other firms, Virginia-based engineer Dewberry relies on Deltek's Vision software as a key tool in project, client and risk management. "We know that we have competitors who make decisions based on a certain threshold, so we look at it more holistically," says marketing director Hensley.

"Dewberry's go-no-go process is the same for all alternative delivery methods—to determine if the opportunity is worth the investment in addition to analyzing whether we can win," she points out. "We ... analyze the cost of the design-build process from start to finish. Risk thresholds that correlate to levels of senior management approvals are programmed into the workflow. It takes the anecdotal discussion out of the process."

Milwaukee-based construction-sector marketing consultant Laura Ricci praises Deltek as "the gold standard" in data analysis but cautions firms not to "leave these critical decisions to a black box. I also haven't seen an automated system that can correctly gauge the nuances of a complex opportunity."

Adds consultant Siben, "If you learn to ask the right questions, you can make a decision more quickly than you can input data into any decision-assisting software and get results."

Staying Focused

Ricci, a former marketing manager at design firms Radian and Nolte & Associates, says companies should treat the go-no-go process as a "living document" that needs new inputs as team members join and new information comes to light. "New intelligence may indicate a competitor has an unstoppable lead or the client has unreasonable expectations, and few firms are willing to pull the plug and save themselves further investment," she says.

But Matt Handal, business development manager for construction claims consultant Trauner Consulting Services Inc., Philadelphia, cautions participants who "feel obliged to step in for one last look" after a go-no-go decision is finalized to make a major proposal rewrite that could "gum up the works."

Management consultant Gerry Salontai, former CEO of Kleinfelder, says not enough firms track pursuit investment costs, and industrywide benchmarking data is insufficient, particularly among small and medium-size firms.

Jeff Latture, senior vice president of specialty contractor Barnhart Crane & Rigging Co., which just initiated a scoring system for large project pursuits, says, "In a time of resource constraint, we know it is important to stay focused."