Perspicacious Priyadarshi

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The Art of Executive Summary

If your sales process involves proposals, you must be able to write a winning executive summary. If it’s lame, the proposal goes unread; if it’s hot, readers will think “YES!” before they get to the end of the page. Here’s exactly how to write an executive summary that closes business…

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Top 10 Reasons Why Proposals Fail

You have been churning out thousands of pages of proposals. Writing, copying and publishing madly. You think your proposals look great. You believe your proposals can win. However, your customer may be having a different experience with your proposals. Here’s is a great look at what every business should think of when writing proposals. This list will assure you more winning proposals and boost your sales.

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WiFi Woes

“Sidejacking” session information over WiFi easy as pie
Don’t be fooled by that login screen on your Facebook, Gmail, or Blogspot account. It’s easier than ever for hackers to get in between you and your data by hijacking your session information over WiFi to do all sorts of malicious things, says one security firm.

Users may think that their personal data is safe when they use a secure login page online, but that’s quite far from the truth. In fact, everything from the contents of your e-mail, who your friends and acquaintances are, and almost anything else you can think of could be easily exposed by hackers if browsed via WiFi network, security firm Errata Security pointed out in a recent paper presented at this year’s Black Hat 2007 and seen by Ars Technica.

Check it out.

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Proposals: Effective Executive Summary

What are the essential elements of an executive summary? This has been a common question in all the interviews I have appeared for the position of a Proposal Writer. I have a readymade list to answer this question. However, some questions sprout in my mind as a reflex action. Is the Proposal Writer actually the owner of the executive summary section? When should be the executive summary written at the beginning or end of the proposal development process. Who reviews the executive summary? And so on.

The executive summary section which appears as the first chapter of a proposal is like a web portal’s home page. Its stickiness will only ensure the readers’ continuous attention through the subsequent sections that may be running through hundreds of pages. The executive summary is like an editorial of a business magazine which essentially introduces all the highlights and important articles or news items of that issue. The executive summary plays a critical role in deciding the success of a proposal. A proposal may be having different categories of audience. If the reader is a CIO or from the topmost level of management who does not have enough time to read all the pages should be able to understand the soul of the proposal by reading the executive summary. If the reader has time and reads the proposal from cover to cover, the executive summary will help to understand what is available in detail in the subsequent sections.

As a Proposal Writer, writing the executive summary is the most challenging sub-task while publishing a proposal. You need to assume that you are the editor of a magazine and based on what you write in the executive summary the audience will react. And the reaction has to result in a win. Otherwise the week or month-long effort of putting together hundreds of pages of information will go in vain. Here are some of the important things you should keep in mind while drafting the executive summary:

  • The proposal's executive summary has to contain a sales orientation. To make it so, you have to think like a sales person and act like an editor.
  • Present abstracts of key ideas or solutions you are proposing to the customer in logical flow. Each idea should be present in at the most two or three sentences. 
  • You can give links or references to sections where the ideas are presented in details. Give the linkages in such a way that does not require to much of effort to manage last minute changes. Otherwise, you will have change the links every time there’s change in the number of pages, etc.
  • Use the right word, right statement, and right flavor in your writings. Your writing should reflect clarity of thought, logic and sans redundancy of unnecessary content.
  • Use heading and subheadings judiciously. Try presenting a long list of information in bulleted list. 
  •  Avoid repetition of ideas, jargons, phrases, ambiguity.
  • Read, re-read and if possible rewrite the executive summary before sending it for review by others.
  • Try writing at least two or three different executive summaries and choose the best among them.
  •  Avoid using graphics or information that requires graphics to understand.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and read the final executive summary. Do you see it addressing all your concerns for which you had invited bids? If yes, you have written the right stuff. If no, rework.
  • Finally check grammatical and spelling errors. Check for consistency in tense. Ensure parallelism. Stick to one version of English language (US, UK, Australian or whatever). You must have set the language well in advance though.

Proposal Writer’s Problems

As a writer/editor in a presales team, you certainly have the responsibility of publishing the right kind of persuasive message and ensure the “winnability” of a proposal. Proposals vary in size, number of pages, complexity, technicality, business domains, pricing, type of customer, etc. Sometime the only thing that you require to do is to replace the name of the customer from an old proposal and publish it for a prospect. However, this is not the case always. Many times, you are required to work on proposals that are unique. Here are the challenges that a writer/ editor face while working for a proposal:

  • Tsunami of information from stakeholders. This leads to information anarchy. As a thoughtful communicator, you need to rework and rearrange the information so that it serves the requirements of the prospect.
  • Lack of processes. Who send what to whom and when. These are the eternal questions asked by the presales team members from beginning to end of a proposal development lifecycle. Don the role of an information manager and design a feasible and scalable information process flow. This will help you control the problems to a certain extent.
  • Just correct the English. That’s what I have been asked to do at the penultimate hour many a times. I would suggest a technical writer to take complete control on the content quality in a proposal. Apart from grammar, ensure that the information is persuasive and helps you win the bid. You also have to work on the logical flow, usability and visual appeal of the proposal.
  • Not much time left. Half a day for reviewing and editing a proposal prepared by ten people. How can somebody achieve this feat? I would suggest you to use the smart strategy of content reusability. Prepare generic sections like details about your company and customer, quality, project management, intellectual property issues, infrastructure, case studies, resumes, etc, well in advance, adopting a particular standard, style and template. Ask the presales team to use the information. The only thing that should be focused thereafter is customer specific information like the parts of executive summary, solution details, pricing, etc.
  • Formatting and reformatting. Your word template goes on a toss when it is handled by people who are not much bothered about the formatting sensibilities. A majority of your time goes for reformatting the proposal. Train people on how to use templates effectively. Propose a well defined template. If possible use a good publishing tool that uses single sourcing concepts.
  • Change management. When a team works on a proposal, this is a common situation. Too many versions of information, last minute reviews, rewritten information, etc. Change request coming in mails, in multiple formats, in chat messages, and even by telephone. All these demand great attention. You need to insert the latest and correct information in the latest version of proposal. Suggest a new-age content management system or at least a file naming convention to have some amount of control.

(Unedited, scribbled, list not in order of priority)

Delivered Globally: Outsourcing Models

Outsourcing as a business strategy has evolved in manifolds. Core to the outsourcing strategy are the business models using which organizations offload their non-core functions to their outsourcing partner. These business models are often referred as “global delivery models,” as outsourcing happens at a global scale across geographies, across nations, worldwide. The prime purpose of such global delivery models is to manage work efficiently, at lesser cost, with better focus, and better quality. These global delivery models have now become business imperatives. Today every project or product development initiative is being done by using such global delivery models. There are primarily five types of models:

  • Offshore: Client sets up its development center at a service provider’s premise. Each member working at the ODC (offshore development center) is a billable employee. There’s a well-defined communication plan with key people acting as nodes on the communication network. There is a onsite coordinator from the service provider’s side based at the client site who facilitates the actions with the help of ODC staff. Then there are activities like builds, releases, testing, change management, renewed requirements review, etc that are a part of software engineering.
  • Onsite: Service providers work at the client’s premise. A model that lured millions of IT professionals to abroad. This model was followed before the ODC concept became more prevalent. Most Indian companies bagged projects on the basis of price and skills.
  • Offsite: Client sets up its own premise at the location where the service provider is based. Or the client jointly sets up a development center near or inside the service provider’s premises. The service provider helps the client to set up the facility, recruit people, manage people, and almost everything else.
  • Onshore: Service provider sets up its own facility near the client site, and delivers work with its people. Refer to an interesting example:, This model is also referred as nearshore.
  • Hybrid: This engagement model encompasses two or more of the above models.

There are offcourse fancy terms like “Rightshore”, “Offshore 2.0”, “Offshore-outsource”, “Outsource-offshore” , “Hybrid-sourcing”, or “whatever-offshore” used by third party product development companies or software service providers to attract clients. These are used to sell the capabilities of service providers to deliver products and projects in any of the delivery models.

4 years ago…

I was posted in Australia, working for the Office of State Revenue under the New South Wales Treasury Department as a Technical Writer. I worked for a couple of projects preparing various software development project documentation. It was during that time Express Computer, a premier technology publication from the house of Indian Express carried a feature with my inputs and quotes  on how the profession of Technical Writing was very much in demand in India. Here’s it:

Demand for tech writers rising Punita Jasrotia/New Delhi

They are the people who turn the complexities of the computer into simplicities on paper. And spurred by growing demand, the tribe of the scribe is increasing.

Technical writers are essential elements of a software development team project. And with the increase in outsourcing work to India, there has been a lot of movement in the technical writers’ space. Recognising the talent and realising the cost-effectiveness of India’s technical writers, many global companies have started outsourcing their work to Indian shores, and many more are planning to set up technical writer teams in India.

Most MNC software giants who have development centres in India now want Indian writers to do the documentation work for their global clients. Since technical writing was traditionally managed by the MNC, this goes to show the importance—in terms of writing and delivery—that Indian technical communicators have gained.Apart from having clients across the globe, MNC software companies also have a number of Indian clients, so it makes sense for them to have a technical writing team in India, which can develop documentation for both Indian as well as global clients. Another advantage is that writers here can interact directly with Indian clients. Besides MNCs, there are Indian companies with development bases outside India, who employ tech writers from India. There are also Indian freelancers, operating from India, who are working for clients outside India. “IT companies, big and small, Indian and transnational, are recruiting tech writers/communicators, instructional designers, documentation specialists, etc,” says Priyadarshi Tripathy, a consultant with HCL Infosystems, who is currently working on a project for a client in Sydney, Australia.

Foreign demand

Strengthening this trend is an increasing demand for Indian technical writers to work abroad on different assignments. Considering that the job profile of a technical communicator is to provide good quality project documentation, which is seen as being as crucial as the solution itself, it becomes imperative to ensure better communication between the writers and the client. Explains Mita Ray Brahma, who heads corporate HRD at Nucleus Software Exports, “In most cases customer requirements are not frozen at the beginning; instead, they keep changing till the implementation/deployment stage. Any change in the software solution must get reflected in the supportive documents. Close interaction between the documentation team and the development team provides quality documentation for the solution.” While the onsite work proves beneficial to the client, it also helps improve the career prospects of a technical writer since it adds to his credentials. Not only does he get exposure to client environments, he also benefits through client interactions. Says Frederick Menezes, a former president of the India chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and senior technical writer with Pune-based Veritas Software, “For most of us in India, travel to foreign lands is always an incentive. Working with foreigners and in different cultures is always an enriching experience.” In some cases, clients ask technical writers to work onsite as they could be looking for solutions more customised to their work cultures. This can mean additional cost for the company or the client. However, companies are of the opinion that the sensitivity and criticality of the project overrides the cost factor. “It may be more cost-effective if we have an onsite development team and an offsite documentation team. However, the cost of incorrect documentation could be much higher than what we save by keeping an offsite documentation team,” Brahma points out. Skills required

In terms of skill sets, the preference is for individuals who have worked with similar domains and technologies as it helps secure an easy fit with the organisation, and causes fewer hiccups in terms of implementation. Training in cross-cultural issues is also suggested for people going to client sites. Says Tripathy, “Apart from basic requisites like strong communication skills, both written and verbal, one criterion would be to understand the intricacies of writing for an international audience. A tech writer is required to possess the ability to understand technology and convey it to the audience in the most appropriate manner. Plus there are specific requirements such as an understanding of programming languages like Java and C++, or applications like SAP and Oracle Finance.” Training may also be required for certain project-specific applications or technologies. For example, if a networking company has taken on a tech writer, training can be given to the writer on basic networking concepts, along with information about the product that the writer will be writing on.

What is significant in all this is the demand graph, which is expected only to rise, thanks to the increasing number of organisations doing outsourced/contractual documentation for clients. What companies need to do now is pay attention to the nurturing of good technical writers; it requires a special combination of skills and attitudes to succeed in this profession, and companies must do all they can to help.