Katherine Constructions Leveraging Local Knowledge
Established in 2016, Katherine Constructions is a specialised construction company operating in the Northern Territory (NT), completing projects at local and state government levels. Run by Director Patrick Hill, Katherine Constructions employs six FTE staff and performs works ranging in value from $100,000 to $3m.
Leveraging local knowledge to win new client contracts
With a booming construction industry, the NT offers significant growth opportunities. However, it also presents logistical challenges due to its remoteness, intensity of weather and availability of staff Typically, NT construction works are also characterised by a deep care for the natural environment and respect for First Nations people.
While Katherine Constructions had some previous tendering experience, their internal capability was limited by time constraints and a lack of exposure to some of the intricacies of bidding. Having previously used writing support of a more general nature, Pat was keen to engage specialised and dedicated tendering support. After a word-of-mouth referral, Pat contacted BidWrite’s Brisbane office to secure help on an upcoming tender of interest, issued by a prospective new client.
A uniquely challenging but hotly contested project
As part of a series of infrastructural improvements supporting natural locations across the NT, Parks Australia sought a qualified contractor to upgrade a viewing platform on the East Alligator River near Cahills Crossing, one of Australia’s most dangerous vehicle crossings. The existing viewing platform was insufficient for the number of tourists visiting the area. It was also run down, posing a safety risk.
The works themselves also faced unique challenges:
- National Park location – Kakadu National Park is subject to long and intense wet seasons during which creeks and other waterways can swell without warning. It is also exceptionally remote, which meant logistics and planning needed to be carefully considered.
- Species protection – specific species of flora and fauna needed to be protected throughout the project’s duration.
- Resident crocodiles – the close proximity of crocodiles presented a risk to worker safety. This required careful management. At the same time, the crocodiles also needed to be protected from work-related harm.
It was clear the Cahills Crossing Viewing Platform Upgrade required expertise and care.
It also needed sensitivity and respect. Katherine Constructions recognised the importance of liaising with the traditional owners of the land upon which the work was to be undertaken, welcoming a focus on Indigenous participation in the project.
Katherine Constructions understood that a clear and positive first impression with Parks Australia could position it well for future work.
We knew this would be the first time Parks Australia encountered us as a business, and we wanted to cement ourselves as preferred contractor … We were not cheapest for the job but we needed to communicate that the client would get their money’s worth. – Patrick Hill.
A strong bid starts with a good plan
Given the unique challenges of this project, and Katherine Constructions’ clear expertise, BidWrite Senior Consultant Nicole Coleman and Bid Consultant Lillian Curthoys commenced the engagement by facilitating a win strategy session.
Reflecting on the bid, Lillian Curthoys commented, ‘Submissions like this need to have clear and consistent messaging which reinforces the win strategy. We focused on Katherine Constructions’ strengths and made sure to reference them throughout the bid’.
Through careful consideration of RFT questions and interrogating the intent behind them, Katherine Constructions were able to build a strong, client-focused win strategy which tightly addressed Parks Australia’s key criteria.
The win strategy session was instrumental in helping us to realise our strengths and where to highlight them. It was the first time we went into a submission acknowledging the concerns for the client and demonstrating a strong client focus. – Patrick Hill.
BidWrite’s consultants opted for a very structured approach to the ensuing drafting process. This was essential in reinforcing the importance of incorporating strategy and client focus into the submission. The drafting process was supported through:
- direct contact lines between Katherine Constructions and both consultants, enabling easy issue resolution and creating ‘one source of truth’
- regular progress updates where both parties checked in, updated and realigned if needed
- ongoing guidance and communication of best practice techniques, reinforcement of win strategies and practical advice.
In line with this structured drafting approach, several iterations were passed between BidWrite in Brisbane and Katherine Constructions in the NT. Each draft built further on the win strategies and strengths identified at the initial meeting.
A good plan requires flexibility
During initial conversations, Pat identified that the timing of the project was challenging. Parks Australia intended the project to start in late 2021 – this was reflected by the August to December construction program stated in the tender. However, Pat was very familiar with local weather patterns and was concerned that the fast-approaching wet season would impact site access and safety. He was of the professional opinion that the works could not be completed safely or effectively within the desired timeframe. So, an alternative program and methodology was developed.
With considerable construction tendering expertise, BidWrite’s Nicole Coleman knew that proposing a new program carried high risk but also potentially high reward.
I often worry when I hear an alternative is being proposed because it’s usually focused on making life easier for the contractor, rather than their customer. But Pat really listened to what Parks Australia needed and I quickly realised his well-considered alternative was not only safer for the workforce, works and site, but offered greater schedule and budget certainty for Parks Australia. – Nicole Coleman
Thus, two methodologies were included in the submission – the first to meet Parks Australia’s requirements, and the second to showcase Pat’s local knowledge, understanding of the wet season and commitment to completing the works safely and efficiently. It was a delicate challenge, with the alternative program needing to convey an impression of experience, expertise and intent, rather than arrogance.
If BidWrite hadn’t supported my decision to propose an alternative methodology, I wouldn’t have submitted one … They helped to bring out what was in my head and put it on paper. – Patrick Hill.
Amplifying the benefits of local content
The methodology wasn’t the only area where Pat’s local knowledge could be highlighted. As an NT resident strongly involved with his community, Pat knew that working closely with the First Nations people of the area was key. His cultural awareness of the appropriate way to do this was a definite advantage in the submission.
Another advantage was Pat’s knowledge around how best to minimise the environmental impact of the project. In addition to understanding the local landscape, the experience Katherine Constructions had gained through previous projects where crocodiles were a factor meant it was aware of both the risks and the mitigation strategies necessary to complete the project safely – for both the workers and the crocodiles.
From experience, BidWrite knew that underscoring Pat’s local knowledge could give the submission a crucial edge, and could possibly be a determining factor in Katherine Constructions being awarded the job.
To maintain this focus throughout the writing process BidWrite consistently referenced the bid strategy matrix devised at the job’s inception. The matrix also helped to shape the inputs required from Katherine Constructions. Pat stated that it gave him a ‘clear understanding of the information BidWrite was looking for, and how it would be used within the submission’. BidWrite’s communication and transparency of process were different to the other consultants Pat had worked with, providing him with a strong appreciation of ‘how strategic and tactical tender submissions can be’.
Key takeaways for future tenders
One of the most satisfying aspects of bid consulting is observing the improvements of a client’s tendering capabilities. Reflecting on the process, Pat was clear about the carryover potential of BidWrite’s specialist techniques, in particular:
- employing strategy in every question – even simple previous project experience sections provided an opportunity to incorporate the win strategy to make the overall bid as compelling as possible
- having a structured response process – this enabled Pat to spend the finite time available on the highest value activities that contribute to a winning bid
- using stylised and functional document templates – as a basis for initial messaging, templates were crucial in positioning Katherine Constructions as the sophisticated and capable business it is.
- Trusting your gut. Proposed project schedules do not always deliver the best outcomes and can even lead to an unsafe working environment. Respectfully communicating local knowledge and insight can build trust by demonstrating capability and expertise.
These learnings crystalised when Katherine Constructions were awarded the contract. Based on evaluator feedback, Katherine Constructions was the only contractor to submit two methodologies. This was the key discriminator that set Katherine Constructions apart from their competitors, and it made them even more attractive after Parks Australia suffered delays in the evaluation process, meaning the tender was actually awarded after contractors were originally meant to be onsite.
Reflecting on this, Pat noted:
‘Without submitting a more pragmatic alternative, every other contractor’s program would’ve expired before the works even started. It seems that we were the only ones who truly considered time challenges and changes.’
Secondly, Katherine Constructions was awarded the contract despite Pat estimating its bid was approximately 10% more expensive than those of the competitors. As bid specialists, we constantly experience how a carefully considered bid strategy based on key client considerations can help carry a higher price.
Reflecting on his past experience with other consultants, Pat commented: