Proposal professionals have learned a great deal on how to handle remote bid development and management over the past year. I expect the changes made as a result of COVID-19 will remain with us even when we return to our new normal. One of the most important changes, in my view, is the increased acceptance and promotion of virtual reviews.
Many teams used virtual reviews prior to the pandemic as a way to incorporate different voices who were geographically dispersed. We have seen this trend continue, and gain further acceptance, through 2020 as individuals and organizations realized they can, in fact, be highly successful and engaged in a virtual environment. As we look forward to continuing the trend of virtual reviews, I have four key tips to increase effectiveness and efficiency.
1) Have a centralized document repository
Having a single, online source for documents and information is critical to a successful review. While you can be successful using email, the potential risks associated with that approach do not outweigh the minor benefits. A centralized repository eliminates versioning issues, ensures everyone has access to all necessary documents, and most allow for simultaneous commenting and editing.
You can create a basic folder structure to promote success with your online development and review processes. Having parent folders for development, solicitation documents, capture information, and reviews is a good place to start. Creating child folders within each to better organize and compartmentalize your documents allows your teams to find what they need quickly and easily.
There are several fine proposal-focused options out there, but these often include licensing fees and may not be the best fit for small businesses. Luckily, there are now many low-cost or free solutions available, providing everyone the ability to collaborate. Google’s GSuite (including Drive and Sheets), Office 365, Box, and Dropbox all offer free options.
If there is one thing we have learned through this changed work landscape, it is the need for strong, clear communication. When people are not in the same place, ideas and concepts can fall through the cracks. When it comes to reviews, you need to clearly spell out your expectations and the current state of the document. With a geographically dispersed team, it might not be possible to get everyone in a single meeting. Therefore, I prefer to replace the inbrief meeting with an email.
I find a well-crafted, templatized inbrief email is a great tool. For each review, I send a detailed email to my review team with the following information:
- Thank you for doing the review
- Location of documents and how to access
- Any shortcomings in the document
- Review expectations (what we are asking them to look for)
- Final thank you
3) Limit your debriefs
The biggest potential time suck on a proposal can be the debrief. Often, there is at least one reviewer who feels the need to pontificate and explain, in copious detail, each individual comment he/she has in the document. This is an inefficient use of everyone’s time, and therefore should be avoided.
In my debriefs, I work to focus the reviewers on high-level comments. There are multiple reasons for this. First, a drawn-out debrief results in reviewers and writers losing interest and becoming distracted. Lack of focus can lead to everyone missing key points and ideas. Second, our writers can read. They can look at the individual comments in the document, adjudicate them as necessary, and reach out to reviewers if there are any questions. The debrief should be focused on those key ideas that do not come across in the comments, or those that require further discussion.
I reiterate this focus multiple times upfront to ensure we are all on the same page. I mention it in the meeting invite for the debrief. I include it in my inbrief (whether by email or meeting). I also talk about it clearly at the start of the debrief. When a reviewer starts to go down a rabbit hole with discussion of comments that might not be critical, I kindly ask them to focus again on the big picture items. Usually one (or two) gentle but firm reminders get everyone back on track.
4) Be flexible
Virtual reviews require flexibility. Someone may have access issues to the collaboration site. Another reviewer might be using a Mac instead of Windows. Yet another in a different time zone might need additional time or support based on their location.
As proposal managers, we need to be prepared to roll with the punches. We need to be flexible and patient with our reviewers. Remember, these reviewers are doing you and your team a favor by helping to improve your work product. Therefore, it is entirely acceptable to accommodate reasonable demands. At the same time, be prepared to politely but firmly put your foot down for unreasonable requests (for example, an extra week to review). When doing so, always include the reason why you cannot accommodate their request in terms of the proposal team and schedule.
Virtual reviews are here to stay. We need to be prepared to make them even more effective than in-person reviews. Using the tips outlined here, we can continue to improve our work product while accommodating all of our reviewers, no matter where they may be.
This article was originally posted on BZ Opportunity’s website: https://www.bzopportunity.com/top-4-tips-for-virtual-reviews/. Reposted here with permission.