Proposal reviews are vital to constructing a high-quality bid. Unfortunately, too many people see them simply as a step mandated by process-focused proposal managers. Proposal professionals can gain increased buy-in through shifting the central proposition of our red team reviews. By focusing on our review teams serving as mock evaluators, proposal managers can get actionable, focused comments that improve the document as well as the evaluation score. This article provides advice on how to prepare teams for this new approach, how to organize red team reviews to get the most effective evaluator-style comments, and tips to begin the recovery cycle.
Preparing Your Teams
Shifting the red team focus from merely reviewing content to serving as mock evaluators requires a shift in mindset. Normally, red team reviewers aim to provide ideas for ways to improve the product. In this approach, they also identify strengths and weaknesses based on the evaluation criteria for the specific opportunity.
To help red team reviewers become mock evaluators, the proposal team must provide basic training on expectations. This training can take place in the proposal kickoff (if the reviewers are included) or in a red team in-brief session. If the organization has a set team of strong reviewers (a “brain trust”), the training can occur outside of the individual review cycle to make sure that evaluators have the right skills across multiple bids.
The review team’s understanding of the evaluation instructions forms the foundation for this approach. The proposal manager must work with the capture manager to identify reviewers prior to the kickoff meeting. Next, the proposal manager should ensure that the red team reviewers have the solicitation documents well in advance of the review. He/she also should check in with the reviewers 24-48 hours ahead of the red team document’s release to confirm that they have read the solicitation. This can be a very informal conversation, but is imperative to ensure that the review runs smoothly.
The Review Itself
The key to a successful mock evaluation is collecting the information in an easy-o-use, easy-to-disseminate format. I use a color-coded Red Team Evaluator Feedback Form to get this information. The form has four main components:
Basic Information: Includes section number, section name, and reviewer name.
Scoring Criteria: The example Red Team Evaluator Feedback Form enables evaluators to score areas of the proposal using a color-coded scale, ranging from red (unacceptable) to blue (outstanding). Define each color for your particular evaluation, and then provide an area for the reviewer to indicate his or her score. Make sure that the form includes the solicitation’s evaluation language (if your proposal does not include evaluation levels, use generic language from government guidance).
“Getting to Blue.” In addition to asking your evaluators to score each element, also ask them to estimate and note the amount of work required to improve the proposal section to a “blue/outstanding” rating. This will prove critical to allocating your recovery time for the right tasks. For example, a section may be outstanding in all ways, except that it lacks a minor (PWS) element. In that instance, the evaluator should score the response as “Red”/“Unacceptable.” It is easy to make that adjustment, however, so the “Getting to Blue” component should be rated as easy. On the flip side, you may have a proposal section that receives a score of currently “good”/“green” and compliant, but it will take dramatic reworking to get to “Blue/Outstanding.” In that case, it may prove more strategic to accept the “green” and allocate resources elsewhere.
Strengths/Weaknesses/Deficiencies: The evaluators should detail their specific thoughts on why the proposal scores the way it does, using the government criteria as the framework for their comments.
On key bids, try to allocate time (at least 30 minutes) for the reviewers of each section to get together and compare notes prior to the debrief. This mimics the government evaluation process and allows for a clear, consistent message to the writers during the debrief session. In this approach, each section should have its own 30-minute debrief that focuses on the overall score, key strengths/weaknesses/deficiencies, and suggestions for improvement. A single reviewer from each section should brief the writers on the combined inputs from the review board, and the writers should be in “listen only” mode, unless they need clarification on a comment. The proposal manager must keep the debrief moving to ensure that it stays within the 30-minute window.
Red Team Recovery
After the conclusion of the red team review and debrief session, the best way to begin the recovery process is to hold a recovery kickoff. This meeting allows the proposal manager to start the writers off on the same page and to reinforce common themes that emerged during the debrief session.
Each writer should receive the evaluation team’s overview documentation, each individual reviewer’s form, and the commented document. Providing all the documentation facilitates transparency and helps to ensure that the writer sees the perspectives from all reviewers. Sometimes great points from one or more reviewers may not make it into the combined document; in these cases, having each form enables the writer to address other potential shortcomings or highlight identified strengths.
Red Team reviews are often viewed as necessary evils among contributors and reviewers alike. By incorporating the evaluation mindset into the reviews with proper training and explanation, our review teams can focus their comments and improve content by aiming directly at what the client has requested.
Bio: Kevin Switaj is the Director of Proposal Development at Buchanan & Edwards, a mid-sized Federal contractor based in Arlington, VA. A proposal professional for nearly a decade, he has spoken at multiple APMP conferences, writes articles for APMP publications, and regularly blogs at his website, kevinswitaj. com. He has degrees in history from Rutgers University, Villanova University, and Indiana University. Kevin is available on email at [email protected], and on Twitter at @DrSwitaj.