Our recent webinar about using Agile methods in proposal development had a record-breaking 351 registered! Clearly this is a topic that is front of mind for many. Thank you to presenter Neal Levene, to all who attended and to those who submitted such great questions.
Capture, marketing and proposal staff must perform key pre-RFP release activities to enhance proposal management and content as follows:
1. Perform Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for previous contracts, deliverables, SOPs and customer five-year plan to gauge previous contract activity, issues and initiatives
2. Obtain customer phone listing, e-mail addresses, and location addresses, organization chart, mission statements, operational platforms, toolsets and interface requirements
3. Find out Customer desires, needs, hot buttons, budget, problem areas, politics, decision makers, and partnering ideas
4. Determine makeup of customer evaluation team as to personalities, prejudices, and preferences.
5. Obtain success and failure information on contractors doing business there and form teaming agreements with those the customer likes.
6. Determine/obtain key personnel to be proposed prior to RFP release
7. Have your key personnel make a presentation of your team experience and capabilities to the customer
These steps will better position your team for the win by enabling you to help shape your proposal content based on the customer knowledge and information you obtained.
Having had the opportunity to spend the day with some of the most motivated business professionals in the National Capital Region at the APMP-NCA Conference, I am more convinced than ever that proposal writers and federal contracting officers are birds of a feather. After attending some amazing sessions on technologies, success and creativity, the overlap between these two communities had me chanting “We’re not so different after all.” That was, of course, after several rounds of my newly learned “Sa Ta
Na Ma” meditation. How is it that I learned all of this at the same, single conference?!
My expectations for the APMP-NCA conference on Friday October 13, 2017, were completely blown away by the end of the opening keynote speaker address. The APMP-NCA staff was incredibly friendly and organized, and they got me off to a running start that morning. The key note speaker, Alka Dhillon, provided me with a new tool for combatting stress: Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. Before the first session at 10:15am, I found myself entrenched in an awesome and new community of likeminded professionals.
Throughout each of the sessions I attended that day, I was reminded of how proposal writers and federal contracting officers are working as two sides of the same coin. What a brilliant idea we spend more time together and learn from one another! The challenges shared by the small business professionals partaking in the “How Small Business Can Develop Effective Proposal Orgs” session reflects a similar scenario on the federal side where contracting officers and specialist often must wear many hats, as well. Apparently, “cat herding” isn’t just a job that contracting officers face! Ms. Jennifer
Adeli’s session on managing virtual proposal teams literally could have been provided to any federal agency that is incorporating or expanding their telework policy. Finally, the discussions and advice provided in Rebecca Link’s “Developing Your Professional BluePrint and Gaining Respect as You Grow” were both eye opening and refreshing after a full day of learning.
In short, once I get a chance to come up for some air (most likely during my break between Fall and Spring semesters at George Washington University), I can’t wait to join APMP and more fully explore all that this organization has to offer. Everyone (and especially federal contracting officers like myself!) should take the time to find out what this community has to offer. I look forward to connecting on LinkedIn with all the people I met and attended sessions with! Thank you for the opportunity to attend this awesome event!!
First off, I understand that “everyone’s doing it” – that is, getting their Foundation certification. I mean, who doesn’t want CF.APMP after their name, right? According to Rick Harris at the 2017 APMP Bid & Proposal Con (June, New Orleans), there are 8,299 Foundation-level certified members (or as Rick said, “Let’s round that up to 8,300.”) Of those, 810 are Practitioner certified. Now I don’t do math, but I believe that’s less than 10 percent. So why are so few going for that next level?
Are there no additional benefits to upping your certification? Will you get a promotion or raise? Is it too much trouble or too hard or too intimidating?
We have all read the benefits of certification on the APMP website. But how do these translate into REAL LIFE scenarios? I think it all depends on what YOU want to get out of it. If you are looking for instant recognition for your experience and capabilities, think again. Employers are not always able to accommodate “on-demand” promotions or raises, nor are they prone to heaping on the accolades. In some instances, they may not even recognize the benefits of “yet another certification.”
If you have these expectations, you may be sorely disappointed. You need to want this for yourself. Complete the Practitioner level to show yourself that you have “what it takes” to excel, to lead. Let it confirm that you really dohave valuable proposal knowledge. This feeling will instill a renewed sense of confidence and competence in your daily work. These qualities are what will ultimately lead to career advancement and recognition…not the certification itself.
So if you’re thinking about going for Practitioner, think first about what you want to get out of it…and what you’re willing to put into it. Research the requirements. Start gathering your documentation. Draft your PPAQ. Identify additional experience and knowledge you need to fill the gaps. Take more training. Do some self-study. Find a mentor. Take a Practitioner preparation workshop. Talk to your employer. Talk to colleagues who are pursuing Practitioner. Most of all – do not be afraid of reaching for this worthwhile goal. Do it for yourself…the rest will follow.
Like most proposal managers, by the time I get to a color team review, I might not know if I’ve written the best–or the worst–proposal in history. To make sure I have clear goals coming out of color reviews, I bring in…
Bringing in someone to read the proposal like an evaluator is a critical best practice for effective color team reviews. The ‘outsider,’ or third party reviewer, can be someone who works in a different division of your company, a consultant, or anyone who can legally read your proposal document (usually not your mother). It’s important to make sure that the reviewer hasn’t been around during the development of the solution; it could skew how they score.
Giving the third party reviewer instructions similar to what the evaluator would receive produces a score that can then be analyzed by the proposal management team to gain insight on where the document could be improved to maximize the score. It’s also nice to hear where you are doing well. The answers could surprise you!
Another advantage of a third party reviewer is being able to ask follow-up questions, a rare luxury in the real-life scenario with the buyer. In the ‘outsider’ scenario, you’re able to ask detailed questions about how they thought sections turned out, and any improvements they would make to add those extra points. The proposal manager can then take those action items and insights and make recovery plans for sections, or strategy changes before the proposal becomes too set in stone.
While getting an ‘outsider’ opinion is a best practice for color team content, it can also be useful to obtain their opinion on design and graphic components, and overall proposal organization, as these factors can sometimes be left to the wayside when larger content issues arise. An evaluator notices graphical components immediately, and your ‘outsider’ will tell you if anything was unclear.
If you don’t have the time allotted or resources to add a third party reviewer, it’s useful to designate one of your internal reviewers to act as the official evaluator. This designation can help make sure that the message of the proposal is clear, and give you some insight into areas that may have been missed. The designated reviewer should use the exact score sheet (if provided by the buyer) or exact evaluation criteria to score each section.
In prior proposal management projects, I’ve developed a matrix to aid in reviewing proposals that do not include clear evaluation instructions or predefined score sheets. This matrix allows easy summation scores of each section and allows the strategy team to clearly identify outstanding and underperforming sections for recovery.
For proposals of high value, it’s worth asking a third party reviewer for both an early and later review. This can confirm if the recovery efforts aided in getting that ideal score, and allow for strategy shifts early if needed.
The idea of having an ‘outsider’ isn’t a new concept for those in APMP. In fact, it’s one of our documented best practices in our Body of Knowledge. However, in my experience, being able to see the benefit in practice has made me a believer in the effectiveness and insight this ‘outsider’ can bring to the inside.
BIO | Erin Green, CF APMP, has more than 10 years of experience in government procurement. She is a Proposal Manager at MAXIMUS, leading large and small efforts in the preparation and delivery of winning proposals worldwide for national, state, and local clients. Erin has been engaged with APMP-NCA since 2011. She is a graduate of the APMP-NCA Mentor-Protégé program, inaugural recipient of the APMP-NCA scholarship, and award-winning author.
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@example.com, and on Twitter at @DrSwitaj.