Tag Archives: Proposal Success

Moving Your Proposal to Beyond ‘Acceptable’

Standard
Image: “GYST Services

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY By By Lisa Pafe

Federal government evaluators couldn’t care less about win themes. They are looking for Strengths, and if they do not find Strengths, they may instead find Weaknesses, Risks and Deficiencies.

In the federal space, Strengths are features of merit with proven benefits that exceed requirements and/or significantly reduce risk in a manner the customer values.

___________________________________________________________________________

“We all know that, at a minimum, proposals must be compliant and responsive. If a proposal meets this minimum bar, the evaluator is likely to award it an Acceptable rating. But what if, despite several rounds of color team reviews, the proposal barely meets this mark?

A Mediocre Proposal

We can assume that an Acceptable proposal will not win in a federal government competitive best value trade-off, unless other bidders also submit Acceptable proposals, and price is the determining factor.

Under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), government evaluators must make an award based on benefits offered by the proposer. Those benefits may include features of the proposed offering with proven benefits, or a low price, or some combination of the two. Still, unless the win strategy is based on a low bid, the goal of our color team reviews is to improve proposal quality. As a result, we would hope that our proposal rises from merely Acceptable to Good or even Outstanding as we move from Pink to Red to Gold Team.

However, we encounter situations where despite the best efforts of reviewers and writers, the proposal never rises above mediocre. Why did this happen? In the case of some recent reviews we at Lohfeld Consulting joined as consultants, there were too many reviewers with no training or direction, too many comments and too little consensus, too little time to recover between reviews, and an ill-defined solution.

A Compelling Solution is Rich in Strengths

Writers cannot create masterful text with no direction. Communicating the win themes to writers is not enough direction. Writers need annotated outlines and/or content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors.

If the capture team did not work with subject matter experts and solution architects to craft a solution of merit, and/or failed to vet potential Strengths with customers, then the writers will not write about Strengths. The reviewers will therefore not find any Strengths. The proposal will therefore remain mediocre.

Ten Lessons Learned

The lessons learned below assume that the team has developed and vetted a solution rich in discriminating Strengths. Assuming there is a well-defined solution, here are ten lessons learned our team identified to improve color team reviews and proposal quality.

  1. Types of Reviews: Not all color team reviews are created equal. Determine, up front, what type of color team reviews you will conduct and the purpose of each. We recommend that at least one group of reviewers act like a mock government source selection board to score and rate the proposal like the customer evaluation team. Every type of review should have discrete, well-defined roles that are clear and manageable.
  2. Team Composition: Get the right people committed early and get the reviews on their calendars. Keep review team membership consistent across reviews. Involve proposal professionals in the review to inspect for quality of proposal writing tradecraft (including graphics). Also, involve independent reviewers who know nothing about the opportunity.
  3. Training in the Art of Review: The right reviewers are trained reviewers. Make sure all the reviewers understand the proposal color team protocol. Set expectations for the reviews, provide agendas and scoresheets, and offer guidance/training on using automation, virtual proposal sites and/or evaluation tools.
  4. Team Size and Review Duration: Size the review team and review duration to the proposal size and complexity. Ensure each reviewer has adequate time to review assigned sections. A good rule of thumb is 25-30 pages per day per reviewer. Ideally, two or more reviewers will review each assigned evaluation factor or proposal section for a complete picture.
  5. Preparation: Ensure all review team members prepare in advance. Advance preparation includes reading the RFP, Q&A and amendments. The review team should also have access to the proposal manager’s compliance matrix and the capture manager’s win strategy. (If some reviewers are to act completely independent, do not provide the win strategy in order to see what a fresh pair of eyes finds).
  6. Horizontal and Vertical: Review horizontally for cross-section consistency. Review vertically to determine if the proposal is compliant and responsive (Acceptable) as well as persuasive and compelling (Outstanding). Do reviews at multiple entry points in case customer evaluators review only one section or one evaluation factor.
  7. Consensus: Review teams should have different roles. Some may be reviewing like a government evaluator. Others may be doing a compliance review. Still others may read the proposal for persuasiveness. No matter how you divide the roles, require each review team to provide a consensus out-brief including the proposal score or rating as well as perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Deficiencies and Risks.
  8. High Level Out brief: Avoid time wasting, long-winded out briefs. Instead keep the group out brief under an hour with a focus on a prioritized set of recommendations for improvement. Save details for one-on-ones with authors to speed recovery and improve quality.
  9. Writer One-On-Ones: Too often, writers receive hundreds of comments and must fend for themselves during proposal recovery. Assign reviewers to fully brief the writers on consensus findings. Conduct iterative reviews before the next formal color team to ensure recovery is on track.
  10. Lessons Learned: After proposal submission, conduct an internal lessons learned using a standard template. Which review processes worked, and which didn’t? Do you need more training in proposal solutioning, writing, and/or reviews? Develop and implement corrective actions as needed.

It All Begins with a Solution

Just write and solution later is the worst way to develop winning content. Yet, too often, reviewers are expected to evaluate proposal drafts that reflect the lack of a compelling solution. If you want color team reviews that work, solution before you write. Give writers effective templates and fully developed content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors. Then, implement the ten lessons learned above, and see your color team reviews improve and win rates soar.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/05/01/insights-pafe-beyond-acceptable.aspx

A Winning Proposal Isn’t Always The Best

Standard

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY By Lisa Paf

Image: Eventbrite.com

Avoid the trap of equating a win with a good proposal. Critically evaluate your live and submitted bids using a variety of quality measures to identify areas for improvement.

In the end, this approach will result in better quality and more consistent wins.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Is a winning proposal a good proposal? Some argue that by definition, yes, a win is a good proposal. However, we all know that a proposal can be the winner for reasons unrelated to proposal quality—such as a price shoot out.

Therefore, when we look back at our win-loss track record, we miss a lot of important data if wins and losses are the only measures of successful performance. As a result, we may re-use a poor-quality proposal or dismiss a losing proposal that has some successful elements.

Are your proposals good?

In a Deltek webinar, Bob Lohfeld polled the audience to ask: “Are your proposals compliant, responsive, AND compelling?” Interestingly, only 15 percent of 150-plus respondents believed that their proposals were consistently achieving all three measures of quality. Another 35 percent responded that their proposals sometimes achieved all three. Meanwhile, 35 percent stated that their companies consistently do NOT achieve all three, while the remaining 15 percent responded that their companies do not even understand the importance of all three performance measures.

In my experience, bidders do focus on compliance (although often do not achieve that measure as I pointed out in a recent Washington Technology article). However, many do not fully understand the difference between a compliant proposal and a responsive proposal. And, many do not grasp what makes a proposal compelling.

Compliant versus responsive

Your proposal can be compliant but not responsive. How does that happen? The narrative complies with the instructions, evaluation criteria, and work requirements. The format, whether electronic or hard copy, conforms with the instructions. The proposal even includes a compliance matrix. However, the content fails to focus on the meaning behind the RFP words. The outline is correct, but the proposal narrative misses the mark, perhaps providing too much detail on topics the customer does not care about and too little on what they value.

Another common mistake that makes a proposal non-responsive is focusing too much on your company rather than the customer. The proposal can be compliant, but if every paragraph begins with your company rather than the customer, it is not responsive. Too much fluff, words that don’t matter, and unsubstantiated bragging can all reduce responsiveness. When evaluators read non-responsive content, they lose interest. Non-responsive content also reduces the evaluators’ trust in the bidder as a potential contractor.

Responsive versus compelling

Similarly, a proposal can be compliant and responsive, but not compelling. A proposal is compelling if it is rich in Strengths. Strengths in the federal market are features with proven benefits that have meritexceeding requirements or significantly reducing mission or contract risk in a manner the customer values. The only way to understand what the customer values is to spend a lot of time with the customer listening to needs and then returning to discuss potential solutions. It is an iterative process, leveraging information gathered from a variety of customers to formulate potential solutions and then gathering feedback to refine the solution.

Using a Strength-based solutioning approach helps you identify potential Strengths, vet them with customers, and then articulate them in your proposal as part of your discriminating value proposition. Strengths make responsive content more compelling and make it easier for government evaluators to score your Strengths. Strengths also build trust because the proposal then demonstrates that the bidder understands the customers.

Other measures of goodness

Certainly, there are other valid measures of goodness. Lohfeld Consulting has seven proven quality measures that include compliant, responsive, and compelling as well as customer-focused, easy to evaluate, well-written, and visually appealing.

In proposal post-mortems, consider not only whether the proposal was a winner, but also whether it met the seven quality measures. If not, why not?

  • Was capture insufficient?
  • Did capture fail to identify Strengths?
  • Did proposal writing fail to articulate the value proposition in a compelling and customer-focused manner?
  • Was the proposal hard to read and lacking in visuals?
  • Was the narrative simply poorly written?

Even if your proposal resulted in a win, asking these questions is still valid because the proposal may have won despite its faults. There is always room for improvement.

Winning doesn’t validate the proposal’s goodness

I do a lot of proposal reviews and post-mortems. I have read proposals that are good and lost as well as proposals that are bad and won.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/03/04/insights-pafe-proposal-quality.aspx

Lisa Pafe

About the Author

Lisa Pafe is a capture strategy and proposal development consultant and is vice president of Lohfeld Consulting. She can be reached at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com

Key Processes for Winning Proposals

Standard
Writing Winning Proposals

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By Matthew McKelvey

“Don’t be fooled, winning proposals are created, and do not simply materialize from some magical force. It’s not magic, but a disciplined process.

By adhering to key principles and steps, such as: careful planning, time management, attention to detail, and assembling a team of experts, your organization can create your own recipe for success.”


“The often lengthy and detailed process involved with developing winning proposals for new government opportunities can sometimes seem almost mythical.

You decode a requirements document that is hundreds of pages long and identify a combination of recommendations from limited or conflicting information, past performance experience which doesn’t necessarily match the current opportunity exactly, and somehow propose a price you will have to live with for five years or more.

The bottom-line is that, while writing cost proposals requires following a basic formula, it is critical to develop a multi-level, detailed plan to include all data points and requests to ensure a timely turnaround and delivery. Following a process ensures your proposal is compliant (meets all of the government requirements) and accurate (no mathematical, grammatical, or presentation errors). Failure to be either compliant or accurate is a sure way to lose — regardless of how great your solution is.

Here are some ‘pro tips’ from our experts to take the guesswork out of your cost proposal development process:

Arm Yourself with Tools for Success- Key Processes for a Winning Approach

From the get-go, it is essential to begin a proposal response approach that will result in a consistent, repeatable new business approach that wins time and again.

In a RFP review, for example:

  • Always be sure you read the full document up-front and ensure you have all of the relevant information required to respond accurately and comprehensively.
  • Document key questions right away, as well as identify areas where you’ll need more detail. Also, remember that the best time to meet the client, gather information, develop your team, and plan the proposal response is before the RFP is ever released.
  • Assemble your team and develop your production schedule that highlights key milestones and backs into known due dates. At this stage of the game, it is critical to involve your pricing team right out of the gate and before the RFP drops (at the capture process). This is a critical step because of the potential impacts your teammates and sub-contractors can exert on your cost decisions.
  • Always create a Compliance Matrix. The best proposal is often eliminated from consideration all because of a minor compliance error. To avoid this happening to you, put together a matrix to organize all steps, responsibilities, activities, deliverables, and team members so you can keep your eyes on the prize (that finished response!) and track progress at-a-glance while keeping communication lines open. The matrix should list everything the RFP requires so nothing is missed, and it also makes it easy for reviewers to check off the boxes to ensure you hit all necessary points.
  • Determine the Cost Schedule right away. This includes an assessment of indirect rates, using a model to calculate inputs and additional costs beyond RFP requirements, calculate your wrap rate, and analyze basis and pools, as well as ceiling impacts.

Tricks of the Trade – The Secret Sauce

  • Get Started Early. Particularly with cost decisions, time is a critical factor to be sure your data is accurate. Building in the over-communication and transparency among your team members is important to finishing the response in a timely manner, but also to allow for early intervention and mitigation of any roadblocks that may arise.
  • Develop a production framework and strategy early, and use it often. Implement a phased, targeted structure to your cost meetings during a response development process. Doing so early on makes it much easier to adjust for changes in requirements or information as they come up as you already have your framework established.
  • Master Excel. Consolidate data entry onto single tabs for easy management and recall, use color coded values as opposed to formulas where possible, check formatting, data validation, and perform independent quality checks on your model as you go to ensure everything is on track.
  • Manage your Sub-Contractors Effectively. Create templates for key deliverables and document responses to distribute to subcontractors, helping to ensure a consistent work product – and less editing, formatting, and merging later on – while establishing a structure of regular communication and status updates throughout each project stage.
  • Own the Narrative. Refer back to your compliance matrix regularly, create an outline based on the RFP, and create your narrative early in the process so it can grow and evolve as the process unfolds. The narrative is where you sell your price and clarify all bases of estimates.
  • Determine Labor Rates and Support Your Proposed Cost Elements. Typically, the distributor of the RFP will tell you what they are looking for. You’ll need to know early on what exactly you’ll be proposing to address this need. To do this, you’ll need to gather as much data as you can up-front and map requirements from the RFP against company, prime, and labor categories.

Remember- especially in the government sector, you are not just making a case about what is needed to address an identified objective, you are also selling what the associated costs will be.

Having a strong and competitive cost strategy for each of your cost estimates (staffing, direct labor, subcontractors, other direct costs, indirect rates, and fee/profit) is key to increasing win likelihood.

Doing this right, with compelling support, will ensure you are able to successfully defend your case in your response and demonstrate that your proposed solution – and the associated costs – are realistic and reasonable.

How To Develop a Tight Production Machine

At the top of the list is to always plan ahead! The enemy of timely production and accurate completion of tasks is rushing to the finish. It’s a good idea to dedicate at least three days for review – whether in soft copy or printed.

It is also a good idea to conduct your pricing reviews ahead of the last minute to allow for time to correct quality control issues, formatting (which is a compliance issue), and others. Allow five days here in your production schedule, ideally.

Other tips? Color code everything on your spreadsheet documents- this allows you to keep things organized, but also to know on the cost side which sheets are to be printed and submitted, and which stay with you.

Leverage all of the power of your team here as well; they are often your best proofers!

The Bottom-Line

Overall, the secret to a winning proposal process and cost structure is not a mystery. Proposals take time and effort – maximize both by ensuring you plan early, assemble a strong team, develop a compliance matrix, create a tight production schedule, use your narrative to sell your approach, and make sure you provide a compelling cost story. Remember – compliance and accuracy are key.

Adhering to these principles will ensure your cost proposal isn’t just a mix of ingredients. Instead, it is a well-formed recipe which produces a very tempting choice for the government.”

About the Author

Matthew McKelvey is the president of the McKelvey Group, a financial consulting firm in Gaithersburg, Md.

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2017/12/21/insights-mckelvey-no-magic-proposals.aspx