Tag Archives: Proposing solutions

Moving Your Proposal to Beyond ‘Acceptable’

Image: “GYST Services


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.”


7 Keys To Successfully Proposing Government Contracting Solutions


Successful solutioning - effectivemanagementleadershipdotcom

Image: effectivemanagementleadership.com

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”  From “7 Keys to Successful Solutioning” 

By Lisa  Pafe

“A compelling solution speaks directly to what the customer values.

It details your discriminating value proposition: how your solution exceeds customer expectations for quality, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, compliance, mission success, and/or risk mitigation.”


“The emphasis is on the how: in what specific ways your offering will accomplish contract performance objectives resulting in specific proven benefits that the customer values.

The how is exactly how many of our proposals fail. Here are seven keys to successful solutioning that will improve your win probability.

#1: Begin earlier.

Once you’ve qualified an opportunity, immediately begin the process of defining the how (people, processes, technology). Understand that solutioning is an iterative, time-consuming, evolving process.

You will not arrive at your solution in one or two sessions. Once your team identifies an initial solution, capture professionals (and the project team on the ground in the case of a re-compete), must vet this solution.

What solution elements (features, benefits, and proofs) does the customer most value? Do you have features with proven benefits that exceed requirements (strengths) that the customer wants? The customer includes all the potential proposal evaluators, their stakeholders, and their influencers.

As more information is gathered, the solution evolves.

#2 Let history help guide you

Part of the evolution of your solution is reviewing the history of the customer and the acquisition.

Who is the current incumbent, and why did they win? If this is new work, how has the customer acquired similar work in the past?

If you have bid similar work to this same customer, what does the debrief reveal? What strengths did you bid, and what strengths did evaluators find? Were some strengths scored as weaknesses? A deep dive into past debriefs can be quite revealing and help guide your solutioning.

#3: Go bottom up

Often we are tempted to solution our overall concept of operations (CONOPS) or framework first. Beginning with an overarching framework means we may skip details. Instead, begin by identifying all the requirements mapped to each evaluation factor, and then systematically detail how your offer will meet or exceed each one.

How includes people, processes, technology, tools, templates, and more. Exceeding means that your solution has strengths—features with proven benefits that exceed requirements and/or significantly reduce risk in a manner the customer values.

With all requirements solutioned, you can also define any gaps as well as the overarching framework that ties it all together.

#4: Identify the benefits as outcomes

Every feature of your offer must benefit the customer. More specifically, howyou will solve the customer’s problems and meet or exceed requirements results in a benefit. If there is no benefit, then you need to reengineer the how.

The benefit is the outcome of your feature, such as reduced time, cost, or errors and/or increased quality, mission success, compliance, or customer satisfaction.

Once you’ve identified benefits, then play devil’s advocate. Are these benefits that the customer(s) values? Which elements resonate most? For example, is the customer more focused on saving money, or are they very risk adverse? Perhaps you can re-imagine some of the benefits in a way that better resonates.

#5: Question the benefits

Often, we confuse features and benefits. For example, the customer has a constrained budget. We solve their problem by offering a hybrid car and state the benefit as “the car gets 40 miles per gallon.” The 40 miles per gallon is not a benefit; it is another feature or if backed by evidence, it is a proof point.

The true benefit is that the car saves the customer money, thus helping them meet or exceed budget goals. Once you’ve defined the benefit, circle back, and ask yourself, is this a benefit the customer values? You will only know this if you know the voice of the customer based on effective capture and trusted relationships.

#6 Question the proofs

Remember that not all proofs resonate with all customers. Some customers will require quantitative third-party data. Others will be influenced by word of mouth, social media, and/or qualitative data such as customer quotes. Knowing your customer will help determine the best proof points and the best ways to present them.

#7 Map the strengths properly

Your solutioning efforts are not complete until you have clearly articulated and mapped the strengths. Many proposals fail due to improper handoff from solutioning to writing. The annotated outline or content plan should include clear articulation of features, benefits, and proofs and, where these exceed requirements, strengths.

All this information must map not only to requirements but also to the instructions and evaluation factors/sub-factors. Proposal writers will then begin with a clear roadmap and definition of the solution and its value proposition.

Next Steps

These seven keys require three things—time, customer access, and effort. Begin early, work every avenue to get to know the customer, and put in the work to define a solution that details a how that the customer values.”


About the Author

Lisa Pafe

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