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Gaining agility in the proposal offseason.

proposal management Sep 17, 2020
Train in your offseason. Prepare for action.

Make every effort count, and the most of your resources.

Proposals are like football or baseball; they are seasonal – and sometimes have “contact” too. Like the NFL, NHL or the FIDE (yeah, Google that one) proposals have an off-season period too, and Proposal Teams would be the wiser for using their offseason effectively.

Every fiscal year, Federal contractors spend thousands upon thousands of man-hours answering RFPs trying to compellingly demonstrate that their solution is the best value and lowest risk to the US Government need to solve a problem. Ever more frequently, RFPs are artificially constrained in such manner that even the most qualified bidder is not guaranteed success; but rather the one that can more succinctly and compellingly state its case in the allotted time and space.

This offseason, prepare your Proposal Team and your SMEs to improve their Pwin and record over the next FY. Here are five activities to consider as you improve the agility and effectiveness of your team.

1. Document and catalog lessons learned for future reference.

Whether you put a “W” or an “L” on the board, take the time to document what went well, as well as what can be improved. Lessons learned should not be merely to document the feedback from the evaluation board; and you should get that anytime it makes sense, but also to document what worked for your team, and what gaps your team has in knowledge and/or its composition.

A disciplined approach to document, collect and catalog strengths and weaknesses for later action will help you improve your performance. Your lessons learned should turn into your “go to” book for onboarding and refresher training.  When you review the lessons from years past in your offseason you will make sure you avoid the unforced errors that can result in a lost proposal because you checked your page count in Word format, but forgot to do so when you converted the document to PDF.  Motherhood and apple pie; but it has happened once to at least 10 readers of this blog; guaranteed.

2. Perform a gap analysis of your team.

A gap analysis of your team will help you address your shortcomings in training, compositions, skills and many other factors. This is a “kaizen” process in that you should perform gap analysis continuously, and certainly for every RFP response.

Do I have the proper level of SMEs? Do I have the right tools? Has everyone in the extended Proposal Team been trained on how to follow our internal process? Have we properly documented and updated all the past performance files in preparation for the next season? All of these questions should be asked and tackled in earnest as you labor to make the gap between mission and team readiness as small as possible.

When you do your annual gap analysis, do yourself a favor and consider having an outside voice to review your data, team and performance history. The questions you need ask yourself are multidimensional and relying on your own team to do the evaluation year in and out may put you in a position of weakness through no malice. An outside voice may be the one to tell you “sure, you have plenty of smart engineers; but they are overworked and are contributing little value to the proposals because they don’t have a minute to spare from billable work.”

Note: The gap analysis is a great tool for you to consider whether you should have your whole team be W2 or outsourced in part; and how to justify your position. Read this blog on “Proposal Team Elasticity” for more details.

3. Review your SME roster and staff correctly.

As you perform your gap analysis you should determine the optimal composition of your team, and that will vary by company, industry and even the type of RFPs you typically pursue. Consider that 100% of the SMEs you want in order to keep the Pwin you need may be cost prohibitive. Some of those Proposal Management resources can be internal and some external.

As you expand your review from your Proposal Team to the extended SMS team, keep in mind that Having a stout SME stable is not the same as having a strong Proposal Team bench. Raise your hand if you have heard “oh, no problem; Pete can write that part. He is an expert on routers”. Of course, Pete can write that part of the proposal immediately after his 75th work hour in the week and between passing “hellos” with his family. There is no polite way of saying this but some managers answer the question “can Pete write it” from the perspective of knowledge, and devoid of the concept of workload.

As well, keep in mind that if “Billable time” and “G&A work” face off at high noon, “Billable time” will come out of the fight without a scratch. If there is a lesson that is out there to learn is that proposal managers should be mindful of the workload we put on SMEs and also astute to avoid being sold the fact that they can do two critical projects at the same time. The facts say “no”; they can’t.

Use your offseason to change your roster so you have the best composition, skills and freshest perspective needed to improve your Pwin.

4. Train your team. – Always.

Your roster of SMEs and Proposal Team is always changing. The tools that you use and corporate processes as well. Throw in the documented lessons learned above, and you quickly can see how training as a team is important. If you have ever prepared for a critical mission, you know you train until everyone in the team knows who will do what, and can simply “cue” his or her action by looking at what others are doing. That is how you go from leading a group of folks working together to leading a team. You fight like you train, so train like you are in a fight”.

Injecting reality, we also have to keep the business going, and we don’t have time to train 40 hrs. a week. That said, developing a continued education training program or sending your SMEs and Proposal Manager to either “INDOC” or “refresher training” on a yearly basis should always be considered.

Who wants to go compete with a 100% rookie team? Who wants to chase a $10BN proposal with the “B” string? We do what we have to do; but if we have a choice to make, make a wise one and train your team so that everyone is speaking the same language and work is flowing both efficiently and effectively.

Note – A trip to the local “Top Golf” or favorite team-building locale is not training; but it does not hurt in making both training and actual work more productive in the long run.  You have to build a well-trained team.

5. Invest in your tools and repeatable proposal elements

Every Proposal Team should have a set of tools designed to leverage past efforts and avoid starting proposals from “scratch” (although that is fun to do; no, really). Some Sales Operations outfits have “Past Performance” and/or resume databases. Some other teams have standardized and matured their staffing and onboarding/transition plans to the point of making them more an art than science. These are all examples of tools you ought to consider developing and housekeeping yearlong.

Be especially weary of “outsourcing” these tools to other departments because they already have some of the information that you need.  These tools need to work for the Proposal Team first and foremost. You should leverage the help from and the information managed by other departments like HR and your services organization, but you should always remain in control on how the information is used, cataloged and presented in the RFP.

Accessing HR records in the heat of the proposal season can be painfully comedic to observe. Asking a division director to write a plan to transfer and “rebadge” 200 employees over a weekend is a recipe for disaster. Leverage your lessons learned, iterate your ideas and use your offseason time to develop these tools.

The good news – we know that proposals have an offseason. Now you know at least five things you should be doing, in addition to catching up with your long-lost REM cycle. Even better news – not only there are folks that can help you prepare, almost like “pro coaches”, there are newer approaches on how to master proposals and own the offseason and next year.  Put more “Ws” on the board with some effort now.

Finish this sentence: “The more we sweat in peace, …”

Offseason is about to start, so be ready. to learn more about how to make sure your Proposal Team is ready for FY2021 and beyond, click here.

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