Better Reviews Equal Better Proposals

Independent reviews ensure that proposals are compliant and responsive to the request for proposals. They also guarantee that proposals are feature-rich and technically and politically sound. Reviews should begin early in the proposal process and continue throughout proposal development. Each review builds quality into the proposal. When done well, reviews raise your competitiveness and increase your win probability.

A solid review begins with experienced, knowledgeable reviewers and a comprehensive review plan. Your reviewers should include technical and management experts who deeply understand the subject of your proposal. Be sure to include customer experts who can bring the voice of the customer to your review process. The better your proposal reviewers, the better your review.

Assign sections of the proposal to each reviewer that match his or her areas of expertise. For planning purposes, in a one-day review, assume reviewers can review about 40 pages of the proposal and provide constructive written comments. Assign multiple reviewers, typically three, to each proposal section.

Pick your reviewers carefully. Let them know in advance what section or sections of the proposal they will review and forward the RFP and amendments for them to read before the review.

Each review should begin with a briefing that provides background on the procurement, competition and strategy. Keep the background information brief and get right into the review schedule and assignments. Detail what you want the reviewers to do. Prescribe the order for each person to review the sections and reinforce what is expected from each reviewer. Review for compliance and responsiveness to the RFP, completeness of features and information, and technical correctness across all sections. Reviewers should not edit the proposals because that happens later in the process.

Document all comments electronically using track changes and insert comments functions, type comments into a separate document, or post them into an electronic template. Your proposal manager should choose the best method for your team.

Consider having reviewers rate the section they review. Color coding is a simple way to summarize how well the section scored: Blue for a well-written, fully compliant response, followed by green, yellow and red if the section was noncompliant or nonresponsive. Color scores help prioritize proposal rework and give writers some indication of how well they did with their sections.

Some reviewers like to consolidate review comments, and others prefer to let all reviewers present their comments individually. A benefit of the latter would be writers and reviewers could learn from individual comments, and in addition, consolidating comments might be too time-consuming. Gather all electronic comments and load them into your proposal repository for later use.

Conduct the oral debriefing with all writers and reviewers present — virtually or in person. Let each reviewer provide an opening statement summarizing his or her general assessment. Next, debrief reviewer comments section by section, letting each reviewer present significant comments. To keep reviewers from piling on, encourage reviewers to avoid repeating comments previously made by another reviewer.

Manage the review as a debrief — not a debate — and do not let writers challenge or argue about reviewers’ comments. After all reviewers have presented their significant comments, ask each to provide closing comments. If managed well, the complete debrief for a 150-page proposal review should last less than two hours.

Review comments are advisory, and the proposal team needs to sort out which are worth heeding. For highly scored sections, writers should feel comfortable accepting or rejecting comments, as they deem appropriate. For sections that scored poorly, writers need to obtain guidance from the proposal manager before making changes. In the color-coded scoring scale, a red section would warrant a revised outline before going forward.

Do not be discouraged if you receive many review comments. The more good comments you get, the better your final proposal will be.

This article was originally published June 28, 2010 on

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Lohfeld Consulting