Capture proposal lessons learned – and then live them!

I regularly hear colleagues at proposal-related events sharing tales of capture and proposal nightmares that would make Stephen King blanch! Most of the time, these scenarios never needed to happen in the first place, and certainly shouldn’t be the repeat occurrences we often see.

Here are some thoughts on how to capture, document, and – most importantly – institutionalize lessons learned in your organization.

  • After every proposal (and task order proposal) effort, hold an internal capture and proposal team lessons-learned meeting after a suitable waiting period, especially if it was a lengthy, contentious proposal. Typically, hold the meeting within 1 week of submission or people forget or discount issues.
  • Develop a standard set of questions that you send to the capture and proposal team a couple of days before the meeting, and have folks provide responses before the meeting (and anonymously if practical). Compile the responses, sort them by topic, and eliminate redundancies. You’ll be able to hold a more useful lessons-learned meeting with your team and spend time problem solving versus information gathering.
  • For external debriefs, prepare a form for capturing debrief comments based on each RFP’s evaluation criteria and major proposal sections.
  • For procurements that require task order proposal submissions, prepare a standard template for capturing debrief comments. For example, I developed lessons-learned templates for my Department of Treasury TIPSS-1/2/3 task orders and for my Department of Commerce COMMITS NexGen task order proposal debriefs. Based on the evaluation criteria and major proposal sections, my form had space to capture:
    • Overall evaluator comments
    • Technical evaluation criteria by subfactor
    • Evaluator scores and verbatim comments
    • Cost proposal-related comments
    • Oral presentation criteria with scores and comments
    • Additional standard questions as well as questions specific to the solicitation and client
  • Meet with those who’ll attend the debrief and review the form and lessons learned process with them. Have each person who attends the debrief complete the form and provide it to you (preferably electronically unless you have someone available to transcribe handwritten notes).
  • Compile the completed debrief forms into a master debrief document and distribute to your capture and proposal teams ASAP for incorporation on your next proposal efforts.

Developing lessons learned is a two-step process. First, you need to gather the lessons learned information. Second, you need to incorporate the lessons learned into your capture and proposal development processes and institutionalize them.

I periodically presented lessons learned updates to corporate and division management to remind them of the importance of best practices. I also printed our capture and proposal team’s Top 10 Lessons Learned as a poster that hung on the wall in all conference rooms! After a couple of months of seeing these lessons learned during every proposal meeting, teams started self-policing themselves and pointing out applicable lessons learned to each other when they were in danger of violating one of them!

How do you gather and live your team’s lessons learned? Let me know at