Don’t make these mistakes – 12 past performance lessons learned

Here are some of our Lohfeld Consulting Group team’s top past performance-related lessons learned from our collective experience managing and submitting thousands and thousands of proposals over our careers.

  • In terms of populating your past performance repository (every company must have one), enforce a company-wide policy for project/program managers (PM) to develop detailed past performances for every project. Enforce the policy, update the past performances every 6 months, and provide PMs with incentives for compliance.
  • Develop comprehensive templates for collecting past performance information in an effort to answer likely solicitation questions. For example, ask PMs to define objectives achieved, schedule compliance, cost compliance, businesslike concern for customer interests, problem resolution, tools/technologies, etc.
  • Before asking PMs to update past performance descriptions, provide them with training and instructions. All past performance summaries must be accomplishment oriented. They should indicate what you did and how well you did with lots of factoids and substantiating information.
  • Supplement past performance information provided by PMs with information found in staff resumes. Get human resources (HR) involved so they can provide facts about retention rates, number of degrees or certifications, training, etc.

When developing your proposal’s past performance section for a particular proposal:

  • Provide current, relevant past performances that are comparable in size and scope, and provide metrics and examples to prove your assertions. Define how you are determining relevance in size, scope, and complexity because if you don’t, every past performance write-up will be approached differently:
    • Size: Contract value, full time employees (FTE), number of task orders.
    • Scope: Similar tasks to the statement of work (SOW)/performance work statement (PWS).
    • Complexity: Much harder to define and requires brainstorming with the proposal team.
  • Reconsider bidding if you don’t have current, relevant past performances that are comparable in size and scope. Presuming you’re planning ahead and determining potential past performances to use in your bid well ahead of RFP release, consider adding teammates to fill in your past performance gaps. Perhaps you need to join another team as a subcontractor – getting part of the work on a contract is often better than losing everything!
  • The whole thing rests on results and measures of success/performance. That sets apart a great past performance from an okay past performance. Consider a couple of key issues:
  • Engage other business units or internal organizations early if you need to use their past performances and references. Most groups don’t like to go to the well too often with their best references. Get in line early!
  • Don’t rely on subcontractors’ past performances solely. Having a past performance weighted heavily towards subcontractor past performances typically creates too much perceived risk in the eyes of evaluators.
    • Show results: Past performances are not lists of tasks and activities.
    • Define quality in roughly the same way the government is told to write Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS).
    • Stay on top of your PMs to provide measurable quality items because they are showing quality of performance.
  • Show diversity of experience. Provide examples of similar work for other clients that show your extensive knowledge base and ability to share best practices.
  • Provide current references for each past performance with validated contact information. Check each piece of contact data and confirm its accuracy. Even if you used the past performance 3 months ago, someone may have a new phone number or mailing address. It’s not the evaluator’s job to search for updated contact information when your submitted information is out of date or incorrect.
  • Contact all references to confirm their ability to provide excellent references or select new past performances to submit.

What are some of your favorite past performance-related lessons learned – and how did you learn them? Send an email to me listing your favorites, and I’ll update my list!


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Lohfeld Consulting