With the uncertainties and cost cutting we weathered in 2013, the 2014 market demands contractors increase competitiveness. According to Deltek GovWin, Federal Government contract spending has declined by $35 billion over the past 3 years, which amounts to a 6% drop in contract spending. In the most recent annual Grant Thornton contractor survey, 60% of respondents reported either no profit or profit in the 1–5% range. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Government reports that the trend towards multiple award vehicles decreases revenues for firms previously dependent on single-award deals while simultaneously increasing Bid and Proposal (B&P) costs.
An effective way to stop wasting money in a tight market is to increase B&P productivity through innovation. This column addresses innovation across the following areas.
People – Gone are the days when contractors could afford bloated proposal teams, including high travel costs, three square meals a day plus snacks, and reams of wasted paper. While it may not qualify as an innovation to go lean, our industry has been slow to adopt lean principles such as right sizing. Going lean can be as simple as spending time during the planning stages to assess what types of skills, experience, and competencies – as well as personalities – are needed and when.
Compare what you need to the available pool team-wide, and then don’t hesitate to play favorites when selecting the team. Identify and segment each person’s competencies and keep track of the same in your database. Just as important as the ability to write might be the ability to collaborate and be a team player.
As the Capture or Proposal Manager, you need to make honest assessments and tough decisions. You can’t afford to waste resources by selecting the wrong capture and proposal personnel. Once you have the players identified, cycle them in and out of the team as needed rather than keeping the entire team booked continuously and risking unproductive down time. Not only will this approach reduce costs, but it will also keep the players fresh and focused.
Processes – The best of the breed are eliminating wasteful, multi-step processes and tailoring their approach to leaner times. Innovators ask tough questions. Does it really make sense to ask writers to deliver content and reviewers to review only at set points on the calendar? Should we perform competitive analysis only for Black Hat? Are formal 1- to 2-day color team reviews truly effective?
Innovative companies are borrowing iterative methods from Agile software development. Agile teaches that the longer it takes to find a defect, the more expensive it is to address. Applying the same principle, if we wait until set points on the calendar to perform reviews, recovery will be more difficult. Smart companies use iterative cycles to rapidly respond to change. They receive and review proposal inputs (competitive analysis, proposal content, review comments) in smaller pieces that the Capture and Proposal Manager deliver to the team in real-time (leveraging technology) to provide immediate feedback. In addition, with the rise in multiple award vehicles and task orders with shorter turnaround times, iterative techniques are more important than ever.
Technology – Enterprise proposal management software is becoming increasingly popular and is proven especially effective for managing and communicating with geographically dispersed and leaner teams. We are all familiar with products that help store, control, revise, distribute, review, and publish proposals through centralized libraries, calendars, search capabilities, and proposal working sites. Innovations include the trend towards systems that support and enforce specific company capture and proposal processes, automated work flows, and reporting while at the same time integrating, leveraging, and analyzing pipeline information from industry research groups and social media inputs from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more.
These integrated enterprise wide offerings require some upfront investment to define requirements and tailor the COTS offering. However, in the long run, enterprise systems save money, increase collaboration and knowledge transfer, and support continual improvement. The trend towards the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) further introduces efficiencies, especially for companies with less mature IT infrastructures.
What innovations will enhance our field in the year(s) ahead? Send me your ideas for future columns at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com.
Lisa Pafe is a Principal Consultant at Lohfeld Consulting Group, Inc. With more than 20 years of experience in business capture, process improvement, project and proposal management, and proposal operations, Lisa is a CPP APMP and a PMI-certified PMP as well as a trained ISO 9001:2008 Internal Auditor. She currently serves on the APMP-NCA Board of Directors as the Vice President.
She holds a BA in Political Science from Yale University, a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University, and a Masters in Information Systems from The George Washington University.