How to do more with less is an age-old question. The simple answer is that we must increase productivity to achieve maximum results for time and effort expended. In the proposal world, productivity means more than generating more bid activity; it means generating more wins within resource constraints.
Typically, as companies in the government marketplace grow, they spend a greater percentage of money on bid and proposal (B&P) costs. This indicator makes sense, as larger companies pursue larger and more complex opportunities. Pre-RFP, the cost of maintaining an adequate pipeline, training personnel, maintaining teaming partners, researching competitors, investing in tools, pursuing capture and solutioning activities, and maintaining databases and repositories all mount.
These investments may or may not pay off with wins, so they are good places to seek cost savings. Often, companies keep pouring money into capture activities and tools without also undertaking adequate gate reviews and making informed bid/no-bid decisions at multiple stages of the business development (BD) life cycle. Capture managers may fail to properly vet the proposed solution with the customer(s), making projections of win probability unreliable. These sunk costs take a toll on B&P budgets and demonstrate poor return on investment (ROI).
Post-RFP, limited time is available to spend money, yet too often companies pour resources into attempting to write and review poorly defined solutions. The ratio of wasted time and money to demonstrated results may actually increase once the RFP drops because of two basic problems.
1. Lack of effective solutioning pre-RFP with proper hand-off post-RFP
Solutioning done pre-RFP is often free form in style. The capture team and solution architects create a solution that does not necessarily focus on what the customer wants, but rather on what they want to offer. A solution of that nature falls apart after RFP release. Why? Because the highest scoring solution needs to directly tie to the evaluation factors and subfactors per the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).
The FAR dictates that government evaluators score the proposal based solely on the evaluation criteria stated in the RFP. For best value, trade-off methodology bids, the Source Selection Board typically scores the proposal based on strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks. A strength is a proven benefit, related to an evaluation factor or subfactor, that exceeds an RFP requirement in a way the customer finds beneficial.
If solutioning pre-RFP fails to identify vetted strengths, then the proposal writers have a very difficult time writing high-scoring prose. Instead, they strive to meet requirements and achieve compliance. Compliance may be king, but it is like a cake without icing. No one, including a proposal evaluator, wants a dry cake. Evaluators look for the icing: substantiated benefits that provide added value beyond compliance. All the time and effort expended pre-RFP is unproductive if it fails to place emphasis on identifying the best and possibly the most strengths – vetted by the customer(s).
2. Ineffective reviews
Clearly, ineffective solutioning that contributes to ineffective writing will make reviews and recovery time consuming and difficult. Color team reviewers often lack the training needed to score the proposal like a government evaluator. They may look for compliance issues, and they may look for win themes and ghosting, but rarely do they review for strengths. As a result, debriefs place an incorrect focus on the likes and dislikes of the reviewers rather than the strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks that government evaluators seek to identify.
Adding to the wasted time and money common to typical color team reviews is the size of the review teams. Bloated color team review teams often include the following types of ineffective reviewers:
- Unprepared: did not read all the solicitation documents and related materials
- Unbriefed: was not briefed on the voice of the customer, potential discriminating strengths that set the offer apart, potential weaknesses and risks that require mitigation, competitors, and the value proposition
- Untrained: received no training in how to score like a government evaluator
- Overwhelmed: assigned to review more material than can be reviewed properly within schedule constraints
- Uninterested: does not want to be there and does a poor job, making comments that are not actionable
- Too late: brought into the process too close to delivery to make a difference
The best way to increase productivity pre- and post-RFP is to train all BD life cycle participants in strengths-based capture, solutioning, writing, and reviewing. When all players focus on defining and articulating discriminating strengths and mitigating or managing risks and weaknesses, win rates increase, assuming that the proposals are priced to win. The most cost-effective, winning value propositions are all about the strengths. A focus on strengths increases productivity.
By Lisa Pafe, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, CPP APMP Fellow and PMI PMP
Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2017 APMP-NCA Executive Summary ezine.
Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals.
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