The first step to develop a successful major government proposal is to formulate a proposal strategy and document it in a Proposal Management Plan (PMP).
Now that the Draft RFP (or Final RFP) is released, you can more accurately answer four important questions about your competitive position:
- Can your proposal plan and proposal team strategy deliver a proposal that fully meets the customer’s rules and requirements?
- What is your probability of winning?
- What actions can/should you take to raise that win probability?
- Given the odds of winning, do the rewards (projected revenue, fee, market objectives, etc.) justify further investment in capture effort and/or the assumption of the programmatic, contractual, and financial risks of winning the work?
Here is a sample proposal strategy activity checklist:
Proposal Strategy Development Activity List (Word document)
The Proposal Strategy Development Activity List illustrated below highlights a number of the capture and proposal planning efforts that strengthen your competitive position and provide a higher probability of win.
For purposes of this discussion, we are assuming that you will receive a draft RFP. If no draft is issued, the same series of activities should be performed on the final RFP. Upon receipt of the draft RFP, you develop the information the Blue Team requires by launching the proposal strategy development process. This process has seven major activities:
- Initiate the B&P Phase
- Perform draft RFP analysis
- Complete opportunity risk review
- Revise capture plan win strategy
- Begin Proposal Management Plan (PMP) development
- Compile and consider RFP questions and comments
- Compile Blue Team Review package (i.e., the Proposal Strategy)
1. Initiate the Bid & Proposal (B&P) Phase
Upon receipt of the Draft RFP, the Capture Manager (CM) or Proposal Manager (PM) obtains preliminary B&P budget approval and opens the B&P charge code. This enables costs to be collected from the strategy development process through the Blue Team Review. Proposal strategy development costs are not usually significant, so funding the efforts through Blue Team presents little risk. The CM mobilizes the PM (if not currently assigned) and distributes the RFP to parties critical to the development of the proposal strategy, including the bid champion (business segment executive), CM, PM, Cost Analyst, Legal, and the Program Manager. These parties participate in the RFP analysis/risk review and generate candidate questions for submittal to the customer.
2. Perform Draft RFP Analysis
You perform a draft RFP analysis, comparing your capture intelligence/assumptions to the customer’s documented contracting, procurement and award fee plan approach. You assess the RFP and develop requests for clarification and questions that will not jeopardize revealing your strategy to the competition. Questions are targeted at enhancing your understanding and competitive position.
Based on the draft RFP analysis, you refine the relevant capture and planning information developed to date — the capture plan win strategy, risk review, competitors’ analysis, and proposal resource plan. You then augment this information by developing the initial Proposal Management Plan and the Why Us summary. The compilation of this information is presented to the Blue Team for review and comment. The Blue Team is then able to provide an informed recommendation to management in the proposal authorization decision process (See Bid Decision Making and Reasons to No Bid under the BD Category).
The focal points of draft RFP analysis are:
- Confirming expectations
- Understanding requirements
- Assessing risks associated with financial, contractual, and operational aspects of the work
- Generating and submitting questions to Government
Capture and resource planning are based on expectations for contract and RFP requirements. Key expectations that influence proposal strategy development include:
- Contract type and fee potential – RFP, Section B
- Performance work scope — RFP, Section C
- Period/place of performance — RFP, Section F
- Fee plans and special requirements — RFP, Section H
- New/revised terms and conditions in model contract – RFP, Sections B-J
- Proposal requirements — RFP, Section L
- Source selection method — RFP, Section M
For existing contract competitions (re-competes), there are usually few surprises in Draft RFPs. Draft RFPs issued for new programmatic activities are more likely to deviate from expectations generated from customer interactions. When the Draft RFP requirements deviate from expectations, the capture and proposal resource plans are revised to align with the customer’s RFP requirements and competitive realities.
The CM and PM review the RFP (with comments collected from other interested parties) to confirm a mutual understanding of both the contract and proposal requirements. The results of the RFP analysis form the basis for revising the opportunity Capture, Risk, and Proposal Management Plan.
3. Complete Opportunity Risk Review
The Draft RFP contains the model contract for the opportunity, which comes with some risk — perhaps more than is acceptable for your company’s business model. Therefore, you should submit the RFP for a contract risk review. The output from this initial review will assist the Blue Team in developing the recommendation for management’s bid/no-bid decision process. This review is a specialized type of RFP analysis targeted at identifying and quantifying the risk to the company from entering into a contract with the customer. Risks that are assessed include, but are not limited to:
- Contract and fee type
- Environmental liability
- Employee/public safety
- Profit and pension
Your risk review/analysis process is a group effort involving multiple corporate organizations — risk, contracts, finance, and program management. Upon receipt of the Draft RFP, the CM identifies the organizations/parties required to contribute to the risk review. The PM distributes the draft to these parties to provide their professional opinion on the risks associated with:
- Contractual requirements that pose a source of risk
- Risk characterization in terms of likelihood of occurrence, severity of impact, and potential consequences if left unmitigated or unmanaged
- Abnormally high risk areas
- Mitigation approaches to each risk identified
- Recommended negotiation position
The CM is responsible for bringing the review process to a swift conclusion. Once the risk review team completes their efforts, the CM prepares a summary of the risk review team’s findings and revises the risk profile in the capture plan. As part of the capture plan, the risk review results are incorporated into the Blue Team review package.
4. Revise Capture Plan Win Strategy
The Draft RFP can drive revisions to the win strategy (developed earlier in the BD process and presented in the capture plan) — particularly, the Win Strategy Paper and supporting actions (e.g., teaming approach, concept of operations, price-to-win, key personnel, and technical/management approaches). Major deviations from the expected RFP requirements can lead to significant changes in the fundamental capture strategies. For example, an addition or deletion of scope can precipitate a need to adjust the team organization, concept of operations, key people and competitive and self-analyses. The draft contract type and Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) can alter the existing opportunity risk profile. The proposal instructions (submittal requirements) may impact the proposal development budget estimate.
Themes, discriminators, innovations, and initiatives are reviewed for relevance to the draft proposal requirements. The Capture Manager will address, or note for action, where there are gaps in a compelling teaming arrangement for each evaluation factor and subfactor. This mapping forms the basis of the Why Your Company summary, which is discussed below.
Gaps and issues arising from capture plan revisions are documented for resolution in an action item list. Action item resolution and closure are managed in conjunction with proposal strategy development. The action item list and revised capture plan are incorporated as part of the proposal strategy for Blue Team Review.
Begin Proposal Management Plan (PMP) Development
The Proposal Manager is responsible for developing a PMP that includes the proposal schedule, staff and organization, and writing module descriptions. The Draft RFP usually provides enough information to support the PM’s efforts in developing a preliminary PMP. Often, the Government will provide draft Sections C, L, and M for comment. This information is usually sufficient to develop a compliance outline and, for professional services bids, confirm the adequacy of the proposal team staffing plan.
Draft proposal requirements may differ from the assumptions used for resource planning in Step 1. The PM works with the CM to align resources (primarily budget and staff) and effort required to develop a winning proposal. The final PMP is developed in Step 4, after the Blue Team Review and after management has made a bid decision.
The Instructions to Offerors (Section L) specifies what the Government expects from the offeror. This section of the RFP is of particular importance to proposal planning and includes:
- Question submittal instructions
- Industry day or site visit information
- Packaging and distribution instructions
- Due date and time
- Volume layout, format requirements, and page limitations
- Response instructions
At a minimum, the PM develops the following PMP documents for inclusion in the proposal strategy:
- Proposal schedule — the time-phase plan for the proposal, including:
- Intention to bid
- Draft and review of written materials per proposal process
- Customer question submittal dates
- Dissemination, tracking, and receipt of Past Performance Questionnaires (PPQs)
- Oral presentation material and training
- Production and submittal of proposal material
- Proposal organization chart and staffing plan
- Proposal development modules:
- Logical breakdown of proposal sections for assignment to accountable author and Subject Matter Expert (SME)
In addition to these minimum requirements, the PM develops a sample proposal requirements matrix. The compliance outlining exercise can uncover unrecognized strengths and weaknesses in the company’s competitive position. Compliance outlines also help determine a page-count allocation for the writing modules. In turn, this aids in identifying the skill types and quantifying the participation level of the proposal team.
6. Submit RFP Questions and Comments
The draft proposal phase of the procurement process is an opportunity to make substantive changes in the RFP. The goals of the questions, comments, and clarifications are to influence the RFP in your company’s favor, correct gross errors in the RFP, and improve your understanding of RFP requirements (to ensure a responsive and compliant proposal). The CM collects the questions from the various parties involved in the RFP analysis. Before questions are forwarded to the customer, they are vetted by the SMEs, the Capture Manager, Proposal Manager, Contracts, and other affected parties. A meeting (or teleconference) is convened to review the questions, comments, and clarifications.
Before submittal, care should be taken not to ask questions that will elicit an unacceptable answer to the company’s bid strategy. Questions, if possible, should be worded to elicit a yes or no answer. The CM or contracts manager is typically responsible for forwarding draft RFP questions to the customer.
7. Compile Blue Team Review package
The strategy document is a compilation of the documentation developed to date:
- Revised capture plan/win strategy — approach to performing the work, competitive posture, and budget
- Preliminary PMP — Resources and proposal schedule development
- Risk review — Legal liabilities/mitigations, profit risk/reward, and technical and performance risk
- Action item list — actions underway to address win strategy weaknesses, proposal resource gaps, and opportunity risks
Complete the Proposal Strategy Document by developing a Why Your Company summary. This is a listing, by evaluation factor and subfactor and the corresponding benefits to the government of your solution. Potential overall themes are tested for applicability and relevancy across factor and sub factors. At this point the summary is conceptual.
Upon completing the documents that comprise the Proposal Strategy, the CM hosts the Blue Team Review.
– Melanie Baker & Mike Lisagor