Quick turnaround task order or grant proposal process

This section describes the minimum proposal process steps to develop a quick turnaround proposal.

The process is tailored to accommodate proposals typically one to two weeks in duration where there is little to no advance notification of release (like IDIQ task orders).

If you are responding to IDIQ task orders (TOs), there are a number of things that should be put into place in advance of the first TO Request for Proposal (RFP) release. For example:

  • Identify the team members and their delegates that will be required to make a bid/no bid decision and the parties required to approve and sign off on the offer at submittal.
  • Develop a standardized template and top level outline that corresponds with the base contract requirements.
  • Develop a standardized milestone schedule (e.g., on Day 1 make a bid decision, on Day 3 receive storyboards and notional graphics from writers, etc.) for all activities that must occur in the short timeframe prior to submittal.
  • Develop a technical reference library for all tech manuals, regulations, etc. that pertain to the contract. Make this library available to the writing and technical team.
  • Develop standardized file naming conventions and use the same convention for all TO proposals associated with the master contract.

The following information identifies steps and provides valuable advice for developing a compliant, comprehensive, compelling, and competitive quick turnaround proposal.

Distribute the RFP and make a final bid decision

Upon receipt of the RFP, in soft- or hardcopy, the proposal manager or coordinator should take the following actions:

  • Attach an RFP review form to the RFP, assign the date and time of the bid decision deadline.
  • Reproduce and distribute RFP to the appropriate personnel and to the directed distribution for review, via appropriate medium.

Allow one day to analyze the RFP sections and for the Capture Manager or Opportunity Lead to prepare a Bid Decision Matrix or fill out a Bid Decision Questionnaire.

Hold a phone-con or conduct a meeting, as appropriate, to discuss the bid decision and share any intelligence gathered about the opportunity. If an individual is unable to be present for the phone-con, they are required to provide input via email or voice within the allotted timeframe.

The proposal champion (a designated decision maker or company executive responsible for the profit center associated with the work if awarded) will make the final bid/no-bid decision.

If a decision to bid is made, a bid decision announcement is distributed and a kickoff meeting is the Proposal Manager (PM) conducts a kickoff meeting the same or following day of the bid decision. The kickoff meeting is the opportunity to refine bid strategies (e.g., themes, discriminators, schedules and team), present the schedule, make assignments, express data calls, develop RFP questions, and clearly state expectations of the team.

Develop a proposal schedule

The PM develops a detailed proposal schedule that incorporates key activities and milestones. The level of detail that should be tracked will depend on the proposal complexity and the amount of time available until the proposal is due. The first download illustrates a schedule for a typical short turnaround task order proposal. The second download presents a sample proposal schedule checklist.

Select the proposal development team

Perhaps the most important step to developing a successful proposal is the selection of an experienced PM and a dedicated and knowledgeable proposal development staff.  The proposal project itself begins when this team is identified.  It is very important that the team be identified early and, hopefully, prior to RFP release.  It is also helpful to set up task teams comprised of a proposal manager, coordinator, and writers and SMEs for IDIQ TO contracts. These teams provide continuity, understanding, and develop a rhythm and process tailored specifically for the contract’s TOs. Most proposal development teams will consist of an experienced PM, proposal coordinator, technical and management volume writers, and cost/pricing and procurement staff.

Conduct a kickoff meeting

The designated PM chairs the proposal kickoff meeting. The kickoff meeting is designed to build upon the ongoing activities of the marketing and BD team. An effective meeting should:

  • Emphasize senior management’s commitment to this project
  • Build motivation
  • Highlight the nature of the procurement and the marketing intelligence gathered about the opportunity
  • Review the competition as well as your company’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Discuss concrete reasons for bidding
  • Highlight the strategies for winning (i.e., technical, management, and cost approaches)
  • Why your company should win and not the competition
  • Discuss any significant or unanticipated changes in the RFP from the initial intelligence gathering efforts
  • Discuss the roles of the teaming partners and subcontractors
  • Review the proposal outline
  • Review the proposal milestone schedule – emphasize the importance of adhering to the schedule
  • Make well-defined writing assignments and assign action items for tracking
  • Discuss writing guidelines (e.g., style, page limitations, word count, margins, etc.)
  • Review major themes and any discriminators identified for this particular opportunity
  • Identify key personnel and any gaps and relevant past performance and experience that must be included in the proposal
  • Review project staffing plan
  • Identify specific publication needs (binders, tabs, graphics, CDs, covers, etc.)
  • Determine the delivery method (who, when and where) as well as a back-up delivery plan

Attendees at the kickoff meeting should include, at a minimum:

  • Principal writers, subject matter experts and contributors
  • Capture Manager or Line Manager
  • Proposal Center staff who will be responsible for proposal word processing and graphics
  • Key reviewers so they are involved from the beginning

Distribute key materials to the team

The following items are distributed to all parties at the kickoff meeting (note these are distributed either electronically or hard copy):

  • Meeting agenda
  • Full copy of the RFP if not previously distributed
  • Proposal summary sheet
  • Proposal team roster/contact list
  • Known information on the competition and the customer
  • Evaluation factors for award
  • Milestone schedule
  • Proposal volume outlines and writing assignments, including page and word allocations as applicable
  • Style guide
  • Draft executive summary (if complete)
  • Resume format requirements
  • Action item sheet
  • Key procurement details and marketing intelligence
  • Competition strengths and weaknesses
  • Your company strengths and weaknesses
  • Win strategy (technical, management and cost)
  • Major or unexpected changes in the solicitation from pre-solicitation intelligence
  • Clarifications and questions
  • Proposal milestone schedule
  • Participating teaming partners and subcontractors and their roles on the effort
  • Data calls
  • Organization chart populated with key personnel and a staffing plan
  • Proposal delivery requirement

The PM should ask the Capture Manager to call the required project references to verify that:

  • They have firsthand knowledge of performance of your company’s team
  • Their experiences with the companies on the team are positive

Companies have been known to submit references in their proposal only to discover at a loser’s debrief that the customer was not pleased with their performance on that project.

Develop a compliance matrix

The PM should prepare a matrix that lists every requirement (shall statement) from the RFP. This matrix is then used to verify that the final company proposal responds to each of the RFP requirements and also assists the government reviewers as they evaluate the proposal.

Prepare storyboards or a detailed outline

After the initial kickoff meeting and the development of a detailed proposal outline that is compliant with the RFP, it is the responsibility of the proposal development team to create the first high-level draft of the proposal.  Some organizations first prepare a graphical representation of the proposal. This is called storyboard development. A storyboard is a convenient way to distill the essence of a presentation down to a thematic sentence, supporting sentences and an illustration. It also provides clear guidance to the proposal writers. Other companies prefer to do this as a detailed proposal outline with thematic sentences. The downside to this approach is that the necessary graphics are often neglected so there is insufficient time later in the proposal lifecycle to develop them.

The PM, together with the key technical contributors, prepares storyboards for each section down to the appropriate level (i.e., section or subsection). For short turnaround proposals, this process should take no more than two (2) days, depending on the turnaround time of the entire proposal effort

One of the most important but neglected aspects of a proposal effort is the development and incorporation of themes. Themes make inferior approaches obvious, drive us to more superior approaches and force us to relate features to benefits.

Themes are:

  • Substantiated sales message, point of emphasis, advantage, unique or superior benefit or supported claim/discriminator
  • Woven throughout the proposal including the cover letter and cover graphic to unify and focus the entire presentation
  • Direct; they address program issues or customer concerns and are supportable with concrete evidence
  • A tool to incorporate your strengths and the competition’s weaknesses
  • Responsive to an RFP Section L, proposal requirements and Section M, evaluation criteria

The best themes are also discriminators. They are:

  • Non-trivial in the customer’s eyes
  • Unique to the company or team
  • Believable and easily defensible
  • Not possessed by the known competitors
  • Clearly identified and substantiated in the proposal

Click here for a more detailed discussion of themes and discriminators.

Blue Team proposal review 

Note: Often there is not sufficient time in a quick turnaround proposal schedule to conduct a formal Blue Team review. However, the function is critical to ensure the proposal gets off to a solid start. Especially for quick turnaround proposals, the effort to perform these functions, even informally, will minimize the necessity for proposal rewrites.

The purpose of this proposal review (Blue Team) is to focus on the technical and management approach, the cost and pricing strategy approach to ensure that these methodologies, approaches and strategies align with base contract requirements, company policy, and other regulatory compliance influences. Whereas, the Red Team validates the approaches defined in Blue Team and critiques content, compliance, the use of themes and discriminators, the effectiveness of the visuals (graphics and tables), the presentation of the offer and the cohesiveness of the overall proposal.

This Blue Team review is very important in the process. It allows the proposal team, writers and evaluators to see exactly what the proposal team has in mind.  If the writers are off track from the original proposal strategy it can be easily corrected without losing a significant amount of time.

For a more detailed discussion of blue team proposal reviews.

Red Team proposal review

The second proposal review or Red Team plays the role of a customer technical evaluator of the draft proposal.  The Red Team members must have a clear understanding of the requirements as outlined in the RFP; they must be conscious of all issues addressed in the Blue Team and kickoff meetings.  They must review the proposal for full compliance in addition to strategy, cost approach, visuals and organization.  The Red Team critiques all aspects of the proposal from themes and discriminators, to effectiveness of the visuals (graphics and tables), presentation of the offer and, finally, the cohesiveness of the overall proposal.  To avoid new direction late in the proposal process, Red Team members should also have participated in the earlier kick-off meeting and, the Blue Team review if it was conducted.

In many instances, this is the last review of the proposal before delivery; therefore, this review is critical to the process.  The feedback that is provided at this stage in the process is more important now than at any other time.  It is imperative at this juncture that the Red Team provides clear, detailed direction to the proposal team and not cursory or high-level comments.  If there are serious problems with specific sections of the proposal, it is not uncommon for a Red Team member to re-write them in their entirety.  Due to time constraints, this should be avoided. If time permits, a third and final smaller Gold Team review should be conducted.  The roles and responsibilities of a Gold Team are the same as a Red team, except that the review team concentrates primarily on last minute proposal compliance and quality as opposed to content.

Click here for a more detailed discussion of red team proposal reviews.

Proposal production

Once the final review has been completed, the proposal is turned over to the white glove specialist for final editing and formatting.  It is this individual’s responsibility to make sure that all pieces are arranged as necessary and that printing is complete, books are assembled and all proposal delivery instructions are adhered to, including any specific delivery marking instructions.  The PM is responsible for verifying the compliance of proper assembly and ultimate on-time delivery.

Click here for a more detailed discussion of proposal production.

Proposal Delivery

Proposal delivery should be a topic of discussion at the initial kickoff meeting.  Arrangements should be made in advance for the delivery method and backup delivery plan. Delivery options can include email, fax, file transfer protocol methods, hand delivery, or courier. It is important to make your plan based on any instructions or guidance provided in the RFP. There is absolutely no excuse for a proposal to be delivered late.  Most agencies will NOT forgive a proposal that is even a minute late.  It is the PM’s responsibility to ensure that the proposal is in the hands of the government contracting officer on or before the time and date directed in the RFP.

Once the proposal is submitted, the PM and Capture Manager or Line Manager are responsible for the following types of pre-award activities:

  • Evaluation Notice (EN) responses which can include both technical and cost clarifications
  • Best and Final Offer (BAFO) or Final Proposal Revisions (FPR) submissions
  • Oral presentation preparation, briefing slides, presentation reviews and feedback
  • Facilities visit
  • Proof of process demonstrations
  • After action review and lessons learned

– Mike Lisagor and Melanie Baker

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