OP ED: Death of the War Room as We Know It

COVID-19 is changing our world and changing us.

Very quickly we’re learning new ways to do … pretty much everything. As the argument about when to ‘get back to normal’ percolates, perhaps there’s one tenet we can agree on: ‘normal’ will likely look a lot different.

For federal contractors preparing bids and proposals, the new normal may turn out to be an even better way of winning business.

    • Large and small businesses are working remotely now, holding virtual kick-offs, solutioning sessions, and color reviews via Zoom, MS Teams, and other virtual collaboration tools.
    • They’re developing new policies, procedures, and best practices.
    • They’re adeptly working through technology, managerial, and logistical glitches that were barriers to remote collaboration pre-pandemic.

As they navigate this new reality, learning from and rapidly correcting hiccups inevitable in any new process, federal contractors are getting more productive every day. Leadership is beginning to rethink pre-conceived imperatives of in-person collaboration. With the right technology, remote meetings, design work, solutioning, and writing are possible – and cost-effective.

    • Re-locating staff and consultants to a Proposal War Room for months on end is not necessary; physically meeting at key times is often more impactful.
    • Less office infrastructure is needed; smaller, flexible office space acquired via short-term leases may be feasible.
    • Travel costs, both direct expenses and the associated unproductive time, will decrease.

Together these and other changes will save federal contractors significant overhead and B&P dollars, which could translate into greater productivity and more efficient pursuit of new business. With the right guidance and policies – from virtual collaboration tool training to strong messages from leadership that reinforce the value of the team, wherever they are – employees will ultimately benefit from less stress associated with commuting and more time with their families.

Many of these adjustments were underway, albeit at a slower pace, prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 just forced our hand. Take advantage of this time now to learn and adapt so we can smoothly transition to a smarter, safer new normal when restrictions lift.

Help for Your FY 2020 Pipeline

Deltek recently released its Top 20 Unrestricted Federal Opportunities list for 2020 and ClientView is tracking. More than $265B is up for grabs in just the Top 20 – $100B more than in FY19 – in these industries:

  • Environment and Conservation Services
  • Health Services
  • Information Technology
  • Professional Services (four opportunities)
  • Operations & Maintenance
  • Defense & Aerospace
  • Architecture Engineering and Construction

Follow-on opportunities account for 80% of the Top 20 total contract value. Leading the way are the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Saving Performance Contract (ESPC) Gen 4 – estimated at $60B with an RFP release date of April 2020 – followed closely by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) TRICARE Managed Support Services (T-5) – estimated at $57.2B with an RFP release date of May 2020. Six opportunities from the FY19 list make a reappearance with a combined value of $51B.

For more information on these and other opportunities, give us a call.

Can We Win?

How to Read an RFP to Find Out

Finally. You did your research. You identified future procurements of interest. You prepared your Capture Plan. You met with the Government PM/COR. You decided to Prime and have drafted subcontracting agreements. You conducted the Black Hat. Now, finally, you hold the RFP in your hands.

So, what will you read first? Maybe the SOW to be sure your scope predictions are accurate and your company’s capabilities are still a good match. Or maybe Section L to find out what they want for a proposal. Or the price requirements.

While these sections are important, and you certainly need to read them, the first thing you absolutely need to know is the answer to this question: “Can we win?” And that answer is found by reading and analyzing Section M, Evaluation Factors.

The point of reading Section M first is for you – the person that’s about to spend a great deal of your firm’s money and effort – to determine whether your firm has a clear path to winning the contract. And you can’t do that until you review each Evaluation Factor to be sure you can provide a clear, compelling reason that your firm is the right choice.

It’s not sufficient to brag about your capabilities. You need to see the procurement the way the Government sees it. Begin by critically assessing each Evaluation Factor, asking 1) why is this factor in the RFP? 2) what does the Government want to accomplish? and 3) what value will this factor deliver? Then articulate how your firm is better than the competition in helping the Government achieve its objectives. You must demonstrate strengths and discriminators to win.

Resist the temptation to glibly document “experience” as an answer. Your experience is not a sufficient answer to an Evaluation Factor unless that Factor explicitly calls for your “experience”. Nor is it a discriminator or a strength unless you can translate it into results that apply to Section M, such as exceeding performance requirements or delivering merit above and beyond PWS/SOW requirements. And it is also not a discriminator or a strength unless the Government evaluator can clearly develop a meaningful answer to that irksome question – “So What?”

Be aware of, and have a plan to address, two complexities in the way Evaluation Factors are typically presented.

1. The first is that the Government often presents an overview for several related evaluation factors. Such introductory paragraphs may speak of things like “risk reduction” or “timely performance” or “quality control” or other broad phrases that link two or more evaluation factors. The Government may be signaling a problem they have experienced with a contractor and want to fix, or introducing an internal performance improvement objective. It is not unusual for extremely well qualified firms to address each evaluation factor in detail but ignore the introductory paragraph.

2. Second, sometimes two or three aspects of an evaluation factor are included in a single sentence. ClientView has seen many draft proposals where all aspects are addressed in combination. This makes it harder for the Evaluator to score the proposal, inviting a low score in one or more of the aspects.

So … be smart in preparing your annotated outlines. Parse every sentence – forcing your writers to address all of the Government’s concerns, no matter where they show up. It may seem like overkill, but it’s a step in the path toward making sure your answer to “Can we win?” is “Yes … and we did.”

Complying with Proposal Requirements – So Easy a Kindergartener Can Do it, Right?

At a very young age we’re taught simple life rules like Share, Play Fair, Put Things Back, Flush, Follow Directions.

Easy enough, right?

In the proposal world, “Follow Directions” is synonymous with “Be Compliant.” Good writers start with an outline (preferably an annotated one) that follows RFP Section L and incorporates Section M, and good managers enforce adherence to that outline throughout draft development. But … along the way, teams may be tempted to stray, and if not committed to holding each other accountable to that outline, a slight change here, another there, can put all your good work in jeopardy.

Why is it so hard to follow the Government’s proposal requirements? Here are three theories:

  1. Sometimes the RFP looks like a Kindergartener’s collage – either written by several different people or by one person who cut and pasted from several other RFPs. “Their organization just doesn’t make sense,” laments the CEO/BD Director/other senior company leader. “We’ll ‘fix’ it for them.”
  2. The page limitations are too strict. I once had a client who tried to skirt a 15-page page limit by including a 45-page Executive Summary (the Executive Summary was excluded from the page count, and the Government didn’t assign a page limit to it).
  3. Companies often want to include “facts” they believe are “must haves” for a win, but RFP Sections L&M don’t allow for those facts. “We need to include them anyway,” asserts the CEO/BD Director/other senior company leader.

All three theories, based on real proposal experiences, have one theme: A company’s tendency to think they know what the Government wants better than the Government. If acted upon, this tendency can be a fatal proposal mistake. After all, who wants to work with a company that can’t do something as simple as follow directions?

Always resist the temptation to deviate from Sections L&M

  • If the RFP is a jumbled mess, ask the Government a clarifying question, but don’t re-organize your proposal so it “makes sense.”
  • If you’re page constrained, write concisely (or get an editor who can!). Never attempt to sneak in text in areas not included in a page count. That information won’t be scored, so it’s not worth your effort – or the risk in irritating evaluators. Remember that evaluators have a score sheet that mirrors the RFP. Make it easy – not hard – for them to score you.
  • Don’t add extraneous technical details, marketing language, or non-relevant experience blurbs just to tout greatness. Focus on your strengths relative to the current procurement. Put the customer’s needs first and respond only to those needs in a way that matters to the customer.

When you’re tempted to stray from what the Government wants, think like a Kindergartener – always Follow Directions.

How to Score When Page Constrained

by Luanne Smulsky

The RFP’s SOW/PWS is 30 pages, and the Government wants your technical solution to address all requirements within 15. You must be compliant, persuasive … and concise.

Easier said than done? Indeed! But with the right outline, time to prepare, and skilled writers, your proposal can comply and be convincing – even within tight page limits.

ClientView helps SMEs prepare concise drafts with annotated outlines. We often recommend addressing each SOW/PWS task as follows:

  1. 1-2 sentence Task Understanding – without using the words “we understand”
  2. 3-5 sentences about the Solution – HOW you’ll accomplish the tasks with process, tools, and people, NOT what you’ll do
  3. Proof – brief (maybe 3 sentences), but replete with quantitative results your solution provided other customers

Focused writing is challenging. If you’re struggling, give us a call. We have plenty of examples and are adept at drawing out scoreable information from SMEs. 

SDI-NG2 Draft RFP Coming Soon

Are You Preparing for SDI-NG2?

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has an ongoing requirement for software development and integration professional IT services.

Software Development and Integration – Next Generation 2 (SDI-NG2) is the USPTO’s $1.7B follow-on contract for software development and integration services for Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) products with customized software applications, database applications, and other solutions.  Continue reading “SDI-NG2 Draft RFP Coming Soon” »

Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP

Part 2 – Planning Your Slides

Last November we blogged about CV’s approach to oral proposal development – how our Plan, Organize, Practice process makes your presentations POP. In this blog, we expand upon the Plan phase.

Typically, your PowerPoint Slides serve as your oral proposal’s official record. So, it’s essential they convey your skills, capabilities, and understanding, and, most importantly –establish that your company is the superior choice for the bid. Continue reading “Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP” »

Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP

You’re a good proposal writer. You’ve been trained, understand the process, know how to analyze an RFP and organize your response, and can turn your SMEs’ input into compelling proposal language. So when the VP of Marketing drops an RFP for an oral proposal on your desk, you’re not worried – ‘No big deal – I’ll just write the proposal in PowerPoint slides instead of Word.’ You soon find out it’s a bigger deal than you thought. Continue reading “Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP” »

Helping Government Contractors Solve Top Business Development Challenges

Helping Government Contractors Solve Top Business Development Challenges

Have you seen Deltek’s recent results from its 2015 Top Business Development Challenges for Government Contractors survey?

Of the top five challenges, two are critical to a firm’s ability to win:

  • #1 – Limited Business Development (BD) Resources
  • #5 – Not Enough Time to Assemble High Quality Responses to RFPs and RFIs

Continue reading “Helping Government Contractors Solve Top Business Development Challenges” »

The Value of Debriefings – for Winning Teams

The Value of Debriefings – for Winning Teams

So you’ve just won that $500M Single Award Task Order Contract. Your team is celebrating, and rightly so, and you’re preparing for the kick-off meeting.

The furthest thing from your mind is asking for a debriefing. Why bother … you won! Debriefings are for the losers.

Or are they?

In truth – you need a debriefing when you win just as much as when you don’t. Continue reading “The Value of Debriefings – for Winning Teams” »