Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, Color Reviews are Essential to Proposal Development

OK, I admit it.  I hate color reviews.  First, they force proposal preparation to pause while the review occurs costing valuable hours in what is usually a time-constrained process.  Secondly, comments, inputs, and direction from the reviewers often conflict with each other or, worse, would make the proposal non-compliant if implemented.  Then there is the part about having our work picked apart by non-proposal people that do not understand the fundamentals and, yes, the art that goes into a fine offering.  Oh, yes, I do hate color reviews.

Of course, there was that time when there were no reviews at all.  Everything was great – until the business unit president flipped through the finished product and decided it did not reflect how he wanted to pursue the opportunity.  The proposal team agreed.  A shallow beach during a tsunami was preferable to the aftermath of the unreviewed proposal.  It turns out that unless we pause to see where we are, determine what needs to be fixed, and ensure we are meeting the intent of senior leadership, we can’t get to where we need to be and chaos, if not disaster, reigns.  We need reviews!

So, what do we need from the reviewers and what do they need from us to make sure that color reviews are value-added?  Foremost, we as proposal managers need to understand that color reviews might be the only points in the proposal development process where key stakeholders interface with the process to guide the outcome.  What is a stakeholder?  With respect to proposal development, a stakeholder is any person or group with the authority to approve/disapprove or to influence the approval/disapproval of the contents of the proposal.  With this definition it is easy to make a list of things we need from reviewers.  Reviewers and/or stakeholders need to:

  • Reviewers need to be, or to at least represent, the proposal stakeholders with the say-so on bid strategy, technical approach, price, win themes, etc.
  • Be trained in the basic do’s and don’ts of proposal development. For example, they need to understand that proposal instructions provided by the customer must be precisely followed to be considered compliant in most Government proposals.
  • Be familiar with the solicitation, its requirements, and constraints.
  • Understand the purpose of the review and provide specific, requested feedback. This may be guidance and direction early or detailed editing later in the process.
  • Commit to and participate according to the schedule.
  • Resolve conflicts among themselves to provide coherent guidance to the proposal team.

In short, we need the reviewers to engage with the proposal team to provide guidance and direction – especially early – as well as to be the outside “sets of eyes” to ensure we’ve hit the mark.  To do this, they need our help. Here are a general set of ground rules for doing just that.  Proposal managers need to:

  • Identify the stakeholders, their representatives, their reviewers and request/receive their guidance. Where conflict between stakeholders exists, it may fall to the proposal team to arrange solution meetings.
  • Provide the appropriate level of training. This may be a section in the kickoff of a review, or formal training as appropriate and as resources allow.
  • Be expert in the requirements and constraints of the solicitation and advise stakeholders appropriately.
  • Provide reviewers with specific instructions with respect to the purpose of the review, the desired form of feedback, and administrative instructions.
  • Have a clear process for collection and tracking of inputs from the reviewers.
  • Have a clear process for vetting of inputs and resolution of conflicting inputs.
  • Provide feedback to the reviewers on the disposition of their comments and recommendations.
  • Provide reviewers with all review materials and schedule adequate time to conduct the requested review.

The earlier we set these expectations, the  more likely we are to have the right people reviewing and providing guidance, receive actionable/consistent guidance, and produce a compliant, compelling proposal that meets the intent of senior leadership.

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