Delayed Solicitations: Playing the Hurry Up and Wait game requires more than patience – it takes planning

We’ve all been here before … your firm has been tracking a planned Request for Proposal (RFP) that meets your business development objectives and growth plans. The Government recently hosted an Industry Day and then released a Draft RFP (DRFP) for industry review and comment.

As Capture / Proposal Manager, after your final analysis, you made a pitch to your leadership to make a pre-release “GO” decision and they agreed for you to convene your proposal team early and start your proposal now to get ahead. Believing that the final RFP is imminent, your team begins its prep work and is actively working against the DRFP. Then, anywhere from weeks, to immediately prior to the anticipated release date, the Government issues a delay pushing back the final RFP more than 90 days.

What do you do?

All too often, final RFPs can be delayed several times – sometimes running months (or even years) past the original release date. There can be many reasons for a delay: discovery of a structural problem with the RFP, a funding challenge, a threat of protest from an incumbent, etc.

No matter the reason; your challenge now is to “keep the fire lit” with your team.

Even though your team may have progressed according to schedule, and even if your B&P budget is tracking well, a lengthy delay will still create significant challenges. Matrixed personnel will likely be called back to their ‘home station’ to resume normal duties. Your contracting and pricing organizations may no longer consider you a priority. Your company leadership will be expecting you to find out what caused the delay and expect a good argument to keep the proposal team intact.

This is an eventuality you want to consider before the delay occurs, not when it happens. There are many steps you can take to prepare for a delayed RFP:

  • During the capture phase, recognize that there is always uncertainty on the timing of an RFP release.  Avoid taking the Government’s release estimate as a permanent mark on the wall and instead communicate to your team, and to senior leadership, a realistic probability assessment of on-time RFP release. Keep in touch regularly with the Government’s Contracting Officer or Program Manager to gauge how the release date is progressing and revise the probability accordingly. Look into the agency’s prior release history for clues to their likelihood of releasing an RFP on time.
  • During the comment period offer the Government’s contracting team objective, thoughtful ideas on how to improve their RFP; especially ideas which are not just going to benefit your company. It will gain you significant credibility with the Government and may offer you some leeway when trying to learn things later in the process.
  • When you are selecting your proposal team, try to get written commitments from each team member’s senior leaders (both within your company and among your subcontractor teammates) stating they will be available for the project’s duration; it’s harder for a manager to recant on a written agreement, especially if it has the co-signature of your own leadership team.
  • Maintain daily status records for each proposal volume and major proposal-related project (e.g., resumes, a total compensation plan, a small business participation plan, etc.) indicating what’s completed, what’s open, who’s responsible, etc., so that you can readily pick up again if you are forced to take a pause.
  • Prepare a contingency shutdown plan to help you organize and accomplish an orderly slow-down and re-start. ID your critical / key personnel that cannot be replaced easily and identify them as such on inter-departmental communications and commitment letters.
  • Decide what Volumes can continue being worked even during a significant delay – Administrative, Past Performance, and (to a lesser extent) Management Volumes are often not significantly affected by delays and/or revised RFPs. Think through what you can reasonably continue working on during a delay and build a revised proposal schedule that keeps people engaged at some minimum level of effort (e.g., 1 full day a week) so that they don’t go cold.
  • Review your ‘backward planning steps’ to deliver the proposal on time and identify those tasks, milestones, and personnel that are critical to your proposal efforts – and make sure those ‘critical’ aspects are accounted for in your contingency planning.

Bottom line:  RFP delays need to be part of your go/no go decision and proposal planning process; don’t let them throw you – plan for delays, just like any other contingency.

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