Composing Strengths to Score Blue

I’m addicted to the television show “Law and Order.” Thanks to reruns, I can occasionally lose myself in interesting storylines and the process of building a case to ultimately convict the bad guys.

Proposal writing is weirdly similar (except the end game is to secure a contract, rather than a conviction). Sure, a winning proposal answers L&M completely and effectively. But it’s more than that. A winning proposal tells a compelling story, with evidence, about how my customer’s solutions are better than its competitors. Just like in “Law and Order,” where the evidence is the basis for the conviction, the evidence in a proposal is the basis for awarding the contract.

What exactly is that evidence in a proposal?

buy prednisone 5 mg The Strengths of your offer.

Hearing this answer typically leads to a sigh of relief from the staff of nearly every firm for whom I’ve consulted. “Strengths – oh that’s easy – this work is in our wheelhouse. Our experience is our strength!”

The Federal Government has a different idea. Strengths are often defined in Section M, albeit typically vaguely, which could be cause for the confusion.

So … what are scoreable strengths?

Unless otherwise defined in Section M, strengths are benefits that increase the probability of successful contract performance. Ideally, strengths are discriminators and include three components:

  1. A solution feature that either exceeds a requirement or reduces risk
  2. The benefit resulting from that feature and linked to either mission or contract objectives
  3. Substantiation – proof that the claims are real (quantified when possible)

Strengths are NOT:

  • Commitment
  • Experience (unless aptly tied to a benefit with proof)
  • Understanding
  • Enthusiasm
  • Promises
  • Universal statements that can apply to any competitor

Take the test: is this a scoreable strength?

cenforce 200mg “Our technical approach includes a sustainable engineered wetland treatment system (EWTS).”

No. It only cites a feature (EWTS), which is likely a requirement. However, with some thought – this simple statement can become a scoreable strength:

http://djotel.com/18695-dtf97727-rencontre-femme-pour-plan-sex.html “To meet the Air Force’s need for a long-term, sustainable groundwater remediation system (linked to program objectives), COMPANY X designed an EWTS (feature) similar to those proven successful for the Army on the MADEUP Contract (proof). Our EWTS uses energy-efficient, ‘green’ elements (e.g., natural cascade aeration and gravity flow) and an innovative approach to remediation – groundwater reuse via infiltration (exceeds requirement) – to treat contaminated groundwater and save the Air Force two-thirds the cost of a conventional system O&M (benefit).”

Having trouble discerning a true strength? Give us a call – we can help.

Transformation Before Our Eyes

by Steve Anderson, Luanne Smulsky, Paul McTaggart and Jim Tierney

COVID-19.

Are you tired of hearing about it yet?  We are.

Even so, it is inescapable. Impacting our lives. Every. Day.

For some of us, especially those who cannot telecommute such as medical professionals, restaurant, and manufacturing workers, it has been at times devastating – personally and professionally. For others, the impact has been more of a nuisance than anything else.

But it has also been transformational in ways we never imagined.

Entire government market space sectors have gone from a fundamentally brick-and-mortar, 9-5, show-up-at-the-office mentality to facing a completely different future work environment:

  • Many Federal agencies are now contemplating scenarios where 30 to 50% of their workforce may never work in the office again
  • For those that do return to the office, work schedules may be staggered. Telework will be a part of the normal routine several days per week to keep worker-density below CDC guidelines to limit virus transmission
  • Employees starting or changing jobs today are often on-boarding without ever meeting a co-worker in person – IDs, laptops, cell phones, etc. are arriving by courier
  • Video teleconference demand has expanded immensely; one example, the VA transitioned from providing 2,500 video telehealth sessions daily in early March to 25,000+ sessions daily by June 24th – more than a 1,000% increase in just under 4 months (Source: Federal News Network 24 Jun, 2020).

Since February 2020, quantum increases in telecommunications usage largely occurred without apparent impact on service quality – which speaks volumes about the flexibility and resilience of telecom providers.

Yes, the crisis has forced societal changes. For some changes, our culture was arguably moving in that direction already – increased telecommuting, for example. But the crisis accelerated the pace and acceptance of those changes. Other changes, such as the drastic reduction in vacation travel, were extreme reactions to the pandemic response rather than an acceleration of trends already in motion. While we may revert to earlier patterns when it is safe to do so, how much and on what timeline are very much open questions.

So, it is interesting to contemplate how different the world will be in 2 or 3 years when life does settle down. Some things that have crossed our minds:

  • Brick-and-mortar workplaces – including Federal facilities – will become more blue-collar as organizations plan for maintaining at-work social distancing. While jobs that can be handled by teleworking will likely shift to home-based work
  • Urban areas, often a hub of Federal employment, may see permanent traffic reductions as more people telework and stop commuting and local small business may be challenged by the reduced foot traffic
  • People in business development will have to evolve their approaches away from the tried-and-true ‘office call’ culture as their customers may rarely be in the office
  • Workers, freed from needing to live near their workplace, will migrate away from cities and industrial centers, changing population demographics. This will drive changes in infrastructure needs such as telecom and transportation infrastructure. A shift in investment focus from urban to suburban and rural areas may be the result
  • Makeup of the workforce will change permanently in ways that are difficult to foretell
    • Will businesses that have shuttered or declared bankruptcy return or be replaced?
    • How many of the jobs that are gone now are permanent losses and how will we, as a population, adjust?
    • Will workers, who are able, retire earlier since they are home more?
      Or later because working from home is not as stressful as commuting to the office?

The pandemic’s full impact on the workforce, including Federal workers is … well, who knows?

Doubtless, the consequences of these times will include some surprises. Flexibility and resilience (as with telecoms) would appear to be the advisable catchphrase of the day.

The company doth protest too much, methinks…

Borrowing from Shakespeare’s Hamlet lets me address a question we are frequently asked:

application rencontre sexe Are GAO protests worthwhile?

Protesting a contract award decision is a fundamental right exercised by government contractors who feel the Government’s decision was incorrect or inappropriate.

In 2019 the GAO received 2,071 protests. 587 resulted in GAO decisions on the protest’s merit and of those only 13% were sustained by the GAO. A higher amount, around 31% of filed protests, resulted in the protester gaining some form of relief, typically from agency voluntary corrective action. That’s a total ‘effectiveness’ rate of 44%. (Note 1)

How does that compare with history? A 2015 report by the Congressional Research Office noted that between 2001 and 2010 protest filings increased by 125% and between 2010 and 2015, the number of protests had leveled to between 2100 and 2300 annually. The so-called ‘effectiveness’ rate during 2010 and 2015 hovered between 41% and 44%. (Note 2)

So, protests seem to have leveled off and the ‘effectiveness’ rate is consistent. But, even with that 44% effectiveness rate, are GAO protests worthwhile?

That depends.

If an agency action was truly outside the bounds of propriety, such as when the Government failed to award based on its published selection criteria or created an uneven playing field (e.g., shared insider knowledge), then protesting is a proper course of action.

However, the GAO’s results indicate that 56% of the time a protest is denied or dismissed on its merits, indicating that the arguments put forth were not persuasive or that the Government acted properly. Further, some of the 31% leading to voluntary correction only return the situation to a proper course but do not alter the Government’s ultimate decision. So, the 44% ‘effectiveness’ rate is misleading.

If your company is considering a protest because you simply did not like the Government’s decision, think twice about your inclination.  Win or lose, a GAO protest stops contracting activity cold and impacts the Government’s ability to do its job. Schedules are set back, deadlines are missed, and funding goes unobligated. Human nature being what it is, protests often create tension between a contractor and the Government. Occasionally, these tensions will affect relationships, perhaps even to the point of impeding one’s ability to win.

Borrowing from Shakespeare again – the better part of valor is discretion. Often, energy is better spent on ensuring you thoroughly understand the Government’s requirements and objectives ahead of time. Do your best to create a positive relationship before a solicitation is issued and submit a fully compliant and compelling proposal up front. Then, plan to accept the outcome. This way you can avoid the need to consider a protest at all, absent a clear indication that something is amiss.

Contact us to help you prepare for your next proposal. Or let us help you analyze recent losses to better understand how to improve your win rate. Either way, we can help.

Note 1: All data from the 2019 GAO Annual Report to Congress on Bid Protests
Note 2: GAO Bid Protests: Trends and Analysis – Updated July 21, 2015

Pondering the Post-Pandemic Landscape

As the country slowly starts to reopen businesses and we attempt to get on the road to normalcy, it will be useful to reflect on lessons learned and identify what lasting changes may affect our businesses, particularly on the federal contracting side. The lessons learned from this experience will apply not only to pandemics, but also to a myriad of possible future disasters such as terrorism, dirty bombs, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and food shortages. Problems of this magnitude require ingenious solutions — you, the federal contractor, are in an ideal position to aid in the recovery from our current national crisis. Look forward and brainstorm areas in which the Government may choose to make investments, so that we can be on the look-out for future opportunities. Some examples based on recent discussions in the news are:

  • Manufacturing critical items and supplies (e.g., PPE, ventilators, other medical equipment) inside our borders so that we have control over supply and quality
  • Stockpiling or solidifying supply lines for these items, so that they are available when needed
  • Training first responders and hospital workers so that they have the skills already in place to cover emergencies
  • Developing fast-track methods for testing and vaccine development
  • Improving early detection of potential problems through monitoring and testing
  • Establishing in-place rapid response teams, ready to act once a problem occurs
  • Establishing capability to rapidly close borders, airports, seaports if the need is detected

Of course, these are only some initial ideas, but now is the time to anticipate areas where your company’s capabilities align with likely future Government investment. It is not too early to start conversations with the appropriate agencies and position yourself to partner with the Government. Ultimately, it will help prepare our country to fight unknown threats more effectively and ensure we’re better prepared for the next emergency.

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.

Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Stay PRODUCTIVE!

Just like the homeowner utilizing his unexpected downtime with home improvement projects, government contractors can be productive by focusing on in-house business needs while typical work is stalled.

Last week we suggested brainstorming with your team to generate ideas on what you can do now to get ahead of the wave of business backlog expected when the COVID-19 threat wanes. Effective, creative brainstorming is essential now that we are in a disrupted environment.

Get your entire team involved – use this “lull in the action” to teach new skills, cross-train your staff, and let your BD support teams explore and try new things while typical deadlines are indefinitely lifted. Most importantly, teach necessary communication skills that will benefit staff members new to working remotely.

If meeting face-to-face is your normal business practice, then the prospect of working apart for an extended period can be daunting. Even when the economy begins to reopen, it is likely that we will need to continue Work from Home practices – possibly for many months to come. That means now is the time to climb the learning curve on effectively functioning as a remote team. High-performing employees sometimes experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely. Here are a few reasons why:

  • No face-to-face supervision : Managerial support and communication typically supplied in person must now be provided by other means. This can be a gap for both employees and managers until remote communications and feedback becomes routine.
  • Different ways to access information: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to obtain information from coworkers.
  • Reduced non-verbal communication: This manifests as a need to be much more aware of the tone and choice of words used in emails, texts, and phone conferences. The ability to infer the intent of the communicator is reduced when you are not working face-to-face.
  • Less social interaction: As a team, we need to learn how to synergize our efforts without the benefit of being together in the room.

While remote work can be challenging, there are relatively quick and inexpensive actions that managers can do to ease the transition:

  • Establish new standard work: To support your team, the routine that they knew in the office needs to be replaced with new standard work routines. This can be as simple as a daily team teleconference with an agenda that mirrors your existing staff meetings. The important feature is regular interaction with the team on the subject of work.
  • Become skilled with collaborative communication tools: Long-term, email alone will be inadequate to keep your team functioning at a high level. Consider video conferencing, collaborative work sharing, and other tools. These may be resources that you already have in place.
  • Assess your future IT and telecommunications needs: You should also think about the communications technology that is available. You might need to increase your IT and communication capacity. As you consider evolving your IT and telecommunications, be sure to also think about changing security requirements to protect your important information.
  • Build in Ways to Boost Employee Morale: Our mental health and job performance are inextricably linked. Working from home in these uncertain times is isolating, stressful, and interferes with natural social interaction which typically takes place in the office. Designating time at the start or end of a virtual meeting for personal chit chat or planning company games via video conferencing are ways to connect your employees and monitor overall morale.

Too much time on my hands…

Styx fans will recognize the refrain and perhaps everyone can appreciate the challenge associated with our forced downtime. If your Government contract business slowed, or even idled because your Government clients are impacted by COVID-19, it can seem like there’s nothing to do now except wait it out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way …. and you don’t need to sign up for and watch a free webinar to figure this out.

There are many Business Development (BD) tasks that routinely get sidelined because you are busy chasing leads, writing proposals, and frankly just executing your daily business. Now is a great time to put resources to work catching up on deferred marketing, prospecting, positioning, and even proposal preparation.

All it requires is some old-fashioned brainstorming to generate ideas on what you can be doing now to get ahead of the wave when the federal Government finally emerges from this COVID-19 induced hibernation. And they will emerge – with lots of backlog to work through.

Here’s a quick, short list of value-added activities you can be taking now to be ready:

  • Refresh your website – update your photos, add project descriptions, revise team bios, enhance service offerings, etc. Your clients go to your website to conduct market research – be sure it contains current and relevant material
  • Update your Past Performance and Experience Library – chances are that your content library is out of date, disorganized, or perhaps non-existent; so, get it updated with recent and relevant projects that you can use for responding to new opportunities
  • Organize your graphics library – too often we generate new graphics for proposals and then promptly forget about them; review recent proposal submissions and identify graphics which lend themselves to re-use – such as your corporate organization chart, quality approach, and / or your task order management process
  • Create standard proposal content – if you’ve never done this, get to it! Some of your proposal content can be recycled for nearly every proposal. Review your company history, organization structure, general pricing narrative, quality system, etc. All can be used with little or no customization in most proposals
  • Reach out to your prospects – keeping your name in front of potential clients is always critical, and even more so during downtimes. Reach out to your prospects and make inquiries about program status before they issue their next RFI or RFP. Or write one of those White Papers you’ve been thinking about which has a creative solution idea and send it along. Let your prospects know that you are still thinking about their challenges and working on solutions
  • Dig into Agency Forecasts – Most agencies still publish future contracting forecasts; time to dig through them and compare to the President’s budget. See if you think spending priorities are still the same, or if you think they might need to change due to current national demands

COVID-19 Guidance and Relief Programs for Federal Contractors

Businesses and economies around the world have been rocked in an unprecedented way by COVID-19 — the Federal Contractor marketplace is no exception.

ClientView is committed to keeping you informed. We have created a list of informational websites specifically tailored to Federal Contractors, which may be helpful.

Economic relief programs are available for small businesses:

  • SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) – working capital for temporary loss of revenue; a $10,000 immediate advance upon successful application, which will not have to be repaid
  • Paycheck Protection Loan Program – direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll
  • Unemployment Insurance is being expanded to include self-employed and part-time workers that have lost work due to COVID-19 in addition to traditional employees; this program is administered at the state level, so contact your state for more information

Watch for our upcoming blogs on topics like the effective use of downtime and how to prepare for potential changes in the Federal contracting landscape.

Stay safe, healthy, and engaged. We will get through this.

My Contract Due Dates Are Extended – Right?

Contract Due Dates Don’t Automatically Extend When Your Business Is Forced to Close

On top of trying to keep your business running during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that delivery dates in your government contracts are not altered because of external events – including business closures forced by State governments trying to stem the spread of COVID-19.

You must seek delivery extensions on all your contracts.

During the COVID-19 crisis, closures and restrictions on businesses are becoming the norm to “flatten the curve” and shield our health care system from an impossibly high surge in critical cases.  During these times it is important for government contractors to be sure we are in sync with government expectations.

On March 20th, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord issued a memo that read in part, “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule. That applies to prime contractors and subcontractors that support essential production and services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and the U.S. military.”

While government contractors are expected to perform during this crisis, state and local government restrictions on business operations may not consider DoD requirements.  And since government contract deadlines can only be changed by the Procuring or Administering Contracting Officer, you cannot safely assume that missing a delivery date is permitted if restrictions in your area have impacted your ability to perform.

If that happens – either because your state or local government requires your business to close, or because your suppliers work in states where those restrictions have occurred, you MUST take immediate steps to communicate your situation.  It is critical that you:

  • Immediately send notifications to your KO informing that you are unable to perform, and why (include copies of shutdown declarations)
  • Request immediate extensions to all due dates affected by the shutdowns – on a day-for-day basis plus a minimum 2-week buffer

The earlier this communication occurs, the higher the possibility of a resolution that is beneficial to both your business and to the customer.

Given the uncertainty facing everyone in this situation, you may not even hear back as many government installations are equally affected by COVID-19 response. But, by having submitted a request for extension and citing the extenuating circumstances, you have at least put the government on notice and sought relief. This will help you in later exchanges and negotiations.

But the worst thing you can do is just assume that the government will offer an extension simply because of what’s going on. They may – but you cannot assume that; especially if the government deems your product / service as essential.

Our last two blogs offered actions you can take at both the federal and state / local level to receive an exemption from closures.

URGENT COVID-19 ACTION for GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS

Is My Business Essential under COVID-19 Shutdowns?

Is My Business Essential under COVID-19 Shutdowns?

Navigating the “Essential Business” Designation under COVID-19 Work Shutdowns

As the country battles the spread of COVID-19, many State and Local Officials are taking measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, often including shutting down all “non-essential” businesses. This poses a severe challenge to federal contractors in the defense, aero-space, intelligence and other firms, as well as their supply chains.

As government contractors, you are probably asking: How do I know if my business is essential?

Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, issued guidance on Friday March 20th, 2020 trying to clarify that point, explaining which businesses the Federal Government considers ‘essential’ and asking them to continue working. They use Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines for ‘critical infrastructure’ which include aerospace mechanical and software engineers; manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security; intelligence support; aircraft and weapon systems mechanics and maintainers; suppliers of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals; and critical transportation – among others.

The challenge is that the States have sovereignty in this area, so your best course of action is to contact your Governor and other local authorities and request to be exempted from any shutdown affecting your operations because of your commitment to supporting / supplying our nations’ security.

ACTION(s): If you need to keep your government contracts moving ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic, then:

  1. Appeal to your State Governor and local officials using Undersecretary Lord’s memo as a catalyst, and explain (that you):
    • Are seeking to be designated as an ‘essential business’
    • Have federal government contract commitments that need to be met
    • Believe your business meets the definitions outlined in the memo
    • Are providing a copy of the memo and show where your business meets the DHS definitions
    • The precautions you are taking to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the showdown (e.g. compliance with CDC guidelines, etc. – be specific about your plan)
    • Appreciate the difficulty your state/local leaders are undertaking but feel you must remain open, even under the circumstances
  1. Send courtesy copies of your letters to your elected federal officials at the same time you make your appeal
  2. Send your letter, and Undersecretary Lord’s letter, to your suppliers and ask them to do the same in their state and community

Ellen Lord’s Memo to the Defense Workforce is available on the DoD’s website.

Read about Ellen Lord’s statement.