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?

purchase Maxalt online 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?

helpful site “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:

lien important “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:

site de rencontre gratuit sans carte de credit 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.

OTA’s Rising

When issuing new contracts, the Federal Government is increasingly bypassing the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and increasingly using a long underused, but recently updated approach called Other Transaction Agreements (also OTA). Given this significant shift, you will benefit from knowing what changes to anticipate and how to adjust your company’s approach to pursuing Government work.

OTA’s allow Government agencies to cast their nets wider when considering a broader range of businesses now eligible to win Government contracts. The OTA is designed to prioritize opportunities for small businesses or “nontraditional” defense contractors that do not typically work with the Government. Traditional defense contractors can also be eligible when they meet specific criteria, meaning defense industry leaders such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon can participate as well.

In a study by Bloomberg Government, DoD’s OTA obligations have grown by almost 80% year-over-year, with total Pentagon OTA contract obligations expected to reach as high as $7 billion for the fiscal year ending in 2019. If this trend continues, 2020 could easily see $12 billion in OTA obligations. Clearly, this is an area worth watching closely if you are working with the Government (or wish to be). Examples of recent OTA awards include:

  • The Army issued $265 million to Microsoft Corp to date as part of a pilot program to develop heads-up displays for ground personnel using its Hololens augmented reality headset
  • DHS issued $10 million to the Border Security Technology Consortium for development of surveillance tools
  • HHS issued $41 million to date in fiscal 2019 to Johnson & Johnson as part of a five-year, $273 million contract to develop drugs to mitigate the threat of pandemic illnesses
  • The Army recently finalized a $384 million deal with Raytheon for six missile defense radars called LTAMDS, designed to replace the Patriot missile defense radar

The vast majority of OTA funding has been awarded through various consortia, the largest of which is Advanced Technology International (ATI). In these cases, OTA requests are not posted through official government channels such as SAM (System for Award Management) – they are typically issued as Requests for White Papers from the consortia to its members. Thus, if you are not a consortium member you may never see the RFW and cannot submit a bid. Fortunately, becoming a member of a consortium is not difficult or expensive, but it takes planning to decide upon which consortia to join.

If you need help navigating the OTA landscape, please give us a call.

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.

Sam I Am (No Longer)

For fbo.gov Users, BetaSAM is Here and We Can’t Hide Any Longer

If you are a frequent user of the Government’s System for Award Management (www.SAM.gov) you are probably aware of the initiative begun in 2014 to consolidate many of the Government’s online management tools into a single system.  Ultimately, SAM will absorb the functionality of 10 separate government web sites with the relaunch of a new SAM site including enhanced search and security functions.  However, if you don’t often use these web sites, it may come as a surprise that sites such as fbo.gov are shutting down soon – very soon for fbo.gov – which will be completely phased out and shut down in November 2019.

The Government has established a web site called BetaSAM (beta.sam.gov).  When fbo.gov and the other 9 web sites are migrated, you will find those functions on BetaSAM which is already up and running now and available for user sign-in.

For frequent users of fbo.gov, it is important to note that your fbo sign-in information will not migrate automatically.  Moreover, many of the terms and categories of information will change.  For example:

FBO TermBecomes SAM Term
Fbo.govBeta.sam.gov
WatchlistFollow
Search AgentSaved Search
ArchivedInactive

Beta Sam also promises enhanced capabilities, including:

  • The ability to search for opportunities by number, keyword, or location
  • The option to access previous versions of opportunity notices with one click
  • The ability to easily set up notices that will inform you when frequently used contract opportunities are updated
  • The ability to manage alerts easily through a new user workspace (frequency, turn on/off)
  • Shared login, search, workspace, data services, reports, and a design that will allow you to leverage other IAE system data easily

Note the last bullet…it means that your old fbo.gov log-in will no longer be valid once the site is decommissioned. BetaSAM will require that you use entity-based login.gov account information to access BetaSam.  The good news is that if you already have a current SAM account you can use that log-in information to access BetaSAM.  If you are an established entity (i.e., have a DUNS number or CAGE code), you will be able to easily access BetaSAM using that information.

Once the SAM system has been completely migrated into BetaSAM, the old SAM site will be decommissioned and BetaSAM will be renamed SAM.  This process is ongoing now and for a limited time period SAM and BetaSAM are both operational — providing you the opportunity now to get familiar with the new system while still accessing the familiar one.

What’s a Picture Worth to Your Proposal?

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes, but not if the image doesn’t convey your meaning. How do you ensure your artwork is impactful and memorable to the evaluator?

To start, give your Graphic Artists the critical information they need to generate artwork that conveys the meaning you intend.

Graphic Artists are rarely included in proposal solution planning meetings yet expected to create wiz-bang imagery that conveys an entire complex project approach. Often, they can support an entire proposal without the faintest idea of the proposal’s basic thrust. At times – seemingly basic information such as color pallets, font style and size requirements, page size limitations, and other essential parameters are often not conveyed up front to the artist.

Why does this matter?

Because Graphic Artists live in a visual world, they need to have some basic understanding of the entire situation to convey ideas through imagery. This includes knowing who the customer is (to present perspective), what is the problem that we are trying to solve (to provide context), and what is our proposed solution (to provide clarity).

Graphics make a huge difference in proposal effectiveness. Some reviewers have told me that they get first impressions only from the pictures, charts, and graphics, scattered among the proposal pages. If that’s true, then not providing your Graphic Artist with the essential information they need to do their best for you is working against your own interests.

There is another reason to convey critical info to your artist – it’s more cost effective.

Frequently, artwork is revised multiple times because ‘the artist didn’t get the point across’. But the Artist isn’t a mind reader and they can’t convey your intent if you don’t provide the information that they need up front.

So, spend the time necessary to make sure your Graphic Artist has all the info needed to do their best for your team. It will pay off in increased efficiency for your Graphic Artist and in more effective graphics for your proposal.