It is critically important to capture and apply the “lessons learned” from each proposal.  I learned just how important this is as a Proposal Manager at Lockheed Martin and at SAIC for several years. 

Win or lose, best-in-class companies assess their strengths and weaknesses after each capture.  They typically do this shortly after the proposal submission, and again after a customer award decision.  The leaders involved in the capture effort collect and analyze facts and data to:

  • Improve the business capture / proposal process
  • Ensure mistakes or issues that surfaced  are avoided or mitigated in future bids
  • Improve the quality and/or effectiveness of your proposal  or your solutions
  • Improve the environment / experience for the people who contribute to the effort

Even when lessons learned are collected, there is often inadequate discipline applied to ensure that lessons are translated into actionable tasks and applied on the next effort.  This results in having the same lessons show up on multiple capture / proposal efforts – what I refer to as lessons re-learned. Below I summarize five common lessons I relearned too often.

  1. Identify and solidify teaming partners and subcontractors early.  In the best case, late additions/deletions or having confusion among team members about work scope will have a negative impact on the overall effort.  In the worst case, it could lead to a late no-bid decision. Get all agreements in place early (pre-RFP) and ensure everyone understands their role.
  2. Define the compliance matrix early and ensure all contributors understand and buy in – Start with section L (your proposal structure) and map every related requirement and evaluation criteria from the solicitation documents to the proposal paragraphs.  Then map all of your applicable win themes and discriminators to this.  It provides a powerful tool to help ensure your authors (and any independent reviewers) cover all the bases.
  3. Establish Price-to-Win (PTW) range early and ensure this drives your solution. The PTW range should be narrowed as you get closer to the final RFP and you should have a clear target by that time. Keep this number closely held with only senior leadership knowing the target.  Sub-allocate the cost portion of this target to major components of the solution (or team members) and challenge solution designers to meet their bogie (also known as Design-to-Cost).
  4. Line up commitments from the key contributors as early as possible (pre RFP) – Getting ‘A’ players to work the proposal is critical, but reality dictates that most ‘A’ players are also critical to ongoing business operations.  Planning workarounds early to ensure you get the best talent available will pay significant dividends and minimize rework. Further, if you find yourself with a proposal team member who clearly is not adequate for the assigned role, deal with it quickly by replacing them with someone that is capable.
  5. Let graphics professionals handle graphics.  Every one is a self-trained PowerPoint artist, and with today’s tools and countless libraries of clip art, authors typically want to spend time creating graphics as part of their writing.  This can consume (waste) a significant amount of time. Authors should certainly be encouraged to define graphic content that helps convey or substantiate the solution, but have them work with a professional graphic artist so the final product is effective and professional – and more importantly, allows them to focus on writing.

Mike Summers joined OCI in the fall of 2010 as VP of Sales for the Southeast Region, working out of Orlando, Florida.  Prior to joining OCI, he spent 14 years at Lockheed Martin and 3 years at SAIC as a proposal professional where he served as the Manager of Proposal Operations and worked multiple large proposals as Proposal Manager  – as well as working to advance capture process development and implementation.