Decomposing a Solicitation can be Fun

  |  December 11, 2019

Note:  This is a good write with nuggets even for senior personnel.

Without this important preliminary compliance mapping process, the development of the proposal’s outline, numbering system, storyboards, and finally, the write itself, cannot properly be performed.

Winning federal proposals requires a systematic approach that results in answering all the topics requested in the RFP in the proper order. One of the major reasons that otherwise winning federal proposals lose is that the proposal is not in compliance with the instructions and requirements of the RFP. Completing a quality “decomposition” or “shred-out” of the solicitation is a critical step in preparing a foundation for a winning proposal.

In the early days of government RFPs, federal proposals were often written by simply responding to the various elements of the RFP Statement of Work (SOW). Today every RFP section may have information relating to the preparation of a winning federal proposal. As a general rule, the RFP sections having the largest effect on the proposal are (in order of importance): Proposal Evaluation Factors (normally section M), Instructions for Proposal Preparation (normally section L), Statement of Work (normally section C), and then all other sections (normally sections B, F, G, H, J, K, etc.). Every RFP section must be thoroughly analyzed to determine which requirements and topics must be addressed in the proposal. For example, obscure requirements in the RFP legal clause sections can frequently have a major impact on the proposal.

RFPs can be analyzed and broken down using two primary processes, the manual approach and the automated approach. The manual process can be done using simple word processing. Automated processes require the use of sophisticated RFP shredding software. These processes are summarized in the following paragraphs.

Manual Process:

  1. Prepare a table with the following column headings (left to right): Proposal Evaluation Factors, Proposal Instructions, Statement of Work, Other RFP Sections, Proposal Section Number, and Proposal Section Name.
  2. Carefully read all sections of the RFP and mark all words relevant to proposal preparation with a highlight marker.
  3. From the RFP proposal Instructions, enter the requested major and subordinate topic headings under the column heading, “Proposal Section” (leave room in between these headings for additional subheadings). Under the column heading, “Proposal Instructions”, enter the specific RFP section/paragraph number.
  4. From the RFP evaluation factors, enter the corresponding RFP section/paragraph numbers under the column heading, “Proposal Evaluation Factors.”
  5. Under the Proposal Section – Technical Approach heading, list the various elements of the Statement of Work. Modify this as needed to fit the specific Proposal Evaluation Factors requirements. Add the relevant RFP section/paragraph numbers under the “Statement of Work” column heading.
  6. Go through the RFP and make sure that all highlighted sections are included in the compliance matrix. [Note: If possible all proposal sections should relate to a specific evaluation factor.]
  7. Simplify the numbering of each RFP column by transferring common numbering prefixes to the column headings.
  8. Using a combination of the numbers from the evaluation factors and proposal instructions, develop an initial proposal numbering system and enter it into the Proposal Section Number column. [Note: the best numbering system is a simple alphanumeric system of not more than four digits.]
  9. Rework all the above steps until a comprehensive, logical matrix and outline system is achieved.

The resulting proposal compliance matrix with its proposal outline and proposal numbering system can be used to develop comprehensive storyboards. All references to relevant RFP sections for the section authors are easily identified and authors can go immediately to these RFP sections to obtain the specific requirements for a proposal section. A compliance matrix is also an effective tool for use during proposal evaluation reviews (blue teams, pink teams, red teams, customer evaluations, etc.).

Automated Process:

Use of an automated system is similar to that of the manual system, except that their additional power allows significantly more information to be provided to the authors. Some years ago, the use of RFP shredding software required that the RFP be entered into electronic format. Most RFPs are now available in electronic format (from downloads, CD-ROMS, etc.). Following simple instruction in the software program, the proposal manager designates the required proposal headings (from the proposal instructions, evaluation factors, SOW, etc.) and then assigns the relevant RFP sections/paragraphs/clauses to these headings. The software will, as directed, prepare compliance matrices, proposal outlines, storyboards, etc. specific to the needs of the proposal group or specific section author. For example, if an author is assigned the Past Performance Section, the software will prepare the overall structure and provide each and every requirement (in full) from the RFP relevant to past performance. The printouts from a good automated program will eliminate the requirement for an author to constantly flip through the RFP to find requirements.

In addition to the automated RFP shredding capabilities, most of the automated programs offer significant proposal process management tools. The process management features of the better software packages are similar to those of MS project. These tools help the proposal manager comprehensively monitor progress on the large numbers of items required in a complex proposal. Typically, the automated systems allow the proposal manager to assign each proposal section requiring a response to an author and to a schedule. The system then helps the proposal manager track each item through the entire proposal preparation process. In the best proposal decomposition / management software, the capability to schedule and track progress is powerful and highly articulated. For example, the software will allow the proposal manager to assess the status of a particular proposal piece or the work of any author at any given point in time.

Manual versus Automated Processes:

For small proposals to be prepared by a small proposal team, the manual method will work fine. The only requirement is that at least one team member must be a proposal professional with established experience in RFP compliance mapping.

Developing a manually prepared comprehensive compliance matrix for a large, complex proposal is very time consuming and difficult. The use of an effective automated system is significantly superior for large federal proposal preparation. About a dozen automated proposal software systems are available. Some of these systems are not very flexible in operation or user friendly. This author would advise that, before a company invests in one of these programs, they carefully compare the available systems to ensure that the selected system fits the company’s current and future requirements. This author has used several of the automated programs with varying results.

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