How a Federal Contractor Increased pWin from 20% to 60%

  |  May 30, 2019

Barry J. Lerner

This article is written to explain how my previous employer increased their pWin by 300% during my 3 years as Proposal Center Director.

The Traditional Proposal Manager

In most organizations, Proposal Managers are added toward the end of the business development (BD) cycle.  They assist in solutioning, and prepare the plans, schedules, and other proposal management documents, in anticipation of the final RFP.  Then they ‘Cat Herd,’ while begging for the resources needed to win.

Surprises for Executive Management

From an Executive Management perspective, there can be unhealthy surprises.  For example, the pre-proposal gates all depicted close customer intimacy, with (your company here) having the highest probability of winning.  What a surprise to Executive Management, when, at first proposal review, solutions are immature, the proposed project manager hasn’t accepted our job offer, and we have no idea what price the customer will pay.  Then, after 24×7 heroics, the proposal is submitted, only to find it was a loser.  And the finger pointing begins.

I have witnessed this as a Senior Proposal Director at two Big 100 contractors (SAIC and Leidos), and as Proposal Center Director at another Big 100 (General Dynamics Information Technology [GDIT]).

The Proposal Manager in a Strategic Role

I was hired at GDIT to help improve pWin.  Supported by my boss and her boss, we began to assign Proposal Managers to a more strategic role. They began serving as both (1) consultant to the Capture Team, and (2) independent assessor to Executive Management.  I’ll admit, this sounds like a role reversal.  However, a Proposal Manager is the perfect individual to assess quality of the capture.  Because, if partnered early with the BD and capture teams, he or she understands whether the right meetings are occurring, the correct artifacts maturing, and the evolving solution will be compelling.

As noted above, the “strategic Proposal Manager” has two non-traditional roles:  

(1) To serve as consultant to the BD and capture team.  This means active participation in solutioning efforts, developing content for customers, etc.

(2) However, the much more innovative role – is that of independent assessor.  Here the Proposal Manager ‘scores’ the quality of BD based on pre-agreed metrics.  These may be as simple as having a compelling elevator speech or vetting the proposed Project Manager directly with the customer. Seems straightforward, but what makes the assessor role difficult is that the BD and capture team members are the Proposal Manager’s customers – and no one wants to tattle on their customers!

Proposal Manager as Assessor – Key to the Increase in pWin

We implemented the assessment process at GDIT.  Key pursuits were briefed to Executive Management bi-weekly.  At first, I had to coax the Proposal Managers to be honest in their scoring.  I also required them to review scores with customers in advance of reporting.  And if they were uncomfortable, I offered to do it for them.  Still, the Proposal Managers were resistant, but ultimately, they complied. The next problem was with the BD teams.  Simply, no one wanted to be called in front of senior executives and explain why, after an assessment by a mere Proposal Manager, their BD effort was in trouble.  During the first months, I made a few enemies!  Nevertheless, we turned the mindset around by reminding the BD folks that this was the perfect time to ask Executive Management for assistance, such as resources, insight, et al.  In fact, in some cases, we had BD professionals requesting ‘bad scores’, and yes, the executives did pay attention.

Increased pWin from 20% to 60%

There were other BD initiatives involved, so I can’t attribute all improvements to the development of the Strategic Proposal Manager.  But certainly, a significant portion of the improvements were attributable to these changes.  In short, our business unit’s capture rate rose from approximately 20% to 60% in three years.  So, be strategic – there’s more to Proposal Management than herding cats!