Expert on — Scaling for the Task Order (TO) Environment

  |  November 21, 2017

Tim Birdsell

I have helped prepare over 500 Task Order (TO) proposals. In this article I will share what I have learned about, how to scale your large proposal process for the quick-turn Task Order (TO) environment.

First, let’s clarify what we are talking about. A quick-turn task order is one with a response time of 15-days or less. There are TOs that have 30 and even 45-day responses. With these you should employ your standard process for large-scale proposals.

The Task Order Environment

A successful task order group needs to have a proposal manager who understands the large proposal process and the nuances of the task order environment. Your task order proposal manager needs to tailor your company’s large-scale proposal process to be able to respond timely and be able to teach everyone the differences between the two processes. There are several significant areas that differ between the large proposal and task order environments. For example, one of the first things to change when working  task order proposals is what is traditionally referred to as the Pink Team. I’m not in favor of throwing out this step, but it should be tailored so that it provides value and does not impede the schedule. And let’s call it what it is – Outline Review.

The Task Order Outline

The outline review is just that. When the proposal manager completes the outline, it is also your compliance matrix. This is done by building your outline and embedding the instructions, evaluation criteria, and references to the SOW/PWS. I don’t recommend putting the actual text from the SOW/PWS in the outline because, the template becomes as large as your solicitation, but you should have the references, so the writers and reviewers can trace your response through the SOW/PWS. Once this is complete, it should go out for a quick review. Proposal managers are not perfect, and sometimes they either interpret things differently, or may miss something. So the outline should always be reviewed and approved. This should be a very small and detail-oriented group of reviewers. I recommend one or two people who you know will dedicate a few minutes every time an outline that needs approval. If you feel you need to have a room full of people, or a document 50% populated with text for this review, skip it.

Task Order Kickoff Meeting

Once the outline is approved, you have your Kick-Off Meeting. The Kick-Off Meeting for task orders is significantly different from the large-scale process also. At this meeting, you normally need to cover some of the capture management activities that haven’t been done in addition to the traditional requirements. So your normal 1-hour meeting should be expanded to two-hours. During this meeting you should establish any win themes and discriminators. You should also conduct a solution session. If we are talking about a short-turn task order, we are not talking about building a weapon system. You should be able to complete a solution session for a typical services type contract in under 30 minutes. These elements are just as important in the task order environment as they are in the large proposal efforts. After this, your proposal process maintains the steps of your large-scale process within the timeframe of the task order response.

Task Order Scaling Problems

These changes appear to be very obvious, but a lot of organizations have trouble adopting them. While I was at a big 20 contractor, they had a very “engineered” proposal process that worked great for their large proposal efforts. But as business units became more interested in task orders, they were at a loss on how to scale their process for quick-turn proposals. I traveled across the country to teach leadership, program managers, contracts personnel, SMEs, and other people on how to adopt their process to shorter timelines. As a result, we won a lot of task order work that previously was hard to just get through the approval process.