Win Strategy General Guidelines – Competition Data Base Requirements and Approach and the Opportunity Analysis

  |  April 13, 2009

The detailed analytical information needed to assess an opportunity and formulate strategies will usually be provided from Marketing and Planning data, other existing sources, or developed on an ad hoc basis with the assistance of the Marketing, Planning, Financial, Legal, Operations, and Research and Engineering organizations. Information can also be obtained from engineering contacts, technical symposia, and informal social gatherings. Also, visit your customer’s web site and US Government web sites. On one proposal, for example, the solicitation was for an improved digital communication system for the FAA. I visited the FAA web site and discovered that the digital communications system was critical for the FAA’s projects airways control initiative called Free Flight, for which air traffic set its own altitudes and routes, with full cognizance of the other traffic. The FAA administrator’s speech described the important of this new system and its implementation timing criticality. This gave us important information related to our development schedule.Be sure to document this information — remember that if information isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, this information must be readily available to all those who need it. A good example of “information that doesn’t exist” is the Lessons Learned write-ups that most companies create after a large proposal effort. On all of the proposals that you have worked on, how many Lessons Learned write-ups from previous proposals have you ever seen? Usually they are spirited away and hidden because they are too embarrassing to be left out where they can be useful in preventing the problems recurring. Incidentally, the best (and only) value of a Lessons Learned exercise is an assessment of the process you utilized—it can not advise you of how good your proposal was, because you may have won in spite of your proposal, rather than because of it.The AnalysesAll of this information will be useful in analyzing your win probability on a new opportunity. In general, there are four specific analyses that will address:

  • The perceived opportunity and its relationship to your company objectives.
  • The customer, his needs, characteristics, and probable behavior. [Note:  “Customer,” for government business, includes Procuring Agency, Congress, 0MB and other Executive Branch executives.]
  • Your competitors, their capabilities and their predicted potential strengths and weaknesses.
  • Your self, your business and technical capabilities, and your current real and perceived competitive strengths and weaknesses.

When completed, these four analyses will serve as the building blocks for the Definition and Planning Phase, described in Part 6.  Because these analyses may be performed by a different organization or group of individuals than those that engage in the Definition and Planning effort, it is important that the documented analytical work be complete, responsive, and comprehensible.The detailed analysis method used is at the discretion of the performing organization, but it is essential that:

  • Copies of source and created data are retained and are retrievable for future reference, with individual items noted as to source, date of origin, and estimated reliability (i.e., excellent, good, fair, poor).
  • Assumptions or projections are clearly listed.
  • Analytical techniques, such as probability or risk analyses, are noted and documented sufficiently to enable replication.
  • The output of the analyses, in terms of information content, quality and format, is responsive to the intent of these guidelines and related to the information that your company needs in order to make a sound bid decision.

Analytical emphasis may vary from one case to the next depending for example, upon the particular phase of the program being considered such as conceptual development, demonstration/validation, full scale development, or prime or subcontract production.The Chief Executive and his top management staff will normally have several concerns that the analytical data must satisfy, such as:

  • Does the proposed program “fit” company goals and objectives?
  • Is the need real and enduring?
  • Is this opportunity potentially profitable in view of cost to pursue and resources required?
  • How does this opportunity relate to other programs  that are competing for company resources?
  • Is this opportunity sufficiently attractive to warrant reallocation of resources from other on-going efforts; perhaps to the extent of terminating one or more of them?
  • Who are the potential competitors and how will we win?
  • What resources, skills, laboratories, capital equipment, IR&D/BPE, etc., will be needed to pursue the opportunity?
  • Do you even have the needed resources and will they be allocated?
  • What risks are perceived?
  • What is the expected life of the program? 
  • Is the program subject to rapidly advancing technological change?
  • What is the credibility of the Win Strategy Analyses?
  • Is your proposal intended to win or only to introduce your capabilities to a new potential customer—either objective can be valid?

Strategy Analyses ChecklistsThe four checklists recognize that many of the items, such as the solution, product, or requirement, are not wholly definable during the emerging period of an opportunity when strategizing must begin.  Use of this complete checklist, however, will help focus attention on data needs and will provide structure and consistency as strategy and planning information evolves and the analyses and strategies are updated.The assistance of the Engineering, Marketing, Planning, Financial departments and other functional departments are requisite to obtaining a comprehensive analysis. You will note some repetition in the questions. Don’t be concerned if you have no inputs for many of the questions, and be aware that the listed questions will undoubtedly prompt additional, opportunity-specific questions that will be most enlightening.OPPORTUNITY ANALYSISThe purpose of the Opportunity Analysis is to quantify the business opportunity in the context of your company’s business goals and objectives and to identify exactly what the customer will probably buy. It should include the following subjects.

  • Is this a real program? What are the probabilities of its fruition or cancellation?

It is all too easy to become enthralled with an exciting new opportunity, and ignore its impracticability. Years ago my company spent a lot of effort on preliminary design of an ICBM launching system, in response to a Ballistic Missile Division Request for Information. The concept was to tunnel horizontal holes into the sides of mountains and hide the ICBMs inside. For launch, heavy doors would open and these huge missiles would be thrust outside, supported by their tail feathers, erected to a vertical position, and fired. Think of the forces and structures required. I did, but my company did not. Eventually more practical heads prevailed, and the program was cancelled.

  • What is the requested source solicitation concept, system, or product, including alternatives (description, changes from current phase or version, unique features)?

The better you understand the problem behind the requirement, the better you can address the real issues and provide the best solution. Once the RFP is released  — even a draft RFP — you are stuck with providing what your customer asks for. Alternative proposals usually fail.

  • Is this really what the customer and users want or need? If not, what can you do about it?

Another case of wasting resources by responding to a requirement that the customer didn’t really want: In the 1980s my company spent a lot of time and effort in preliminary design of a stealth Air Force Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft. It was a beautiful design, but I advised my company that the Air Force wanted more exciting airplanes, and was not going to spend its limited budget on expensive new airplanes to fly around in the weeds shooting at tanks for the Army! I was ignored. Resources were wasted. The Air Force assigned some of its old fighters instead.

  • What is the mission or role of the system, product, or service?

This is related to your understanding of the problem behind the requirements. The better you understand what your customer needs to do, the better you can provide a better solution than your competitors. For example, virtually every RFP specifies an effective Configuration Management Program. The fact of the matter is: no one really wants configuration management at all — they want all of their fielded systems to be identical for lowest Operations and Maintenance costs. When you buy a ¼-inch drill bit, you don’t really want a ¼-inch drill bit, you want a ¼-inch hole in something. If you ask the clerk for a ¼-inch drill bit, the clerk also needs to know what you want a hole in — wood, metal, or glass.

  • What are the system/product requirements?

This includes the required operational characteristics (ROC); operational requirements (OR); key technical, program, procurement, management requirements; key technical issues; key trade-off possibilities. You must know and understand all of the factors influencing the source selection decision in order to fully address and respond to the requirements.

  • How does this opportunity fit your business objectives? If it doesn’t, why should it be pursued?

If you are a strong, recognized expert in the area, you probably should bid. However, there are many valid reasons for reaching for opportunities outside of your normal technical or service areas, but be very cautious and do your homework. You will be competing against companies who have established their capabilities and are known to the customer. People like to do business with companies they know, even though there may have been problems in the past — at least they know the problems, and your problems will be unknown. At one company, known for its combat fighter aircraft, we decided to go after an air-launched cruise missile program. We developed a unique method of releasing the payload that no one else did. Our marketing manager spent many hours with the customer (before the RFP, of course) getting to know the customer. Then he met with their headquarters in Washington, D.C., and complemented the customer on the soundness of their program. The bosses told the customer that they had heard good things about the program from my company. The next time our marketing manager met with the customer, it was: “Well, Hi there, buddy! Welcome back! What can we do for you?” We won the Phase I contract.If you are a recognized contractor but for various reasons decide not to bid, do not just sign the requisite form and send in your No Bid notice. Explain that at the present time you can not spare the resources to do a credible job on this opportunity, and, rather than waste your customer’s time, you will wait until you can fully respond with a sound offering. Believe me: your customer will greatly appreciate this, and will look forward to your next proposal.

  • What are your related company studies/products/services, and how do they apply?

If you are trying to enter a new product or service area, you will have a difficult, uphill battle. You are better off saving your resources for opportunities where your past contracts, in-house, and IR&D programs can be leveraged to your competitive advantage. It’s fine to quote platitudes such as “After six years, your incumbent is dried out — you need our fresh approach!” The fact of the matter is, the incumbents and proven performers know what they don’t know — you don’t. I have won proposals with this approach, but we submitted a very strong proposal, addressing every customer concern with a low risk approach that would not disrupt the customer’s work an any way.

  • What are the program and market requirements?

This includes market price; program/product timing; status of program funding; expected procurement approach; key programmatic requirements such as costs, schedules, milestones; key programmatic issues such as procuring agency, Congress, Executive Office of the President. A good example here is the B-1A program. Rockwell was galloping blithely along with their bomber contract, carefully explaining why the long delays were not a problem, and completely ignored the fact that they were about to get a new customer after the next presidential election. President Carter cancelled the B-1A program. The Army recently requested proposals on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The RFP requested two proposals — one priced bottom up for a UAV that would meet all the requirements, and another for a UAV that could be provided for a stated, lower price. I advised my client to no-bid the former, and bid only the UAV that they could provide for the lower stated price. The DoD was obviously in financial difficulty because of the president’s tax cut, the economy downturn, and the expensive war in Iraq. This turned out to be a good recommendation.

  • What is the follow-on potential (ECPs, variants, spin-offs, international markets, support, modifications (growth), military or civil applications) ?

If you can foresee, with a reasonable certainty, follow-on sales potentials, then you can amortise your non-recurring development costs over a broader production base and cut your price to your customer. The DoD claims to be interested in lowest Life Cycle Costs (LCC), but they really aren’t. They are mostly interested in getting the most for their initial funding. No administration is going to spend more money so a future administration can save money! DoD invariably reduces the production rate on its procurements in order to met its funding profile, which stretches out the production times to uneconomical production rates. But be cautious about counting on future or follow-on sales, and be sure to do your homework.

  • What are the real and perceived cost, schedule, and technical risks, and what can we do to mitigate them?

These questions are directly related to your Chief Executive Officer’s main concerns about committing resources, and you must do a thorough job on their answers. Look at these issues from your company’s business standpoint. Relate the questions to some major, personal purchase such as a new house or a new car or boat. If the decision can be made by purely adding up the benefits and subtracting the cost, then you don’t need a Chief Executive Officer—your  computer can make that decision for you! The job of your Chief Executive Officer is to make the “apples and oranges” decisions that only his experience and overall business climate perspective can provide. Your Chief Executive Officer, in the final analysis, will ask: “What will it cost and what will it do for me?” Be ready to answer those questions.In Part 3 of this series, we will provide guidelines on preparing the Customer Analysis. In Part 4 we will provide guidelines on preparing the Competitor Analysis. In Part 5 we will provide guidelines on preparing your Self Analysis, and in Part 6 we will provide guidelines on developing presentation of your business, offering, political, marketing, and pricing strategies and your Action and Commitment documents.

 

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