Win Strategy General Guidelines — The Self Analysis
Administrator | September 8, 2009
The purpose of the Self Analysis is to assess your own business and technical capabilities, and significant strengths and weaknesses with this particular opportunity in mind. This is the most difficult of the four analyses because companies tend to evaluate themselves as they imagine they are rather than in terms of how their customers actually see them. Outside views are usually valuable for this analysis. This analysis should include the following subjects:
How do you compare with your competitors in your customer’s opinion?
Identify all of the differences that you can think of, and make no distinction at this point of whether you are better or worse than your competitors. Also identify all of the similarities between you and your competitors that you believe are important to your customer. This will be a matrix with your assessment against each of your competitors. If you are undecided, then score yourself as worse because this will make you try harder.
Do your objectives differ from your competitors? If so, how?
Define your real objectives for this program. Do you want to get into a new business and are you willing to buy your way in? If this is really a “must win” in order to keep your company afloat, then cut your costs to the bone—define the minimum price that you would accept and bit that—don’t worry about leaving money on the table. On one proposal the incumbent had screwed up the program so badly that there was virtually no record of its performance. My client thought it had a great chance and pointed out all the skeletons. Rather than bring all these problems to light on this engineering services (IDIQ) program, the incumbent entered a bid price of $1.00 (that’s right: one dollar!) and won the contract—the Navy customer didn’t want its shoddy contract management brought to light, either.
What is your experience relative to this source selection?
Assess your demonstrable capabilities with regard to the real mission need. Analyze your production and product support capabilities, your financial resource, your RDT&E/production background, your technical, financial, system, and program management processes and track record on related work. What problems have you solved successfully on similar programs that resulted in program success and awards for yourself and for your customers’ program managers? On one program we reported how we had instituted innovative processes to solve major problems, saved the program, and earned the Air Force program manager a commendation (we didn’t mention that we had caused the problems in the first place—there’s a difference between opening your kimono, and throwing it on the table and jumping up and down on it in front of a picture window!
What are your strengths relative to this source selection?
What IR&D or company-funded work have you completed in this area? Have you been working the customer? What is your customer’s view of your company, products, and people? Do you have the necessary financial resources, design, development, production, and support facilities available when needed? Will you be able to manage this specific program — especially if you are a relatively small company and you have subcontracted with larger companies? On one proposal, our client was a medium-sized company and two of our subcontractors were 3M and AT&T. A valid concern of our customer was certainly “How in the world will MediumCorp control these two giants?
How can you best exploit your strengths?
Be bold at this point in proposing how you can make the best of your strengths. You may have to flaunt them more subtly in your actual proposal, but for now, thump your chest with great vigor and enthusiasm!
What are the technical, management, schedule, financial, and program viability risks?
There are always risks in every program, and at this point you want to know everything that can go wrong. As the program develops, many of these risks will go away, but as you know, many more will materialize. Identify all that you can think of, and that you think your customer might be worried about, and formulate mitigation plans for all of them. Also identify the metrics that you will monitor in order to know when to implement your mitigation plans and to know when you have completed their mitigation (closure criteria). Define closure dates, and specific metrics that, if not met, you would “no-bid.” On one proposal we were called in to manage a 250-page proposal that was due in only two weeks. Our client told me (I was the proposal manger) that if I thought they could not make it, they would take my advice and no-bid. After some consideration, I drew as S-shaped line on the marker board—the draft completion schedule versus days—and announced that if we did not have at least 50% of the draft completed by that day, they should no-bid. They agreed. We barely met the criteria, and we barely met the delivery date. When identifying the risks, be aware that the source selection panel will be briefed by the Government Program Manager on the perceived cost, schedule, and performance risks. This will probably be a much more lengthy and detailed list than yours. If you don’t identify all of these risks and explain how you will mitigate them, then you will be scored: “Does not understand the problem.” On one proposal to develop a Life Cycle Cost model for a non-circular cross-section cruise missile (we didn’t know at that time that “non-circular” was really spelled “stealth”) my client downplayed the problems of collecting historical Cost Estimating Relationship (CER) data on which to base its model. In its letter of rejection, the customer wrote: “In your proposal, you showed some knowledge of the process of developing the math modeling, but you stated that there was no problem in acquiring the necessary CER data. There is inherent risk in compiling statistically significant CER data and normalizing it for reliable math modeling. This shows that you don’t understand the problem.”
What are your weaknesses to be overcome: How? When? What resources are needed? What is the probability of success?
Be brutally frank with this issue. Don’t look at this from your inside standpoint: (“sure, we’ve had some problems, but we know how to fix them!”). Look at it from your customer’s viewpoint. Will the SSA be willing to trust his/her career on your promises? I was trying to come up with a discriminator for data management. I asked my client about its track record with this customer. Everyone rolled their eyes, and admitted that they had really screwed up on the last contract. Further questioning revealed that, even though our data deliveries met the contract requirements, it was sometimes late, and the format (which met the Data Item Description) was not really useful to the Air Force Program Manager. Now we had something to work with: I advised them to admit this problem, say that we learned from our mistakes, and explain how we had corrected the problem and implemented procedures to continually assess data deliveries with the Program Manager and revise their formats and delivery dates in order to make them really useful. Admission of weakness is strength when you explain why it won’t happen again. Don’t try to hide problems—your customer will know about them and your competitors will point them out with great glee. When you are candid about your weaknesses, the evaluators will be more likely to believe you when you brag about your strengths.
What are your weaknesses that might not be overcome? Why can’t they be overcome? What are the probable consequences of failing to overcome these weaknesses? What alternatives may be considered to work around these weaknesses?
You may discover weaknesses or problems in the past or present that you cannot overcome. Your first choice, of course, is to team with a company that complements your capabilities, fills in your weaknesses, and has strong credibility with your customer. Another, long term solution, is to hire someone with the needed experience and capabilities, and give him/her the authority and resources to make it work. Don’t hire people who know something that you don’t and then tell them “we don’t do it that way here at GiantCorp!” That’s dumb, and you would deserve to lose. Another solution is to implement specific training programs to bring your staff up to the needed capability. The next to last solution, in the event that you are really determined to bid, is to hire a consultant to write your proposal. This will get your proposal out, and you might even win, but there is a developing trend now for the SSEB to require an Oral Presentation by only your identified Program Manager. The Government has gotten wise to contractors hiring consultants to write a convincing proposal and then being unable to actually do the work. On one winning proposal virtually the entire proposal was written by the nine consultants—proposal specialists and subject matter experts. (By the way, it’s a good plan to hire proposal consultants in order to help you prepare your proposal—they will keep you honest, ensure that you respond to the RFP, and present your story in the best competitive and sales light. They are not expected to actually work on the program after contract award.) The last possible solution, of course, is to no-bid. This is also the best way to save your B&P funds for later use on opportunities that you have a real chance of winning. When no-bidding in this case, explain in your no-bid announcement to your customer that you feel you are not sufficiently qualified at this time to bid on this solicitation. So that, in order to save your customer time and effort evaluating an unsatisfactory proposal, you will wait and submit on future programs for which you are fully qualified. You customer will appreciate this, and view your future proposals with more credibility.
What is your most suitable role in this source selection?
Consider systems engineering and integration contractor, prime contractor, associate contractor, teammate, subcontractor, vendor, and even non-participant “no-bid.” Also indicate alternate or “fallback” possibilities and identify the circumstances under which that would be appropriate. At one meeting with a small firm that had approached us (a major airplane prime contractor) to discuss a study contract, I asked our lead engineer what role he expected us to play. He stated that he would be the prime contractor. During the meeting, we discovered that the young woman who was representing the other company had worked closely with the customer, helped the customer develop the program, and had virtually written the draft RFP. It was obvious that her company should be prime, and they needed us only for some technical study assistance under their direction. After the meeting I suggested to our lead engineer that we should be a subcontractor. Incredibly, he restated his position that he would be prime. Of course, that was the last that we saw of that source acquisition. Don’t be greedy—half of a real loaf is better than all of nothing.
What will be the cost of competing?
Consider the expected cash flow (estimated positive point and break-even point)? What is the probable and worst case estimated return on investment (RO1)? What is your probable and worst case exposure? Will you be willing to accept this? Would you be willing to “bet the company” on this program? Some examples from the commercial side: About halfway through Convair’s 990 commercial airliner production in the late 1950s, someone finally did an Actual Cost to Manufacture study, and discovered that Convair was losing $1M on each delivered airplane. When MacDonnell Douglas’ cash flow finally turned positive on its DC-10 wide-bodied commercial airliner in the early 1970s, it owed five times the net worth of the company! Remember that your company is in the business of making money—it must sell something, or provide some service, in order to make that money—but if it does not make a profit, you will be out of work.
What are the short-term and long-term consequences of “bid and win,” “bid and lose,” and “no-bid??”
Consider people, facilities, capital equipment, funding, impact on other business, technical risk, and real cost versus contract price. Also consider intangibles such as visibility to customers, market identity, skill level development or need, and resource retention. Consider additions if you win as well as possible cutbacks or divestitures if you lose.
What are the optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely win probabilities? What is the basis for these estimates?
Your win probability is just that—a probability, so you should show all three estimates. The variance of these three estimates will indicate the level of uncertainty of your estimates. You will base your estimates on the sum total of all of your analyses, but in the final analysis the decision of your Chief Executive will be very subjective. That’s what he gets paid to do—make the difficult “apples and oranges” decisions. Another example from the commercial side: At the end of World War II, Bill Allen, head of The Boeing Company, knew that all of his military aircraft contracts would be cancelled the next day. He was essentially out of business. He believed that his primary obligation was to keep intact his superb engineering team and production capabilities. So he initiated the Boeing StratoCruiser commercial airline program. He didn’t sell many, and Boeing lost money, but the program preserved the company. Later, in the mid 1950s, he initiated the Boeing Dash-80 program with company funding. The Dash-80 implemented Boeing’s technology experience with large, pressurized, swept-wing structures and 3000 psi hydraulic systems gained from the Air Force’s Boeing B?52, and was the forerunner of the commercial Boeing 707 and the USAF KC?135 aerial tanker. Boeing, today, is the “500-pound gorilla” of international air transports.
What elements/features/benefits of your offering need special emphasis?
These will include both the “gotchas”—your strengths and discriminators compared to your competitors—as well as your “ghost-busters”—those candid explanations of why your past screw-ups won’t happen again. Imagine that you found yourself in the elevator with the SSA (assume, also, that this is legal!): What would you tell him/her about your solution that he/she could remember—basically, the most important half dozen reasons why your solution is better for him/her than any other options.
In the final Part 6 of this series, we will provide guidelines on developing presentation of your business, offering, political, marketing, and pricing strategies and your Action and Commitment documents.