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7 Ways to Fix Your Red Team

Hold an Orientation Session. You need to get everyone on the same page regarding the goals and procedures that the Red Team will follow. This requires a lot more than a five minute discussion before the team starts reading. I like to schedule orientations for an hour the day before the actual Red Team and give reading the RFP as a homework assignment.

Appoint a Leader. A Red Team needs someone to provide instructions, direct activities, and be responsible for results. It is too much work to dump on the Proposal Manager. Take it off the Proposal Managers hands, so that all the Proposal Manager needs to do is deliver a single copy and show up for the debrief. Appoint a leader for the Red Team, and make that person responsible for all review logistics and oversight.

While the Red Team leader should not be the proposal manager, capture manager, or the executive sponsor, it needs to be a strong leader who can control executive level participants. Providing direction to Red Team participants is like herding cats. For the Red Team to make a productive contribution to the proposal the leader must provide oversight and hold the participants accountable for achieving their assigned goals. The Red Team leader must have clout. If the organization does not respect the Red Team leader, then the organization does not believe that the Red Team makes any difference to whether or not you win.

The Red Team leader will need to meet with the Proposal Manager, Capture Manager, and Executive Sponsor ahead of the Red Team in order to set expectations and build a mandate.

Explicitly define your goals. Is this Red Team focused on finding ways to improve, filling holes, identifying non-compliance, second-guessing strategy, proof reading, validating approaches, emulating the customer's evaluation, or something else. If you answered "all of the above" then no wonder your Red Team is broken --- you can't do all of that at once and do it well. On any given proposal, your goals may be different. On one Red Team, you may be focused on enhancement, on another it could be filling holes. If you fail to have goals and see them through execution, then you are at risk of having people pursue the wrong goals or attempt to do it all and deliver only a little bit of each. This results in a Red Team that is a waste of time and has no positive impact on whether the proposal wins. Goals are important.

Don't perform the wrong review at the wrong time. There is no "right" time to schedule the Red Team. If you have it early enough to make a difference, the document will not be complete. If you wait until the document is complete it will be too late to make substantive changes. You must pick between these two "wrong" times and live with the trade-offs. The only way to get around this is to break the "Red Team" up into a series of reviews. See the section on goals. There are too many things that need to be validated to do it all in one review anyway. Here are some possibilities:

  • Take compliance off of the table by having one or more people review it before the red team. That's all they should be concerned with and they must have sufficient technical expertise to make the assessment. A compliance review can often be performed against an early, fairly rough draft. If compliance has been established, then the Red Team can focus on goals that add more value.
  • Review strategies and approaches very early. Folks who like color team labels might call this a pink team review. Most pink team reviews are handled as if they were early "Red Team" reviews. Instead have a focused review on approaches and strategies. Then have a later review on whether they are reflected in the document. Consider doing both of these reviews outside of the Red Team and having the Red Team focus on emulating the customer's evaluation process and how to improve your score (other than by changing strategy).

Provide training and set expectations. Do the Red Team members know what their roles and responsibilities are? Do they know what their goals are? Do they know what procedures are to be followed? After the Red Team, who decides what changes actually get made? What do the Red Team participants expect? What does the proposal team expect? What does the executive sponsor expect? You don't want them to make it up as they go along --- you want them to be effective. To be effective they must all play their role in an intentional and well coordinated manner. Orientation and training is the only way you can get everyone on the same page.

Commit sufficient time. Red Team participants should be prepared to dedicate at least 16 hours or they should not be on the Red Team. I know it sounds like a lot, but consider:

Pre-review orientation: 1 hour
Reading (RFP and Proposal): 8 hours
Red Team deliberation meeting: 3 hours
Preparation of comments: 1 hours
Red Team debrief of proposal team: 3 hours

Some of these could be less. But some could be a whole lot more. 16 hours is a good average. Furthermore, if the Red Team actually identifies ways to improve the document, they should be available to the proposal team after the Red Team to help with making the improvements. This could take considerably longer than the Red Team did. If they aren't committed, they can't make a difference. No one should be allowed on the Red Team, regardless of their executive level, if they aren't going to commit the time to read the proposal and just show up for a meeting unprepared to fulfill the goals of the review.

Encourage the right attitude. A Red Team is not about finding problems. It is not even about helping or making improvements, although that is a better attitude. The Red Team is about winning. If a Red Team is to make a positive difference, they must provide suggestions that will help you win. They are part of the solution, not merely inspectors who look for problems.



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