The most important tool for ensuring proposal quality at most companies is a Red Team review. A Red Team can turn a proposal that is destined to lose into a winner. However, the Red Team review process can be cumbersome, confusing to writers, and highly ineffective if not handled appropriately for the situation.
When to hold a Red Team Review
When to review a proposal presents a dilemma. The later the Red Team review, the better the shape the review document is in. However, a late review may not leave sufficient time to fix problems. The best way to handle this dilemma is to have one or more short reviews early in the proposal writing process.
Types of Proposal Reviews
While a traditional red team evaluation can be effective under the right circumstances, other methods are available. If the proposal is on an extremely tight schedule, for example, companies may wish to employ review approaches such as: running red teams, single person reviews, and internal reviews by members of the proposal team who were not involved with the preparation of the section being reviewed.
The traditional red team is normally tasked with (1) evaluating and recommending improvement fixes and/or (2) evaluating and scoring the proposal according to the solicitation evaluation factors.
Evaluating-and-Recommending-Fixes Red Team: An evaluating-and-recommending-fixes red team reviews the proposal for a broad range of factors, including:
- Responsiveness Presentation
The team makes recommendations on how deficiencies can be fixed. Although this red team does not have the customer expertise to formally score the proposal in accordance with the solicitation evaluation factors, it is helpful to provide an informal quality score (excellent, good, marginal, and unacceptable) of each section for general evaluation purposes.
Customer-Evaluation-Simulation Red Team: This red team attempts to simulate the customer's formal proposal evaluation process. This red team measures the proposal by:
Evaluating each solicitation requirement, listing proposer benefits and deficiencies, and identifying needed clarifi- cations for each solicitation requirement providing a specific score to each evaluated proposal section/subsection according to the solicitation evaluation factors.
In order for this red team to score a proposal effectively, its members must have a comprehensive understanding of the customer's requirements including the budget for the proposed work and political agendas. This type of red team should include recent employees of the customer.
Running Red Team: When a proposal is on an extremely tight schedule, a running red team is often an effective method of proposal evaluation. When a writer completes a section draft, he or she immediately gives it to the running red team for a quick response evaluation.
Selecting Red Teams and Preparing for Proposal Evaluation
For the most effective red team reviews, it is essential to select the right individuals, to ensure that they are adequately prepared prior to the actual proposal review, and to prepare the proposal properly for the review.
Composition of Red Team:
The foundation for an efficient red team is a team of skilled, experienced reviewers. Red team members comprised of all outsiders will generally be more objective than one with company members. Avoid using senior company executives on the red team unless they agree to give full-time effort to the review. The most important member of a red team is the red team manager. The ideal individual is someone totally familiar with the proposal review process, the proposal preparation, and the customer's requirements.
Red team members normally include:
- Outside proposal professionals
- Customer specialists
- Employees who thoroughly know the bidder's capabilities, products, services, and past performance history
- Subject matter experts
Red team members should be limited to those individuals who Can spend not only sufficient time evaluating the proposal but who can also assist the proposal team in making fixes. If early reviews (blue teams, pink teams, etc.) are used, the reviewers should be the same as those on the red team.
One important review often omitted is the cost volume review. Many contracts are lost because of major inconsistencies between the proposal technical and cost volumes.
Red Team Planning Procedures:
The red team evaluation should be planned early. The proposal manager and capture manager should jointly select the red team manager. The capture manager, proposal manager, and red team manager should then determine the type of red team to be used, its exact function, and a list of desired red team members. Red team members should be provided with copies of the solicitation as soon as possible.
In addition, it is beneficial to provide reviewers with red team procedures and evaluation forms prior to the evaluation. Red team procedures should include a breakdown of tasks for each red team member and a schedule for red team activities. Sample red team evaluation forms include:
- Proposal Deficiency Form
- Proposal Comments Form
- Proposal Scoring Form
Preparing the Proposal for Red Team Evaluation:
The most important thing in preparing a proposal for review is having it complete. If important text and graphics are missing or incomplete, the review is a waste of time. To ensure that the red team will understand the proposal, it is also important to write the proposal for the reviewer and to have totally completed executive summaries and section introductions that contain all major themes and discriminators.
I recommend that the proposal be given a hard edit prior to red team review. I used to believe that significant editing prior to red team review was a waste of time. However, earlier this year I had a proposal assignment that changed my mind. I was managing two proposals that were similar in type and content and that were written concurrently by the same authors for the same federal customer. One of the proposals had a shorter due date, and we did not have the time to edit it prior to red team review. The reviewers of the unedited proposal came back with comments mostly relating to minor editing. However, the reviewers of the edited document were able to identify real deficiencies and weaknesses.
In addition to having the text and graphics complete before the review, a detailed compliance matrix should be included. This compliance matrix should be in a check-off-list format that follows the requested information of the solicitation proposal instructions, evaluation factors, and statement of work.
Red Team Evaluation
I have found it better to have the red team members located together during the review than to have them separated. Continual discussions among the red team are important in recommending solutions. When I have worked with red teams where members were not co-located, the resulting recommendations were conflicting. After receiving the proposal, the red team evaluation procedures will include:
- Final assignment review
- Finalization of review schedule
- Coordination with proposal team for debrief and follow-up actions
- Review of total proposal against the solicitation requirements
- In-depth review of assigned sections, noting deficiencies and strengths, identifying needed clarifications, providing recommendations, and completing evaluation forms
- Compilation of comments into single book
- Debrief of proposal team.
Reviewers should avoid general comments like, "motherhood," "marketing baloney," and "re-write." Be specific in making comments and recommendations.
The red team should meet and prepare a formal debriefing to The proposal team. The presenters should emphasize only the major points relating to deficiencies, weaknesses, and strengths: minor issues can be documented on written evaluation forms. The red team should concentrate their presentation on a realistic approach to improve the proposal. Comments written in individual books should be combined into a single book.
Post-Red Team Evaluation Actions
After the red team evaluation, the red team members should assist the proposal team in making the recommended fixes. When this responsibility is understood in advance of the review, the red team comments will invariably be more realistic. The proposal manager is the person in charge of the proposal and he/she will have final say on accepting and implementing any red team recommendations.