Generally, the Government is required to give a meaningful de-brief to the bidders in a competition. And, again generally, the Government is pretty good about doing it, even though I suspect the individual de-briefers would just as soon be doing almost anything but performing this task. Here are some rules that work regarding de-briefs:
The time to insist on a commitment to a meaningful de-brief is BEFORE you create the proposal, not AFTER it. I suggest that your marketing people arrange for a face-to-face meeting with the Government Program Manager, or even a higher authority (your best guess at the Source Selection Authority - the person who is actually going to make the procurement decision - is a good start). Of course, this must be done well before the curtain goes down on customer contact, at which point you can deal ONLY with the Contracting Officer. Typically, this is 3 months or maybe 6 weeks BEFORE the solicitation comes out. The essence of this brief meeting is:
- We intend to bid on this job.
- We bid only to win, and therefore, we’re bidding with the expectation of winning.
- Win or lose, we expect, in return for our hard work in seeking your business, that we will obtain a detailed, comprehensive, candid de-brief of how our proposal was evaluated highly, and where you found it lacking.
- Win or lose? Why would you want a de-brief if you WIN? Hey, we’ve won. That’s enough. Now let’s proceed with the program. WRONG. Even when you win, your proposal probably had some hard points. And just because you won doesn’t mean that you won for the reason you THOUGHT made you win. I’ve heard of cases in which the supposition was that "we won on our superior technical solution“, when in fact the only reason you won was your price, and the customer wasn’t all that crazy about your technical solution - you won IN SPITE OF a so-so technical plan!
- Take along at least one Designated Listener / Designated Recorder. This ensures that at least someone on your de-brief team is taking careful notes, not only of what was said, but the body language of the de-briefers. If the Program Manager-Designate and the Marketing Manager are asking questions, and probably emotionally involved (especially if you’ve lost a "must-win“ competition), these people can’t be good note-takers or objective observers.
- Document the results, and circulate it widely. This is true even if the results are an embarrassment to some individuals. Yes, this is risky, and you must use SOME discretion, but the organization as a whole, and especially those proposal team members who labored long and hard in the trenches to create a winning proposal, DESERVE to hear the positive feed-back that comes from a win, and NEED to know the negative feedback from a losing proposal.
- The only way to get better is to learn from your hits and misses. Insist on, and then carry through with, de-briefs.