Especially after reform in contracting, past performance has become the section that often decides who wins or loses the contract. The dozens of proposals we have worked during the past three years have usually assigned 30 - 40% of the total evaluation score to past performance. Past performance can assume an even more important position in the proposal, however, because no Source Selection committee is going to award a contract to a vendor lacking strong past performance.
The key questions are these: (1) How complete is the past performance archive? (2) How is the process of preparing the past performance going to be managed? And (3) who is going to write the past performance?
It has been our experience that the number of companies that maintain an up-to-date past performance archive is small. The usual case is that the past performance citations are out of date, incomplete, or non-existent.
The first step in the job of producing a responsive past performance section is to assess the requirements and plan accordingly. How many past performance citations are required? What are all the technical / experience areas that must be addressed by the citations? How many of the requirements will need to be addressed by citations from subcontractor firms? Given the situation, how many person- hours of labor will be necessary to complete the past performance section? Which citations are long-lead items requiring advance planning because of the need to interface with subcontractors or develop information lost from corporate memory?
The question asking who will write the citations can have different answers. Occasionally, there will be project or program managers with the time and ability to write at least a first-draft response on some of the citations. Usually, most of the work will default to the editor(s) assigned to take responsibility for the past performance section.
If the past performance section is complex at all, it will be helpful to begin with an audit of the solicitation requirements. Determine what are the important elements of experience required to do the job. Format the past performance so that each citation addresses as many parts of the spec as possible. At the end, audit the body of the citations to ensure that you have conclusively demonstrated the capability to do all parts of the spec.
Our experience has been that, at least 90% of past performance citations will have to be edited to a lesser or greater extent. Usually, the citations are out of date, incomplete, or fail to adequately address the requirements of the job being proposed. Consequently, it is incumbent on the bidder to edit the citations as appropriate to tell an effective story.
Usually, you can plan on expending at least four hours per citation, if not double that, given average field conditions. The editors will sometimes be lucky in having one or two citations that are already close to the spec. However, it is more frequently the case to have citations that require complete reformatting. Often this work will require the editors to interview the cognizant project / program managers on the phone, and just finding these individuals frequently requires a significant expenditure of time. In cases where these managers have left the company, the editors may need to use their creative imagination.
Many solicitations require the bidder to provide references in the past performance section, including the name and phone number of a customer contact person who can be called. It has been our experience that, for every proposal, any references provided need to be checked. Sometimes, it is a challenge to even find the references, as they have changed job, or agency. Consultants are good to do this, because the references will speak more candidly to the consultant than to the contractor. Any bidder who skips this step is courting disaster, as companies sometimes do not have an accurate understanding of their customer opinion.