Rethinking Proposal Development (To Make Room For Activities That Can Really Make A Bid A Winner)(03-24-2007)
The old saw has it that a winning solution should strive to meet 3 critical, yet often mutually exclusive, characteristics: it should be Good, Fast, and Cheap! Unfortunately, this thinking, which has long been applied to solution development, has yet to find its way into the proposal development world. This treatise is designed to show how capture managers and proposal developers can achieve a nexus of "good-fast-cheap." We hope it resonates.
Recently, I chaired a panel on Price To Win (PTW) at the annual meeting of the National Capital Area Chapter of the Association for Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). My message was this: if 80% of awards are made to the lowest priced, technically acceptable offeror, then why do firms continue to spend the lion's share of their pursuit budgets on proposal development? Surely their pWin would be much better served by employing success drivers such as:
a well-crafted pricing strategy;
a realistic cost basis for the proposed solution;
early qualification and quantification of the competitors and their likely bid prices; and
truly competitive bid pricing.
One possible, yet unlikely, response to this situation would be to increase pursuit budgets to make room for these proven success rate enhancers.
A more realistic approach is to decrease the lion's share by improving the lion's productivity and thereby reducing proposal development costs. These savings should be used to fund the success drivers to develop inputs with which to realistically assess your true pWin. Occasionally this process will avoid the cost of continuing to pursue an unwinnable opportunity. Let's see how this works.
Since time is money, don't start by populating your proposal tank's sea of proposal developer cubicles until you have mastered the "Ready-Aim-Fire" sequence! Proposal developers need a solution to write about, not a problem to solve. So, before we start paying for lots of proposal developers, let's develop and document our solution and its concept of operations -- and let's do so sooner rather than later.
To do this we need to bring the bid team together and wring out of them the essence of a comprehensive draft proposal Executive Summary. Then, we need to create the draft Executive Sumary, review it, and maintain it for the duration of the pursuit as the running "top down" truth to guide the detailed "bottoms up" development of the proposal we will eventually submit to the customer. This accomplishes the "Ready" and "Aim" steps and sets up the "Fire" step.
When CAI/SISCo facilitates the development of a draft Executive Summary, the resulting "top down/bottoms up" blended proposal development approach routinely saves the customer more than 20% of "bottoms up" proposal development costs (as budgeted using the Ready-Fire-Aim or Fire-Aim-Ready approach to proposal development). Such productivity savings make room in the budget for those critical price-related and pWin improving activities that otherwise are rarely funded. But don't expect the average proposal body shop to endorse this approach. It eats into their lunch.
Sometimes the savings potential can be even greater since, occasionally, the "top down" approach reveals that a pursuit has such a low pWin that it is not worth even getting into the "Fire" position. Is this negative thinking or simply pragmatic thinking? Remember, if there are 4 bidders, then there are generally 3 losers. Sometimes keeping your powder dry for another battle is the best strategy - avoid being cannon fodder at all costs. Once again, don't expect the average proposal body shop to endorse this approach either. Keeping even unwinnable capture efforts going is their lunch!
This, then, is CAI/SISCo's approach to achieving a "Good-Fast-Cheap" nexus in proposal development. Try it. Everyone involved will like it (except, of course, the average proposal body shop).
Good luck and happy hunting!