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Whether you have been managing proposals for one year or for 30, you will inevitably find yourself in a situation where you need to shake up the traditional with the — shall we say — proverbial “grab bag” of proposal management tricks. Color teams are a great phase during which we can enlist creative methods to strengthen content. This is because we often have the flexibility to reshape the path a pursuit is on at our color team milestones by designing our color teams to meet the needs of the submittal. Color teams are a proposal manager’s opportunity to alter the trajectory of the content, rally support for a section that is languishing, request buy-in from independent reviewers if certain messages are coming across in the narrative or receive a gut-check scoring from reviewers. We can design a review to be whatever we need it to be to get the most helpful feedback.
White, black, pink, red, green, gold and every shade that lies between, color team reviews are an essential part of our job. But they aren’t always easy, whether you are preparing, facilitating or recovering from one. If you find yourself asking, “How can I make my color team more effective?” check out these three creative spins on the process.
Provide a tailored color team scorecard to the reviewers.
One of our most treasured processes in proposal management is preparing for a color team review. It generally consists of gathering all content by a specific date, combining it and sending it to the reviewer with the understanding they will likely receive hundreds of comments to sort through.
If this approach isn’t working for you, consider creating a one-page scorecard based on the evaluation criteria provided in the RFP. Instruct reviewers to read the content and return only their scorecard and justification for the score(s) they provided. You’ll be surprised how this technique forces reviewers to focus on the content and the justification of the scores. If you find yourself with opposite scores from multiple reviewers, it’s a tell-tale sign the messages, strengths, features/benefits, etc., are not being received clearly and consistently.
Consider your next early color team to be an outline review.
Have your reviewers approve the outlines rather than written narrative. This isn’t a newbie, but it is often forgotten, and it can be especially helpful when you have a strong proposal manager, strong writers and senior management who are engaged early on. Rather than letting your eager writers go off and “write until pens down,” ask them to create detailed, annotated outlines of their sections, perhaps even including a storyboard sketch of their pages.
A detailed annotated outline typically includes:
- RFP criteria
- Messages to be discussed
- Discriminators to be highlighted
- Solution and supporting points
- Examples or case studies
- Anticipated graphics
- A list of who is responsible for these materials and when they are due
- A conclusion/wrap-up statement
Think of this outline as a document providing explicit instructions from the writer should they need someone else in the company to draft the first version. The benefit is that writers receive feedback and approval from management on their approach, anticipated narrative focus, support examples and messages before they start writing.
Try an Agile review.
If you find a pursuit struggling with the traditional multi-hour color team meeting, where sections may not really be ready for a review and reviewers don’t have the time to look at the entire document, consider trying an Agile review. The premise of Agile is that by using an iterative writing/immediate feedback reviewing process, the writers can modify content as it is being developed and not spend time developing content that isn’t correct. Reviewers are more likely to participate earlier in the process because reviews are kept to 30 minutes or so, and they see their feedback integrated within each iteration. As content moves through the iterative process, reviews take less time.
So next time you want to try something different on your pursuit, give one of these suggestions a try. Modify it to best suit the needs of your pursuit team and the timeframe you have. In today’s quickly changing world, skillful proposal managers need to be one step ahead of their pursuit teams and recognize when they need to shake things up a bit to get a stronger product out the door.
Heather Kircher, CF APMP, is a senior capture manager with an architectural and engineering firm. She has more than 25 years of experience in pursuit development, proposal management, strategy development and proposal training. Her focus has been in the federal market, where she has supported hundreds of proposal efforts and specializes in leading large, multimillion-dollar IDIQ proposals. Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.