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Evaluating alternate review processes to improve your win rate

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When developing numerous proposals per year, teams run the risk of becoming complacent in their review of the final product. As a consultant who works on approximately 50 proposals every year, I see a number of review processes that are very effective at engaging the review team and often result in a better product. In this article, I’m offering a few variations to the traditional process for your consideration. The review process referred to here is the document readiness review (DRR). To complete the DRR, we generally assign senior personnel—preferably independent of the proposal development process—who know and understand the customer’s perspective.

Review-in-Series

The review-in-series process is conducted by having each member of the review team inspect and add changes and comments to the same track-changes version of the document used by the other members, one after another. Review team members are seldom shrinking violets, so comment bias is generally not an issue. The downside of this process is the increased time it takes to conduct the review. There are two benefits to this process. First, this sequential approach avoids the myriad duplication, overlap, and conflicting input that can result with the use of the combine function. Second, this approach allows each subsequent reviewer to weigh in on previous comments, providing the proposal manager with more clarity to adjudicate the comments.

Multiple Concurrent Review Teams

This approach has been around for nearly as long as proposals. The point in including it in this list is to allow you to refresh the process as one of your handy tools. Using multiple concurrent review teams requires careful management. I find it best to keep the teams separated, avoiding cross-contamination of thoughts and input between the teams. I even create de facto firewalls by composing the teams from two different pools: those who are physically at the principal location and those who work remotely. The only downside of multiple concurrent reviews is the need for enough reviewers to make up two meaningful teams. If you have only four or five qualified people, it makes little sense. The upside of this approach is that you often receive two different perspectives on your product, giving you good alternatives as to how to proceed with the recovery effort.

A second full review performed diligently by seasoned reviewers will take your document to the next level and can make the difference in setting your proposal apart.

Multiple Reviews

Conducting two or more back-to-back reviews adds value. Interestingly, this process is also the one that is the most difficult to manage effectively. There are two downsides. First, you have to keep the reviewers fully engaged throughout both review efforts. There is a tendency for some reviewers to gloss over the document the second time, making the assumption that it has not changed enough to warrant a thorough second review. Second, this does take additional time, which you will need to factor into the proposal schedule. There are important upsides. During the recovery process, you make corrections and other changes to your document, and a second full DRR allows all reviewers to see how those changes affect your message. A second full review performed diligently by seasoned reviewers will take your document to the next level and can make the difference in setting your proposal apart.

Oral Reviews

Oral reviews are a unique subset of the DRR process. I often use oral reviews as a precursor to the review of the actual document by the review team, and I hold this review either one week prior to the DRR or at the kick-off meeting for the DRR. The oral review process has the proposal manager facilitate the section leads, subject matter experts, authors, etc., as they verbally present their sections using a guided template. Once they complete their verbal description, the reviewers are given an opportunity to provide initial feedback. If held prior to the DRR, the oral review gives the presenters a chance to incorporate initial feedback into their documents. There is no real downside to oral reviews. Some presenters are more effective than others, and for some listeners, it is difficult to translate what they are hearing into what they will see in printed form. When oral reviews are done effectively, the personnel developing the content receive direct and immediate feedback, which ultimately improves the final version.

Flying Reviews

Flying reviews require increased diligence and oversight by the proposal manager, as they are less formal than traditional DRRs. Here, the document is reviewed over several days. Input is received sporadically over the review period and quickly inserted into the master document, which the proposal manager reposts, allowing the reviewers to see and comment on the most current version. The proposal manager maintains version control throughout the process. The downside is the extended time it takes to conduct the review. The upside is also inherent in this extended time. A flying review accommodates busy schedules of key personnel needed to conduct a formal and comprehensive review of your document. This frees them from setting aside a specific period in their busy schedules to focus on the proposal and, ultimately, can provide an improved document.


Michael McHenry is a proposal/consultant manager at Winning Federal Proposals, a Chesapeake, Virginia-based consultancy. He can be reached at mmchenry@winningfederalproposals.com.

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