Help Your Color Team Reviewers Help You

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As a proposal manager, you know how important color team reviews are in developing winning bids. But do you ever feel like your reviews aren’t as helpful as they should be? Do you sometimes struggle to get useful feedback? Do you see grammar fixes coming out of pink team and requests for strategic changes coming out of gold team?

If so, Karin Olson Held feels your pain. As a senior proposal manager at Noridian Healthcare Solutions, she’s seen her share of less-than-stellar color team reviews, and she’s developed a strategy to make them better. At BPC Denver, she shared four tips for creating color team reviews that engage participants and generate actionable comments — comments that improve, not derail, your proposals.

Tip #1: Communicate the Schedule and Expectations Clearly.

The last thing a proposal manager wants to hear the day before a review is, “Wait, I’m supposed to look at this tomorrow?”

To combat “disappearing reviewer syndrome,” Olson Held suggests getting ahead of the review process. Schedule your reviews early and include the dates in your proposal kickoff meeting. Identify your reviewers for each section as early as you can, and secure time on their calendars immediately.

Also, be crystal clear about the scope of work that reviewers can expect. Exactly how many pages will they be reviewing? They need to set aside a much bigger block of time for reviewing 50 pages than they would to review five.

Let them know when they’ll receive background material on the bid. And remind them that they’re expected to read it before they conduct their review. Communicate that part of their commitment is preparing for the review itself. That means carefully reading the solicitation and any additional preparatory material you share with them.

Tip #2: Hold a Meaningful Kickoff Meeting.

Now that reviewers understand what they’re reviewing, they need to know why they’re reviewing it. Take time to orient reviewers to the purpose of each specific review. Are they evaluating the solution and strategy? Verifying compliance? Seeing how well win themes and discriminators are woven into the text?

Let your reviewers know exactly what insights you want from them. Then, explain how to best share them. Olson Held suggests showing your reviewers examples of real-life helpful and unhelpful comments. She explains that unhelpful color review comments provide general feedback, with no guidance to writers on how to improve the content.

Recent zingers include:

  • “I don’t understand this sentence.”
  • “Needs a comma here.”
  • “This isn’t correct.”
  • “Unclear.”
  • “Looks good.”

Olson Held explains that, in contrast, helpful color review comments are specific. They give writers clear direction on what’s wrong, missing or unclear in their section, helping them know exactly where to go next.

She shares these examples:

  • “X innovation will fit into this section. Reach out to [name] for details.”
  • “Let’s incorporate [win theme] here. It connects with what we’re doing in X area.”
  • “This data would be good to show in a graphic.”
  • “We’re actually not using X solution; we’re using XX now. You can pull details from our sales database.”
  • “X issue is really important to the customer. Here is how we’re addressing it. Emphasize this in the theme statement.”

Tip #3: Use a Two-Part Evaluation Approach.

To help reviewers focus their thoughts even more, Olson Held recommends a two-pronged approach for collecting feedback. She suggests that writers make detailed comments in the document itself and reserve broader comments for a feedback form. Here’s her suggested breakout:

In-document feedback:

  • Focuses on tactical issues and specific fixes writers need to make
  • Includes a detailed, line-by-line review
  • Performed in real-time; reviewers make comments as they read through the document
  • Used to guide writers in making immediate changes and corrections within a section

The feedback form:

  • Focuses on strategic issues
  • Encapsulates the reviewer’s overarching impressions
  • Assembled after the reviewer has read the entire section
  • Used to guide writers in making big-picture changes to their section and ensuring that it aligns with other sections

In short, editing the section itself gives reviewers a chance to make specific comments. Filling out a feedback form gives them a chance to reflect broadly on the section’s strengths and weaknesses. These reflections directly inform the debrief that takes place after a color team review.

Tip #4: Provide Clear Rankings for Your Reviewers.

Finally, to make the results of review cycles crystal clear, Olson Held asks her reviewers to rate each section on a color scale. Here’s her recommended breakout for color rankings:

  • Blue: Outstanding. No issues, highest possible rating, file ready to submit
  • Green: Good. Nearly complete, will be ready to submit with minor editing and/or graphics additions
  • Yellow: Marginal. Only partially responsive or contains several weaknesses; needs content additions, substantiation of claims, and/or refinement to be compelling
  • Red: Unsatisfactory. Non-compliant, non-responsive or has significant errors; needs significant revision and re-review

Adding these ratings into a spreadsheet provides an at-a-glance assessment of the proposal’s health.

In sum, following Olson Held’s recommendations can help proposal managers get the right feedback, in the right format, at the right time, creating color team reviews that substantially improve their bids.

This session took place at APMP’s annual Bid & Proposal Con in October. Save the date for next year’s conference, scheduled for May 22-25, 2022, in Dallas, Texas.

Samantha Enslen, CP APMP Fellow, runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides writing, editing, and design support for proposals and marketing communications. She and her team support clients in financial services, IT and consulting, healthcare and architecture/engineering/construction. Outside of work, she plays tennis competitively, reads voraciously and loves on her family daily.

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