Making a Fashion Statement During Proposal Reviews

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We’ve all heard the industry terms of art related to proposal reviews, such as “Black Hat” and “Blue Hat,” or have been referred to as a Pink, Red or Gold Team member. While helpful in theory, some may not understand the significance of these terms, which are intended to provide structure and an industry terminology that can assist when teams are setting up for their proposal review cycles.

It has been my experience over the past 27 years in proposal development that some proposal reviewers may need a less “fashion-forward” approach to their review vernacular to help them understand the function of each review team designation as they also learn the significance of each color. I try to share a results-focused review approach that can be useful, especially for new professionals. By focusing on the functional nature of proposal reviews, we can all achieve our goals of producing high-quality, relevant proposals that deliver proven results for our companies.

That is why, when asked to explain the importance of reviews in the proposal development process to up-and-coming proposal professionals, I break out my lesson into a helpful list of five essential “to-do’s,” showing that we need to be:

  • Prepared
  • Focused
  • Thorough
  • Objective
  • Timely

Think of these as an acronym (PFTOT) or perhaps as the sentence: Reviews are proposal fun that’s over too soon!

Whether you love them or despise them, proper proposal reviews can make or break a procurement effort. Hopefully, these tips can help you and your colleagues, specifically the newcomers, shed some more light on this essential process.

1) Be prepared. It may seem self-explanatory, but I have found it is not always fully understood that being a reviewer often takes as much preparation as being a writer. Whether you’re being asked to be a part of a Blue Team Review call to go over capture plans and validate a team’s win strategy or don your Black Hat for a competitor strategy review, the key is to prepare. Always ask the six essential questions of who, what, when, where, why and how of your proposal manager before coming to the first meeting to make sure you understand the purpose, audience, timeline, scope and dynamics of the review team.

In addition, you should make sure to read the procurement documents in detail to fully brief yourself on the requirements of the sections you will be reviewing. It can also be a good idea to create or ask for a review matrix that will allow you to document any changes you make to the proposal that can be shared with the writers and next set of reviewers to foster continuity across reviews.

2) Be focused. Wearing a Red Hat to review for customer focus, completeness and clear communication is great — but only if you know that’s your focus. No matter what type of review you are asked to do, make sure you fully understand your role, then focus on it.

For example, if you are being asked to do a Pink Team Review where the focus is on content and not so much on grammar, don’t spend your time worrying about comma placement. Focus on the bigger picture as you read. You might even consider turning your grammar checker off in Microsoft Word if you can to avoid that distraction.

Also, if you are being asked to fill more than one review role, plan to review the document completely for each one. The nemesis of reviewers is to think they can do it all in one go. Not true! Focus and you’ll do fine, no matter the role.

3) Be thorough. No one wants to be that reviewer who missed a critical piece of the proposal that led to disqualification or loss of an opportunity, especially if that error could have been easily corrected. The key is scheduling enough time to be thorough. Proposal managers need to make sure all reviews are scheduled into the proposal timeline and that reviewers know their deadlines. Relatedly, reviewers need to schedule enough time to be comprehensive and detailed, so that the product they return to the writing team is constructive and complete. Identifying who or what resources need to address each edit is also important in the review process, as it will facilitate resolution of the changes needed.

Being thorough also means providing actionable, constructive feedback when you are reviewing. This is critical to the success of your review. It is not helpful for a writer to receive feedback that is subjective with no explanation for why edits are needed, nor does it help to vaguely point out a need for change with no specific action that will resolve the issue.

For example, if a sentence is unclear, you should explicitly state what you do not understand and possibly provide an alternative to the wording that might help to clarify. It should be noted, however, that while word processing programs will allow you to make edits directly into a document (i.e., track changes in Microsoft Word), the role of reviewer is often to add comments and questions for the writers to respond to but not to rewrite the document. Make sure you and your writers understand your role as a reviewer at the beginning of the review process to avoid any confusion.

4) Be objective. We all want our proposals to adhere to a gold standard, thus the Gold Team Review may be aptly named as it confirms your offer has acceptable profit and risk. However, it can sometimes be tough to tell colleagues their approach is not realistic or profitable. So, make sure if you are asked to be a reviewer, whether it’s for content, focus or profits, that you can be objective. If you can’t, you need to say so.

5) Be timely. You will be better received with your input if you provide it in a timely way. Don’t wait until the absolute latest deadline to let a writer know they’ve missed a whole section. Sometimes the success or failure of an entire proposal can hinge on a timely review. That means understanding how many pages of a proposal you will be reviewing and then planning for the anticipated time it will take to do your specific review. Each reviewer is different and the amount of time it will take will vary from person to person, proposal to proposal, so give yourself more time than you think you’ll need and start early. The more proposals you review, the better you will get at this process.

Whether you have been in the business for some time like me, or you are just starting your career path as a proposal development professional, it’s imperative to understand the essential nature of proposal reviews. Put the effort into these reviews (no matter what hat you need to wear) by being prepared, focused, objective and on time, and your proposal team will thank you for it!


Leigh Ann Newman, CP APMP, is a senior program manager of marketing/proposal operations for Public Consulting Group’s human services practice. She has been in the proposal development profession for 27 years and is a newly elected member of APMP’s International Board of Directors, as well as a past member of the Pacific Northwest chapter’s board.

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