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Capitalizing on Bid and Proposal Lessons Learned

By: Bob Burnett, Vice President of Business Development

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford

Most Government Contractor (GovCon) firms, VectorCSP included, track the standard bid & proposal (B&P) metrics of win-rate, prime vs. sub pursuits, market diversity, loss/award due to price vs. technical/management, and volume of bids per year. These metrics are critical to uncovering and analyzing lessons learned. How these metrics are tracked varies, and there is no reason to over-engineer a means to track the data; just track it in the tool and process that ensures you actually track it and can use the data. Another set of key information to track is proposal debrief content (if you are not requesting a debrief 100% of the time win or lose, then I highly recommend implementing this change immediately). Debrief information is invaluable, and should be added to the metrics previously mentioned.

HOW to capitalize on the B&P data

Every six to twelve months, depending on proposal volume, we convene our Business Development (BD) team to review the data. During this internal review, we seek to identify trends or anomalies that jump out, and discuss in detail those previous bids where a specific lesson was learned. For example, a customer may have viewed compensation figures as being too high for certain labor categories in a geographic location. If our firm consistently targets these types of positions in this location, then this piece of information becomes immediately valuable. And if we see this happening more than once, or across more than one customer/location, it could indicate an issue with our compensation model/data.

Following the internal BD team evaluation, we pull in other stakeholders in our organization so they have an opportunity to contribute to the analysis and to discuss how the lessons may impact them and their part of the organization. We like to include our client-facing Account Leads, finance, human resources, and contracting as our B&P processes touch each of these VectorCSP components. During this expanded discussion, which typically takes a couple of hours, we identify process improvements and capture input. We also look forward at forecasted opportunities to see if any of these lessons can be immediately implemented and attributed to a known upcoming bid.

WHY take the time to do it

The primary goal of B&P activity in the Federal Government space is to secure contracts; the expectation is that throughout these B&P activities, customer solutions are designed, value is communicated, target pricing is achieved, and that time and effort is not spent in vain and wasted. Given the overwhelming volume of Federal Government contract opportunities and the often-self-induced cycle of continuous pursuit of opportunities, it can be difficult to pause and reflect on B&P activities/processes that work and those that should be improved…but this pause and reflection is imperative if increased B&P effectiveness is to be achieved.

The result of an intentional process improvement mindset should limit recurring mistakes, uncover trends that otherwise might go unnoticed, increase win rates, enable more rapid and effective capitalization of debrief information, and create more integrated B&P processes across the organization.

WHY it works

The benefit of hindsight and availability of “perfect” information cannot be overstated. The result of the proposal effort (won or lost) is known, so there is no guessing as to whether or not our approach was effective; therefore, the information can be viewed objectively. Along with this theme of objectivity, there is the removal of emotional bias that often occurs during the proposal development effort. Collaboration and input from the expanded stakeholder group is key, as it facilitates greater organizational change associated with lessons learned. This collaboration also enables idea generation from different perspectives…not just the “sales” view of BD. Another reason this approach is effective at creating valuable change in B&P efforts is that it considers information from a broader data set rather than simply analyzing one lost deal in a vacuum.


Get a debrief every time; track the metrics you care about; collaborate with your colleagues on a regular basis; and make the lessons-learned event a standard practice (send out the meeting invite for the next lessons-learned session immediately following the one you just did); and actually implement the changes necessary to realize the benefit(s) of the lessons learned.

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