Improve Your Proposal Pwin Part 7: Master the Formal and Informal Proposal Reviews

We have reached the final installment in our series Improving Your Government Proposals’ Pwin. Today we are going over the importance of effective informal and formal proposal reviews. We address common mistakes committed by reviewers, and helpful practices you can enact to extract the most value from each review.

Every part of this series is tied to other parts. This installment is no exception. The review process is arduous and requires as much of a team effort as writing the proposal itself. How well your reviews go reflects how focused your company culture is on winning.

Master the Proposal Color Reviews

No matter the time constraints caused by a proposal deadline, you should never submit a proposal without conducting at least one review. It is not a matter of having time; it is a matter of making time. Submitting a proposal without holding at least one review significantly lowers your Pwin. Of course, avoid holding an excessive number of reviews; you don’t want your team to suffer from “death by reviews” either.

No matter what colors you choose to call your reviews, you want to set clear objectives and outcomes for each one.  A checklist can help ensure you don’t miss any review steps and that you get the most from your reviewers at each review.

Color reviews such as Pink Team, Red Team, and so on, are an industry standard practice. We’ve listed some general expectations for each color review, but you should always tailor expectations to the proposal. Every opportunity is different.

OST’s proposal process incorporating formal color reviews and informal reviews
OST has formulated a proposal process based on best practices using formal color and informal reviews (such as Pink Team, Red Team, Gold Team, White Glove, and so on), and checklists to streamline tasks and reduce stress.

Blue Team Review

The optional Blue Team review examines the proposal in outline form. Prior to the review (in OST’s process, it takes place before the kickoff), the proposal manager, perhaps with the support of the solutions architect, outlines each section with color-coded requirements from the RFP. The proposal manager may also add:

  • instructions for the writers
  • proposal win themes
  • key solution points
  • placeholders for graphics and tables

The Blue Team review makes sure that each section has a writer and Subject Matter Expert assigned, and all the assignments are realistic given the allotted time and page count.

Pink Team Review

During a Pink Team Review, the reviewers go over the proposal’s first draft or storyboards. In accordance with OST’s process, the proposal should be 60% complete. This content could be in bullets and explain the concepts in each section. It will also detail why and how the team should win, with mocked up graphics and tables. Despite being incomplete, the draft should still be compliant with the RFP. Grammatical errors and typos should be ignored.

Red Team Review

At the Red Team review, your proposal should be 90% ready for submission, be within 5-10% of the target page count, and should take place at roughly the 60-70% time mark of the proposal. The value proposition should be clear, with the win themes throughout. Your management and technical approach, any attachments, and all the other required sections such as past performance and resumes, or small business participation volume should be done. As the result of the Red Team review, your proposal team may need to sharpen win themes, customer benefits, discriminators, and differentiators, clarify some solution points, and make your proposal even more compelling. Your graphics should be professionally rendered by this point. Every proposal section should be written in full sentences. You may not have enough time to edit and desktop publish the proposal prior to the Red Team. However, your content should be almost customer-ready.

Green Team Review

Green Team is the cost or price proposal review. In OST’s process, we don’t use the Green Team as nomenclature often because the cost proposal follows the same Pink, Red, and Gold Team sequence. We don’t believe in having only one pricing review as it is a core part of your offer and it should evolve and get more polished as your technical solution evolves

However, in a typical company that is happy to fit at least one price volume review, a Green Team review is meant to ensure RFP compliance with regard to pricing, along with price competitiveness. It should also ensure that the narrative portion of your cost/price volume is compelling. This review may happen right after the Red Team review. You should make sure that technical and management writers work closely with the Green Review team, or ideally take part in the review. This will keep inconsistencies between your technical and management approaches and pricing from appearing in your proposal.

Again, ideally, you will run multiple price volume reviews concurrently or immediately following the technical reviews, following the regular Pink, Red, and Gold Team nomenclature.

Gold Team Review

The Gold Team review is a management review of the final proposal, and the expectations for how it is done vary from company to company. Some companies treat it like another Red Team review (which we don’t advise as it is too risky this late in the game), while others give the document a cursory skim read instead of ensuring every “t” is crossed and “i” is dotted. The company management will typically approve the proposal for submission after the Gold Team review. The proposal should be 99.9% customer ready.

White Glove Review

During a White Glove review, you will visually check your proposals for obvious printing errors, and make sure that your proposal binders (commonly referred to as “books”) are built correctly. A “book check” means you go page by page through every single copy of each volume of the proposal. For an electronic proposal submission, you need to go over the printed version of the proposal first to ensure everything looks right. Then you need to check the proposal for any left-over artifacts such as comments and redlines, metadata. Finally, you’ll optimize the document for submission. After the Gold Team review, there shouldn’t need to be any other types of editing other than ensuring that the reviewers didn’t introduce any errors.

Common Pink and Red Team Reviewer Mistakes

Here are some of the common proposal reviewer mistakes that you will need to train your review team to eliminate:

  • Failing to check the proposal against the RFP evaluation criteria:

Many reviewers simply read the proposal. What they should be doing is emulating the government reviewers and scoring your proposal in accordance with the RFP’s evaluation criteria. Intellectually, people understand that a color team review is more than critiquing a piece of prose. However, in practice, many color reviewers work with the RFP nowhere in sight. Sometimes the RFP is there only because the reviewers didn’t read it in advance.  So now they are getting familiar with the material during the review. The reviewers should arrive at the review having read the RFP, and should reference it as they review each section.

  • Correcting grammar and typos or criticizing the aesthetics of the unfinished graphics and unformatted document:

This is one of the most common mistakes Pink and Red team reviewers make. At these milestones, the proposal is only 60% and 90% ready respectively. Commenting on grammar or graphics that haven’t been rendered by the graphic design team (or a proposal that hasn’t been desktop-published) wastes time and effort. The reviewer should be reviewing, not editing. The focus on grammar and typos causes the reviewers to overlook the bigger picture. The reviewers must check the validity of the approach and the impact of the win themes on government evaluators.

  • Shallowly reviewing the proposal content:

Reviewing a proposal is hard mental work. Reviewers do the entire proposal team a disservice by only staying on the surface. They must dive deep to do their part in crafting a winning proposal. Here are some symptoms of a shallow review:

  • Sparsely commenting: When you leaf through the proposal, you’ll find a comment every few pages instead of a thorough scrub of the content. Or perhaps initially the reviewer commented profusely, only for the comments to taper off a few pages into the proposal. Neither of these is helpful when you’re looking for someone to tear your proposal apart with a valuable critique.
  • Offering vague criticisms without solutions: Comments like “This doesn’t read well” or “This doesn’t sound right.” Every comment should specifically address how the writers can improve the proposal, with tangible suggestions such as sentence wording or specific facts to mention.
  • Issuing blanket positive statements such as “it reads well” is a compliment the writers can do without. A good proposal draft can be tough to critique. In this scenario, the reviewers should try to add another layer of sizzle to improve the proposal.

Helpful Pink and Red Team Review Practices

Train the reviewers to effectively review the proposal

Just-in-time training can help reviewers provide maximum benefit to your writers. Show them examples of acceptable and unacceptable comments so they are clear on your expectations. You should also make sure they understand how compliance works. This comprehension will help them compare their assigned section with the RFP requirements. Remind your reviewers to look at the proposal through the government evaluators’ eyes. They will probably benefit from an explanation of the government evaluation process.

Tailor the expectations and questions for each review

Every government RFP and proposal are different, and each proposal progresses at a different pace. You need key performance indicators and standards to shoot for in time for each review. Don’t mistake review goals for the desired outcomes though. The desired outcomes are more specific. For example, ask the reviewers to help you cut down on page count in specific proposal sections. Every paragraph may feel important to you since you are too close to your material. Verify that you have interpreted and answered specific RFP requirements correctly. Explain where you are progress-wise and how the review team can help with making more progress.

Plan the review time well

Some companies allocate a full day or more to the Pink or Red Team review, while others dedicate just a few hours. Regardless, be sure to set expectations for how your reviewers should manage their time. They need to understand precisely how much work they must accomplish in a certain amount of time, and what their priorities are. This will keep them efficient and on task. Make sure you assign sections of the proposal to specific reviewers, with more than one reviewer evaluating each section. Every proposal and set of resources is different, so use the available brainpower wisely.

Conduct at least one review for quick-turn proposals

Eliminating the reviews from your process in a time crunch is a mistake we see often. Especially in smaller companies where Pink or Red Team reviews are not “gospel”. Reviews help your proposal mature. Experienced professionals say that each review gets your proposal at least a grade up. A “churn and burn” process when you slap together proposals and throw them over the wall to the government will lower your Pwin. Even if you feel like you have no time, make time for one review.

Experiment with asynchronous and rolling reviews if you’re short on time.

If time is tight, you can conduct an asynchronous review. In an asynchronous review, you can send the proposal files to the reviewers, and they return them to you with the necessary comments and suggestions. Another option might be a rolling review. During a rolling review, you give the sections to the reviewers as the proposal writers complete them. You don’t have to stop the work to get a thorough review to improve the proposal.  

Our Top Recommendation: Add Indispensable Informal Reviews

In-Process Reviews:

Capture and proposal managers should be reading the proposal every day or every other day. Reading the proposal so often allows you to constantly monitor the pulse of your team. You’ll spot small problems before they become monstrous, and you’ll catch and address procrastination early on.

Peer Reviews:

This review may end up to be the most useful one of them all. Swap your proposal sections between the proposal writers and your subject matter experts. Have them review the sections they didn’t author. Your writers will understand the plans for other sections of the proposal, and make granular recommendations. You may find these extremely useful because these writers are close to the RFP and your solution. Peer reviews lead to a more synchronous proposal, and your writers usually give more substantive critiques.

Read-Aloud Reviews:

Many people dislike read-aloud reviews because it may be a slow and arduous process, but reading the proposal aloud helps you catch things your eyes skipped over. A read-aloud review should take place after the proposal is thoroughly edited and formatted, just before the Gold Team and a White Glove review. You’re looking for anything your editor might have missed, like inconsistencies, bloopers, and errors.

Let’s Close Out Our Improving Your Pwin Series

Your win probability is just that, a probability. You can’t do anything to guarantee a contract award from the government. You may do everything right and still lose.

  • Someone may buy their way in.
  • Competitors may run better capture.
  • Politics or lousy luck may get in the way.

You can’t control everything, but you increase your probability of winning if your company culture pushes you to excel on every front. You may have some past winning proposals, but that doesn’t mean they were good. The same few reasons we listed above for losing (such as politics or luck) could also be reasons you won in the past. To continue winning in this increasingly competitive market, never give anything less than your best.

If you need assistance and are ready to increase your Pwin, OST provides proposal management services, including reviews support. We also offer proposal management training. Our Foundations of Proposal Management and Advanced Proposal Management courses in our B&P Academy will help your team excel in proposal development and increase your Pwin.

What do you think of the proposal color review system? Is it a critical part of your proposal management process? Do any of the mistakes or recommendations listed here remind you of an experience you can share in the comments. 

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