The chasing game; steps in the path to winning federal contracts
By Mary-Katherine Sheffield Scroggs, S&K Technologies Business Development
RFI, RFP, PWS, Capture Plan, Red Team, Past Performance, Technical Volume….
Have you ever heard a colleague throwing these terms around and wondered what in the heck they were talking about? Well, this alphabet soup of letters is part of the lengthy, step by step progression of activities that leads to new work for S&K employees.
What your colleague is babbling about is how S&K bids for work opportunities from the federal government; by writing a proposal. The proposal is the final “pitch” for new work, and is only part of the giant effort our Business Developers take to market ourselves to the government. To really understand why and how proposals are created, we need to go back further in the business development (BD) and Government Procurement Process.
S&K’s Business Developers are constantly on the hunt for government customers with funded requirements that meet our qualifications. They find these opportunities through a number of avenues; by monitoring government opportunity database websites, such as Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) and GovWin; reviewing existing contracts that will be up for renewal within the next 1-5 years; and through leads provided by current S&K employees who interface with customers regularly and are in perhaps the best position of all to know when there may be upcoming work that an S&K company can do.
The government often requests market surveys or Requests for Information (RFI). Responding to a RFI is similar to writing a mini-proposal, and the results are quite often used to determine whether these capabilities exist among small businesses or even 8(a) Certified small businesses. Once an opportunity is targeted, S&K Business Developers do as much pre-marketing of the company as possible before the RFI is released. This confirms our dedication and determination for the opportunity.
Supporting them throughout the process is the Corporate Development Group. The Corporate Development Group supports BD activities by assisting with research, keeping running records of upcoming opportunities, facilitating get-to-know-you events or activities for meeting potential customers or potential teammates such as tradeshows or one-on-one meetings, marketing, and providing support throughout the development of RFI responses and proposals.
Writing a proposal is the culmination of the BD process. It is where all the information gathering, coordination with potential teammates, and often months of planning come together into a focused product that S&K will deliver to the government. Here’s a little more about what it takes to put one together.
First, the government agency releases a Request for Proposal (RFP) which outlines all of the requirements for the project and for proposal submission. Typically, there is a 30 day deadline for responding. Sometimes for complex projects, the government provides Draft RFP (dRFP) documents a week or even months in advance, affording S&K additional time to refine the proposal as closely as possible to the requirements. The goal is to provide the most compelling case for S&K’s capabilities.
The RFP has been released and now the clock is ticking. There is a lot of work to be done in a very short amount of time. To work effectively, the proposal team prepares a calendar which includes all work assignments and due dates. Each member of the team—which may include BD/Corporate Development Group personnel, program managers and technical personnel—works to complete volumes of the proposal. These volumes can include:
Past Performance Volume – Sometimes due in only 15 days, this volume details the qualifications that show S&K (and any teammates) has the skills and experience to meet the requirement. Questionnaires may also be requested from previous S&K customers to prove our experience. The key for a Past Performance Volume…or any proposal volume…is to provide the best picture of our qualifications within the writing guidelines the government provides. This is typically a challenge, based on how complex the proposed task requirements are and how much proposal space the government has allotted.
Technical Volume – For this volume, S&K endeavors to respond to all technical requirements in the Performance Work Statement (PWS). Sometimes this is also called a Statement of Work. The Team often coordinates with other S&K personnel to assist with writing these sections of the proposal. Showcasing our employee expertise is vital to S&K’s ability to frame our response in the most intelligent way. If S&K is joined by other teammates on a proposal, those teammates also provide technical input.
Cost/Price Volume – S&K proposes a comprehensive pricing offer that will be the most cost-effective for the government. As you might imagine, this volume is perhaps the most taxing (no pun intended) for the Team. It is critical to balance the offer as the best value for the customer and S&K, while striving to provide economic benefit to the Tribe.
The Team works early to determine a consistent and appealing “look” for the overall proposal, including a color scheme, cover art, perhaps a team logo, and other graphics. Aesthetically pleasing graphics help tell the story using less text which also saves space.
“Color reviews” are conducted at various stages of development. For instance, “Green” can be for the Cost/Price Volume review, or an initial review stage. The Technical Volume might go through three review cycles: a “Pink” review for high-level planning, leading to a “Red” review that ensures compliance with all RFP requirements, and a final “Gold” review to narrow down the finer points of the text.
Submittal and the Waiting Game
The Team has pulled together all the moving parts to create the final product for delivery; including obtaining signatures, gathering all the required supplies, printing the documents and/or creating electronic copies and then delivery. A final checklist is followed throughout each step of production and delivery, and no one rests or relaxes until the proposal is safely in the hands of the appropriate government personnel. And then we wait…
It can be a dizzying process to obtain work for S&K and bring economic benefit to the Tribe. But, believe it or not, there are S&K folks who actually enjoy doing it! So next time, you hear those crazy terms being thrown around, give your BD folks a sympathetic smile…and maybe a cup of coffee.