“There is nothing more disheartening for a proposal manager (PM) than to have Red Team members show up having not read the document.”
But it happens
I’ve attended a few meetings where independent, paid review team members hadn’t put in the time to form opinions that went beyond formatting suggestions. It represented a huge waste of time, budget, and resources.
Fortunately, over the years I learned how to minimize this risk and this article is about how to ensure your next Red Team is as productive as possible.
How to Ensure a Productive Red Team
We all know the axiom, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,’ but can this proven principle be applied to your next proposal review?
My experience is that it can. Thorough communication is the key and it’s your job as PM to ensure everyone receives the same message regarding expectations for the review.
While it’s important to be mindful that every member of your Red Team is busy and has a hundred other items on their plate and, just like yours, their time is valuable, there is no excuse for a member of the team showing up unprepared to add substantive suggestions for improvement.
10 Tips for a Productive Red Team Review
- Co-author and circulate your review agenda. I learned the benefit of co-authoring from a mentor early in my career. It allows to you negotiate buy-in and generate ideas that you might otherwise not include. Send your draft agenda to the top level review members (Pursuit Managers, Major Section Leads, etc.) for comment. Send only the final agenda to the entire review team.
- Set time limits for sectional reviews based on scoring criteria. There is little benefit in spending two hours of discussion time on a section that’s only assigned 5% of the potential point score, but I’ve seen it happen. As PM, allocate the review time per section in your pre-circulated agenda and enforce it, altering it only for substantive discussions that demand it.
- Lead, guide, and moderate the discussion. Proposal reviews with high-level team members can often be a challenge to moderate; the term herding cats comes to mind. Without a strong, guiding moderator, discussions can rapidly veer off course. Keep comments focused on the sectional topics at hand. Remember, you’re not here to make friends, but to get results.
- Utilize a designated note taker. As PM, your job is to guide and moderate the discussion. Your awareness and attention need to be on the topic being discussed so you can ask appropriate questions and prod contributors for further comments. You can’t do this and take effective notes. Designation of an assistant to record further assignments, and pertinent discussion points will help you in the long run. If you’re a consultant, obtain an appropriate administrative staffer to fulfill this position.
- No piling-on. I’ve attended reviews where some have used what I called the piling-on approach to raising objections and making observations. In this approach, the member (typically one who doesn’t offer much original insight), automatically agrees with another’s observation but doesn’t offer any suggestions for improvement. Prevent this by insisting that all criticisms should be accompanied by a suggestion for improvement.
- Obtain member commitment, in writing, to a thorough review of the document sections assigned to them. As the PM, call each review team member personally (no voicemail messages allowed) and obtain their promise to read, review, and annotate their assigned sections, as well as a commitment to contribute to substantive discussions at the review. Follow this up with an email that requires them to respond to the conditions you’ve discussed in the call via a return receipt.
- Use team member specialties to your advantage. There is little benefit from having a review team member with limited DBE experience review your DBE Subcontracting Plan. When possible, assign proposal reviews based on member specialty. You’ll have a more targeted and substantive review, not to mention one that doesn’t run over its scheduled time frame. (Like that ever happens…)
- Obtain copies of marked-up review drafts. Whether this is in the form a marked-up PDF or a photocopy of their review draft, it’s essential for the recovery period. If a paper copy is submitted, it’s submitted at the end of the review prior them leaving the meeting. An edited PDF can be emailed to the PM at the meeting’s end.
- Limit discussions to sectional topics. No discussions about spelling, punctuation, or word-smithing are allowed in the review. These are not discussion-worthy comments and should be made either in marked-up PDF or edits on the review copy.
- Assign revisions to the best person for the task. It’s often not who volunteers. At this stage of the document’s development, the primary section lead or author might not be the best person to revise and polish the content. Having an idea beforehand about the most qualified person for sectional revisions is a valuable undertaking.
- BONUS TIP: Obtain verbal commitments (followed up by email confirmations) of post-review assignments. During the review, you’ll make decisions regarding further revisions to sections and allocate responsibility to those best suited for the task. Get visual, verbal, and later written confirmation that clearly states the revision assignment and due dates for drafts.
Not every Red Team review will proceed flawlessly, but we can minimize the risks of an unproductive meeting by implementing a solid plan based on a foundation of firm ground rules and clear expectations.