A Simple Process to Develop

Effective Win Strategies and Theme Statements

How often does your team discuss strategies and themes, and then fail to include them in your proposal response in a meaningful way?

I’d like to offer my simple and effective method to develop strategies and theme statements, and carry them through to your proposal in a way that is congruent between all of its parts and enables the reviewer to clearly recognize all thematic messages.


Strategy: The method you use to accomplish a challenging task. Your strategy answers the question ‘how will you perform a task to achieve a goal.’

Theme: The subject that is being discussed and the manner in which you present and discuss the information. For proposals, your themes should support the strategy.

Themes have the following attributes:

  1. They directly address a customer mission-related need.
  2. They indicate a unique or somewhat unique attribute of your approach.

They are immediately following with a short statement that describes how or why your unique attribute addresses the customer’s need (why your approach is beneficial to the customer).

Step 1. Understand the Customer’s Goals

The process begins by answering the following questions:

  1. What is the customer’s mission?
  2. What will the customer achieve by having the contractor perform the specified work?
  3. How does the specified work enable the customer to better achieve their mission?

We often find that unless the team understands what the customer does and how the work allows them to achieve the mission, the strategy and themes are disconnected from what the customer is trying to achieve with the procurement.

Step 2. Make a List

Make a list. Pretty simple, right? Okay, this is definitely Proposals 101, but you might be surprised how often this step is overlooked.

List the customer’s issues. Do not get too fancy, but make certain they reflect real and meaningful (challenging) issues the customer is facing.

2(i) Identify the issue:


2(ii) Rephrase the issue as a need:


a. Slow help desk support Improved IT help desk support
b. Contractor does not use ITSM best practices Contractor personnel who are experienced with ITSM
c. Contractor personnel are not efficiently managed Contractor personnel who are effectively and efficiently managed
d. Positions remain unfilled for extended periods Rapid filling of vacated positions

Step 3. Analyze the Need from the Perspective of Your Company or Team

This is a two-part iterative step that first determines the way or ways that your team will address the customer’s need, and then analyzes the strength of your approach against that of known competitors.

Step 3(a). Describe How Your Team Addresses the Need

Now you need to determine if your team is able to meet the customer’s needs (see 2(ii) in the table above). Analyze each need and determine your approach to meeting that need.

Need (from 2(ii)) Feature
a Improved IT help desk support ·   Establish and track performance metrics

·   Implement a Continual Service Improvement program

·   Use an established (proven) Service Desk User Response Model

b Contractor personnel who are experienced with ITSM ·   Use of ITIL certified resources with ITIL and ITSM experience
c Contractor personnel who are effectively and efficiently managed ·   Assignment of experienced senior level management on-site or near the workforce

·   Designation of immediate reachback to senior level company manager or executive

d Rapid filling of vacated positions ·   Depth of experienced/qualified resources within team structure

·   Maintenance of a virtual bench with vetted replacement personnel

·   Recruiting capability/network and hiring process proven to rapidly find and hire experienced and qualified personnel

This is where most teams stop the process. They insert a standard ‘Needs-Features-Benefits’ box at or near the front of their proposal and ignore it from there. The features you develop here that address the customer’s needs should be included in the section of the proposal where the subject related to the need is discussed.

Step 3(b). Conduct a Gap Analysis

For each issue, need, and feature, perform a Gap Analysis and find your discriminators.

Need (from 2(ii)) Bidder A

Your Team

Bidder B


Bidder C Bidder D
a Improved IT help desk support Yes

·   See Step 3(a)

No Yes Yes
b Contractor personnel who are experienced with ITSM Yes

·   See Step 3(a)

No Yes No
c Efficient management of contractor personnel Yes

·   See Step 3(a)

No No Yes
d Rapid filling of vacated positions Yes

·   See Step 3(a)

No Yes Yes

*Because customer issues and needs reflect their current condition, often the incumbent will lack an effective capability that resolves the issue. They are basically forced to promise something to the customer that they have not provided in the past.

Using your features and information from the Gap Analysis, you can determine how to showcase your strengths, ghost their weaknesses, mitigate your weaknesses, and offset their strengths. The diagram below shows the relationship between your strengths and their weaknesses, and between your weaknesses and their strengths. By showcasing your strengths, you can implicitly showcase (or “ghost”) their weaknesses. Your weaknesses are relative to (a) a gap you have in meeting the customer’s needs, and (b) your competitor’s strengths. When you mitigate your weakness, you are effectively offsetting the impact of their strengths.

Strengths Weaknesses

Step 4. Develop Win Themes

Keep your Win Themes short. Remember, they support your strategy (see Definitions). Develop one Win Theme and statement for every feature:

a. Reliable tracking of IT help desk performance metrics

CSI program with full visibility and accountability

Established Service Desk User Response Manual

b. ITIL certified resources

ITIL and ITSM experience

c. On-site management personnel

Immediate reachback

d. Experienced and qualified team resources

Virtual bench

Proven recruiting capability/network and hiring process

Step 5. Make Your Features Relevant

The final and often most difficult step is to get the strategy and themes from paper into your proposal, in the right spot. Determine where in your proposal the need and feature should be addressed. Include the need, feature, and theme on the annotated outline, storyboard, or template. Discuss with the writers how to include the needs, features, and themes in their sections.


The process described here is just one way to get your team to develop themes and include meaningful discriminators in your proposal in a way that the reviewer will give you due credit. There is a reason best practices are best practices.

The diagram on the following page summarizes the process described in this article to develop and integrate your strategy and themes in your proposal response to achieve congruence between all sections.


Final Thoughts

Strategies and themes are closely related to:

  • Ghosting competitors’ weaknesses
  • Describing your strengths to impact the evaluation of your proposal.
  • Effective Proof Statements that back up your performance claims.
  • Introducing and discussing efficiencies that save the customer time and money.

For more information on these and many other proposal-related topics, please contact the author.

Mike McHenry is a proposal consultant based in Hampton Roads, VA. Mike manages and writes proposals, and leads one foundation and one advanced class on writing and managing proposals per year. For more information, contact Mike at mmchenry@winningfederalproposals.com.
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Winning with your Technical Response

How to Improve your Technical Response

Lately, all we have read about is compliance. Articles and talks on the importance of complying with the RFP. How to comply with the RFP. Even how to shape the RFP to your response; sort of like driving the requirements.

Enough already. If you have success in any competitive environment, you have figured out how to make your response compliant. Still, yes, some do it better than others. Some even take it to an extreme, to the detriment of their technical response. The term bikeshedding comes to mind (google it).

Compliance will not win you a project, but non-compliance will definitely lose you a project. Read that last sentence one more time.

From here, the assumption is that you and your team know how to develop a compliant proposal.

Let’s then shift to what WILL win you a project: your technical response.

A technical response with depth and insight is a key element of any winning proposal. One of the most valuable skills you can possess as a proposal professional is a good understanding of technical issues. You don’t have to be the master of all. This is simply to say that it is tremendously beneficial to be able to understand and interpret technical requirements. By having a basic understanding of the material, you can better work with the highest level of subject matter experts, guide them in developing their response, and in a pinch, when your SMEs can’t devote the time needed to your proposal, you can frame up a reasonable response yourself, albeit within limits, giving them a basic framework on which they can more quickly take to a deeper level. A common complaint I hear from proposal managers is the difficulty they have in managing SMEs: “They don’t have the time;” “They throw their response together to get it off their desk and back on to mine;” “They have poor writing skills;” etc. Few, if any of these are based on fact. SMEs, like the majority of people developing proposals, have day jobs, and write or contribute to proposals, effectively as a condition of employment, in their precious spare time. Give `em a break, take a deep breath, and lower your gun. Remember, another element of developing a winning proposal is your ability to work together as a team.

So let’s get to it. How do you develop a tech response with the depth needed to win? First, I’ll explain this the best I can. Second, I’ll give you a few examples.

Your technical response must describe how you will perform something to the lowest level of detail possible. Two years ago, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. It took her nearly 100 pages to set the stage for the novel. Yet, all the while, the reader is immersed in beautiful language that, despite the fact that in retrospect, much of it did not seem essential to the story, it was enjoyable and gratifying to read. She explained how the Painting came to be stolen in great detail, and throughout the following 600 pages, she made many references to the events that led up to the theft. Similarly, I recently finished War and Peace, yes for the first time (trust me, my liturgy of the classics is not as lacking as it may sound, it just has a few important holes). Anyway, I was impressed with Tolstoy’s descriptive narrative, and clearly see why many consider this the greatest novel ever written. He spends unending pages describing textures, feelings, smells, ambience, the light and the darkness, moistness, tears, sounds, shapes, all with incredible and captivating detail.

How is this relevant? It is relevant because, like these great novels, your technical response must describe how you will perform the work to the greatest level of detail possible, within your page restriction, and in a way that holds your reader’s attention. Reading the first hundred pages of The Goldfinch or nearly any passage from War and Peace will give you a renewed appreciation of the depth of detail that can be written into any narrative, to be read with great alacrity. Your technical response is no different. For those who are more tactile, let me explain this differently. I could tell you about my day in two sentences. “I worked all day on two important projects. At 5, I went home and had dinner with my wife.” Or I could spend pages describing this same information. I could give you time the I woke up, describe what I felt upon awaking, the hour, the weather, smells, noises, and air currents. I could tell you about the process I went about to make ready for the day. How my coffee tasted, what I thought about as I ate my steel cut oatmeal. I could spend a chapter on each of the projects on which I worked. The drive home. What I did upon entering my home that evening. And on until I retired to bed. The point is, if your technical approach lacks sufficient detail to get across to the reader that you understand the subject at its deepest level, then you or your SMEs probably do lack sufficient understanding.

Now for a few real world examples that should better explain the level of detail required in your technical responses. These examples are drawn from a few of my recent projects.

Boat Davits. I had a client responding to a Coast Guard single award IDIQ for work on boat davits. We had a 9 page technical response limit, which had to include a description of how we would perform the work, our management plan, staffing plan, our process for controlling quality, general technical capabilities, and bios of two key personnel. Oh, did I say a 9 page limit? Our solution was to develop a one-section proposal that described our process of first overhauling the boat davit, and second, renewing (replacing) the boat davit, while injecting our management plan, staffing plan, etc., into the appropriate place within our technical response-process. We spent days working with the technical personnel who had hands-on experience with these davits making certain the process we described was detailed and technically accurate. In the end, we used the entire 9 pages for our technical response, and included excellent detail of the disassembly and removals, crane activity, the technical specifications on our welding processes; the certifications of our personnel; all shop activities; subcontractor support; shipboard installations; filling sumps; connecting mechanical, piping, and electrical; touchup paint; testing; and closeout. And by including our management approach (and others) in our technical response, we made the document reasonably interesting, and in the opinion of the reviewer, our successful proposal was very compelling.

Navy Standard Procurement System (SPS). I had a client responding to a NAVSEA single award project for IT support to the Navy’s SPS. We had to show a clear understanding and describe an efficient and detailed technical approach. As you can imagine, the Navy’s SPS is a large and very complex system with millions of line items, and is powered by a myriad of software including database management system, middleware, and a variety of ERP and user tools. Although not specified in the RFP, we knew we had to get across our familiarity with the entire system, describe the functionality and integration of the major components and programs, and describe how they would support the SPS and the qualifications of their personnel. And here, our Technical Approach had a five page limit. Our solution was to diagram out the entire system with all component parts and SW, and effectively pop-out and describe all major items, using a process that displayed our approach first overall, and then in sequence to all major components with reference to all less-major components. We developed the framework, effectively the storyboard, for the SMEs, and we used a series of solutioning meetings to fill in the details. Ultimately, our five pages were packed with information that resulted in a successful proposal.

Advanced Microelectronics. I had a client responding to a MAC IDIQ to engineer and develop prototype and low quantity production of advanced microelectronics for aircraft, ships, tanks, and other military uses. We had 30 pages for Management and 50 pages for Technical with very little guidance in the RFP. We had to describe the entire design, engineering, test, and installation process for the replacement of obsolete microelectronics. Our solution was to organize our team of writers according to the general process, and describe the actual methodology we used on six different components. We had 14 engineers and technicians to support the writing effort, each assigned to a team associated with one of the six items. Some people were on multiple teams. We developed the outline, along with one common storyboard for all teams. Each team had the license to modify the script as needed. The result was 50 pages packed with detailed descriptions of the actual processes used in the development of customer requirements, which turned out to be a very compelling story. Apparently, with their recent award, the TET thought so also.

Summary. To state the obvious, the Technical Section or Volume is as much the responsibility of the Proposal Manager as any other Section. In proposals, the repeated use of Best Practices is an important element to apply in your development of all parts of your proposal, and most certainly, the Technical. The use of SMEs is an important part of the process, effectively a Best Practice. Your involvement in the development of the Technical is as well.

Be good, Win often.







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Why Good Proposals Fail

In the field of proposals, we like to talk about our win rates and successes. However, if you have any experience at all with proposals, you have had some losers. It is inevitable. You labor for weeks with an incredible team of talented people; you analyze the resources needed to perform the work and develop the tightest lowest price input possible. You review every detail checking to make certain you have complied with every requirement. Then you wait, sometimes you respond to ENs or discussion questions, and suddenly, the Government selects a different offeror. How did that happen? You had a winning proposal. No one could have developed a better response with a lower realistic price than you.

But they did. All things being equal, the fact is that much of what we do is subjective. I am not talking about a poor proposal, one that does not answer the mail, or one that has an unnecessarily high price. I am talking about a proposal that in every sense should be rated with the highest marks and likely has the lowest price. I will give you the four reasons this occurs, and I will give you the solutions to avoid those same pitfalls in the future.

This discussion focuses only on single award projects, including TOs/DOs where you are not the incumbent. I am ignoring two things here. First, I ignore the important differences between cost contracts and fixed price, and second, I ignore those between best value and LPTA. If you can handle these “oversights,” you will find the analysis below applies in nearly equal portions. In terms of assumptions, I draw the conclusion that your team has carried out the proper business development functions that must occur prior to final RFP release, and I assume that your past performance is recent, relevant, and received high marks for quality, schedule, and cost.

So, what are these Loss Drivers, and how do you avoid them?

1. Lack of Essential Benefit. You have nothing that stands out for the customer as an innovation (i.e., efficiency) that drives costs lower. In today’s austere climate, nearly all proposals need to give your customer the means to reduce cost. When the RFP asks for innovations, that is simply the Government’s way of saying “how will you save me money?” Regardless of what the RFP asks for, your proposal needs to display efficiencies and cost controls that either save your customer money through the Cost contract, or through your low and realistic fixed price. Figure out what these efficiencies are, specifically how they will save money, and present them in a way that clearly identifies them to the reviewer.

2. Disconnected Mission Driver. Your proposal does not show a connection with the customer’s mission objectives. Every customer has a mission in life, a purpose of their existence. Your job is to know what their mission is, and to understand how the contract enables them to better achieve that mission. Regardless if the contract is for antennas, analysts, architects, or custodial services, the contract you bid on somehow contributes to their being able to better achieve their mission objective. Your proposal needs to convey that understanding, and in what better section is there to do this than in the Understanding section of your Technical response? Focus this section on your customer, not on you, your team, or what you offer. Use this section to get across that you know the work you perform under this contract enables them to better achieve their purpose.

3. Lack of Internal Continuity. Your proposal lacks continuity between some or all major sections. Generally, a team of people with disparate functional skills writes the proposal. A team of SMEs writes the technical. The project organization that will execute the program writes the management and staffing sections. The Contracts Manager writes and develops the cost with BOE input from the project organization. Or something like that. This often results in obvious points of disconnect between each of the major sections. For example, your SMEs develop a technical approach without input from the BOE, thereby requiring a different skill set or quantity of personnel and resources to perform the work. Your management approach introduces a streamlined management approach with a cross matrixed organization, yet your staffing and technical describe dedicated personnel with a more traditional hierarchical or flat organization. The reviewers will notice these disconnects, and so should you. In your reviews and compliance checks, include a list of non-RFP best practice items. At the top of your list should be internal continuity.

4. Customer Subjectivity. Your proposal failed because of an underlying subjectivity of their analysis of your proposal compared to their analysis of the winner’s. Your proposal highlighted specific features in every major section that would save the customer money. Your proposal showed a deep understanding of how the work will support the customer’s mission objectives. And your proposal contained complete continuity throughout and between all sections and volumes. Yet, the subjectivity of the analysis, the reviewer’s receptivity of how you described your approach as compared to that of the winner’s, resulted in your loss. This conundrum, and subjectivity of analysis, beguiles the most experienced proposal expert. However, I can guarantee that assuming you have met all requirements and delivered a low price compelling response, your losses will be infrequent.

Conclusion. So what do you do? How do you withstand the rhetoric from within your organization that goes with a loss? I Ching, the Chinese Buddhist book of changes, teaches us that the good person ignores the nonessential and continually moves ahead with life. In other words, if you have done your job, submitted a good proposal, and still lose, there is no blame. Conduct your analysis, attend the debrief, and learn what you can. Move on. Even in the best of conditions, losses do occur, and you will have them occasionally.

Definition: Best of Conditions: You and your team were focused with very little distraction, you met all assumptions, and you did not violate any of the loss drivers described above.

Metric: If, under the Best of Conditions, you are losing more than 50% of the time, you are not conducting a rigorous analysis of your proposal efforts. In other words, you missed something. Go back and objectively review your losses. If you still don’t see what’s driving the losses, I recommend bringing in an experienced proposal consultant.

There’s nothing wrong with being hard on yourself. However, if you are winning about 50% of the time under the conditions described above, you are doing about as well as some of the best in the industry. If you are not, spend some time understanding the Loss Drivers above, and develop a method that improves your entire team’s ability to develop winning proposals.

Happy hunting

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How to remain calm in stressful chaos


Business development can be a high-intensity and highly stressful pursuit. Hmm. Well, yes, it certainly can be. If you make it that way.

The stress impact of business development is whatever you make it to be. The industry is dominated by type A’s at the top of the corporate ladder who use a take no prisoners approach to all capture and Proposal development efforts. I understand this approach. I used to be in those same shoes. People in those positions, nay, people in all positions, must recognize:

  • A calm repose will result in a higher quality response
  • People work best in a collaborative environment

So the question becomes “how do high stress individuals, those who feel and work best in an atmosphere filled with tension, lead a lengthy and complex process while remaining self possessed and unruffled?” The answer is fairly straight forward. Use a process, ensure appropriate training, and gain the needed experience.

Process. You must have and understand a process that will result in success. The industry uses and promotes ‘best practices’ for a reason: they are proven to work. Develop a process for your own company tailored to your operating structure and management approach. Test it, refine it, and use it.

Training. You and your team must have the appropriate training needed to carry out all steps in the process. I advise meeting with a Proposal Consultant to determine the training subjects. WFP offers a 20-module Proposal course; although most companies do not need training on all subject areas. Your consultant can advise you on relevant subjects and ensure the most benefit from your training dollars.

Experience. There is no substitute for experience. As you and your team gain experience, you will learn to operate as a mutually cooperative team.

The fact remains, there are some people who cannot live without tension. For those, I offer little advice, except to do your best to modulate your approach and allow those around you to perform their jobs within the framework of process, training, and experience.

Success to all!

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Understanding Business Development

Business development is the term used to address all aspects of winning business. It begins well before you develop a capture plan or begin work on a proposal, and continues long after you submit a proposal. It is a continuous never-ending function that involves every aspect of your work. Business development includes all aspects of your customer relationships. It includes how you interact with your customers, the quality of products or services you provide, your responsiveness, your attitude, your personnel, and virtually all other things that your company does as its normal course of daily affairs.

Most medium to large companies have a Director or Vice President in charge of business development. Let me be clear. Business development is not the job of one person. Business development is everyone’s job. Somehow, in some fashion, everyone in your company is either responsible for or affects your company’s ability to win business.

I’d like to introduce a fictional company based on a composite of my real clients. In this case, the names are changed, but all of the relevant facts are real. My client, Tom, has a B.S. and an M.S. in Information Systems, an active TS security clearance, and is retired from the Navy. A few years after retiring, Tom decided to start an IT services company in the Federal marketplace targeting DoD opportunities. He started a company called IT Select. Before he began using my services, he was able to secure 10 to 15 positions on various projects as a subcontractor. He also submitted many proposals to the Government for prime positions, but was unsuccessful. Since hiring Winning Federal Proposals as his proposal-consulting firm, he has won four prime contracts, with three more currently pending.

Tom understands that everything he does relates to business development. Every person he hires interfaces with a Government customer, and contributes to how potential customers perceive IT Select through his past performance and his corporate experience. Tom screens his personnel carefully, and ensures they have the qualifications needed to perform the job. He compensates them well and works hard to retain his good people. As a result, he has very strong past performance citations from various prime contractors, and now directly from the Government. Because Tom has the right perspective and understanding regarding business development, IT Select will continue to grow. I believe that within a few years IT Select will be an important player in the IT services space.

Most companies use the terms business development and capture very loosely, and often use capture and proposal development interchangeably. As I described above, business development is a continuous process that addresses all functions of your business. Capture is that set of actions associated with your pursuit of a single opportunity, and includes proposal development. The diagram below displays the relationship between business development, capture, and proposal development.

Business Development

Capture begins at the point of earliest identification of an opportunity that your company may wish to pursue and extends until you have made the decision to no-bid, you have won the project, or you have lost and you have no basis for a valid protest (or further basis for those you actually protest). The entire period of capture may extend for several years. A company with a mature capture process will not have a capture period of less than three or four months, hardly enough time to mount a winning offense, and travail through the proposal and selection phases. Those who are consistently successful and who have high rates of success clearly prove that the earlier you begin working on winning an opportunity, the more likely you will be to win the project.

As you see, the capture process begins and ends at defined points in time. You begin the process as soon as you identify the opportunity, and you complete the process as described above. However, when to begin the proposal phase is not as well defined. Obviously, the proposal phase ends when you:

  • Have confirmed receipt
  • Respond to discussions
  • Submit a Final Proposal Revision (FPR)
  • Complete your oral presentation

All easy to determine, and generally not very subjective.

Companies vary widely in their determination regarding the point in the process where they invest time and money in the proposal. Successful companies recognize the need to begin the proposal phase at the earliest possible point in the process. This might be at the release of a draft RFP. It could be a decision to proceed using the RFP from the project’s previous competition cycle. In some cases, it could be concurrent with the release of the final RFP. While this may seem anathema to some proposal professionals, the reality is there are times you simply do not have enough information to begin the true proposal phase until the Government releases the final RFP. Remember, here we are distinguishing the proposal phase as a subset of capture.

For companies that historically have a low rate of success, its executives often are surfeit to early proposal development. They are unable to correlate an early start with success and often have difficulty recognizing that their company’s previous failures are due to specific identifiable problems associated with its business development, capture, or proposal process. Reducing the amount of time devoted to developing the proposal from what is reasonably available is never the right solution.

The proposal development effort costs money. It is a discrete indirect budget line item against which real costs are charged. As a control account, management can designate exactly when company personnel and others can begin the proposal phase. Generally, companies will dedicate a combination of in-house and consulting personnel to develop its proposals. Your capture plan should describe the point in time at which your team will begin working on the proposal. Once approved by management, the account is established and activated according to that schedule. This ability to control the exact point in time where you begin to work on the proposal should be synced with your company’s general approach to beginning the proposal phase. Again, successful companies begin the proposal phase at the earliest possible point in time.

Let’s return to my good friend at IT Select. Tom understands there is a relationship between success and the ability to produce a compliant, clear, and compelling proposal. He also understands that it takes time to develop a good proposal. Tom authorizes the start by having his CFO issue a purchase order and notifying me that WFP can begin work. IT Select is building on its success, and is now doing all of the right things to grow in the IT marketplace.

In conclusion, consider the following:

  • Take time to understand the relationship between business development, capture, and the proposal phase
  • Understand that business development is a function of everything your company does
  • Have an internal heart-to-heart to determine your company’s approach to capture
  • Have an identifiable means of controlling the start of the proposal process, and administer this method in a consistent manner
  • Begin the proposal phase with sufficient time (and budget) to develop a compliant, clear, and compelling proposal.

In future blog posts, I will provide more information on the capture process, and I will offer comprehensive and detailed information on all elements of the proposal phase. Stay tuned, and I wish you all great success.

For those interested in company training on proposal development, call or email me, and I’ll send you my brochure of course offerings.

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Sequestration, A Mid-term Report

It is true, as of April 1, 2013, no Federal employee has yet been furloughed. That will soon change.

As indicated below, most Federal Agencies have elected to furlough their workforce rather than carry out a reduction in force. Many are using the furloughs in conjunction with other cost cutting measures such as hiring freezes, and the reduction or elimination of bonuses.

The Agencies are reporting plans to furlough their folks for from 7 to 21 days, with some furloughs beginning as early as April 6.

  • Agriculture Department – estimating Furloughs at around 2,100
  • Broadcasting Board of Governors – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Customs and Border Patrol – estimating Furloughs at around 60,000
  • DoD-Civilian – estimating Furloughs at around 800,000
  • Economic Development Administration – estimating Furloughs at around 206
  • Education Department – Plans not finalized
  • Environmental Protection Agency – estimating Furloughs at around 17,000
  • Federal Aviation Administration – estimating Furloughs at around 43,000
  • Federal Courts – estimating Furloughs at around 20,000
  • Government Accountability Office – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Government Printing Office – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Health and Human Services – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Homeland Security Department – estimating Furloughs at around 1,000
  • Transportation Security Administration – estimating Furloughs at around 50,000
  • Housing and Urban Development – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Interior Department – Plans not finalized
  • Internal Revenue Service – estimating Furloughs at around 100,000
  • Justice Department – estimating Furloughs at around 116,000
  • Labor Department – estimating Furloughs at around 4,700
  • National Institutes of Health – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • National Labor Relations Board – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • National Park Service – estimating Furloughs at around 15,000
  • NASA – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • NOAA – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Office of Management and Budget – estimating Furloughs at around 480
  • Office of Personnel Management – Plans not finalized
  • Small Business Administration – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Smithsonian – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Social Security Administration – Plans not finalized
  • State Department – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Treasury Department – reducing cost by other than Furloughs
  • Veterans Affairs Department – estimating Furloughs at around 11,000

We still do not completely understand how the Sequestration will impact our economy. Regardless of the Democratic rhetoric, we know that our system self-corrects enough to take care of our most fundamental needs: safety, fire, basic services, border protection, defense, tax collection, medicare, and a few others. What we do not know is what impact a decrease in funding for these and other services will be.

Our Federal Government provides many valuable services ranging from the protection of our currency to ensuring flight safety. Unfortunately, our system is structured so that agencies become bloated over time. Unless they are forced to trim the fat, it does not happen.

Consider private industry. Most industries are somewhat cyclical. When they are riding high, companies increase spending and staffing. When they are approaching the lower end of their cyclical downturns, companies trim their staffs and reduce spending.

Not so with our Federal Government.

Take for example, the four Agencies listed below, selected at random. Every year, their budgets march onward and upward, blindingly oblivious to the real needs of our country. I am not looking through rose colored glasses. I realize Sequestration will not end this unstoppable practice. What I hope is that these reductions begin a period of informed rational debate from which a Walt Whitman rises from within our midst to add perspective, clairvoyance, and reason to move the discussion and the decisions in a direction that forces controlled spending.

Agency 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Judicial 5,726 5,993 6,180 6,518 6,787 7,214 7,205
Agriculture 95,023 97,339 91,821 92,950 127,826 130,983 140,677
Science 5,565 5,690 6,028 6,197 9,579 6,963 6,910
OPM 63,076 66,756 61,633 65,951 74,439 72,434 79,435

Since 2000, all Agencies (with one exception) have enjoyed an increase in their budgets that range from 35% (NASA) up to 316% (DOL) (the outliers include the SBA at +5354% and Commerce at -35%).

Walt Whitman, where are you?

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Sequestration is here! (almost)

Woohoo! The shrinking pundits are in full bloom, the military is beating the drum, and our political leaders have risen above the fray by flaunting their deceptive plumage.

So now we face near-certain sequestration.

The Navy will reduce deployments, cut or reduce the Miami and the Porter repairs, reduce ship operations and flying hours, reduce the Blue Angels events, cut exercises, cut port visits, and reduce tuition assistance. The Navy will also furlough nearly all civilian workers for a month, and will reduce the size of the contractor workforce.Navy-plan

The Army is cancelling 4 of 6 brigade combat team training center rotations, reducing equipment and aircraft maintenance, reducing ACAT 1 program spending, reducing flying hours, and eliminating aircrew proficiency training for non-deployers. They are also considering furloughing 251,000 civilian workers, and reducing readiness of over 78% of non-deploying brigade combat teams.Army-plan

The Air Force is deferring non-emergency facility repairs, implementing hiring freezes and releasing non-mission critical temporary and term employees, cancelling TDYs, delaying acquisition programs for SBIRS GEO 5/6, AC-130J, and the JSF. They are also reducing flying hours and weapon system sustainment funds.Air-Force-Plan

There are two common theme-effects from all three branches. First is the idea that sequestration leverages current savings for increased future costs. The Army uses the phrase “..mortgages future readiness..”. While not at all accurate in their use of the term mortgage, I do applaud the Army’s ability to use the obtuse to create restlessness and generate action. The second is the idea that sequestration will impede our ability to respond to overseas crises. Although this is less apparent in their speeches, literature, and discussions, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army all contest, it will be more difficult for them to quickly respond when called.

Anecdotally, we suffered through the same type of cuts and reductions in 1994. Not true. Not even close. Then, the military budget actually increased from 1994 to 1995, albeit largely due to a preplanned 1.6% pay increase for our uniformed services. From 1995 to 1996, the budget did in fact have a then-present value decrease. The reductions in planes, ships, equipment, and personnel had long been planned, and despite the rhetoric from the Pentagon war planners, our Military responded by tightening their belts, and becoming a more efficient complex.

In 2013, times are different and conditions are different.

Contrary to popular and contemporary mis-belief, in his 1961 farewell address, Ike did not warn against our military-industrial complex. He simply warned against the abuse of misplaced power that has the ability to threaten our peace, security, and liberty.Eisenhower Farewell Speech

As I see them, here are the facts:

1. Sequestration will happen

2. It will cut deep into the heart of our military’s current structure

3. We will reduce the number of platforms operating and planned

4. Our uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel will all feel its effects

5. This will take at least three years to work through, possibly longer

6. We will remain the strongest nation in the world, and we will still be capable of responding to overseas crises.

The fact is nearly every politician in DC believes it’s time for this seemingly arbitrary across-the-board whacking of our Federal budget to occur. We do not have an acceptable item-by-item cost-cutting method that allows our elected officials to face their constituents in their next election. For now, sequestration is our best and only option.

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Unlocking the Magic of Winning Proposals

Many years ago I wrote an article where I described the need to develop and refine a process that you and your organization can follow that consistently results in winning proposals. The issue of a broken proposal-development process continues to plague many companies.

For some, the differences between a winning proposal and a losing proposal are seemingly indistinguishable. In fact, there are specific tangible elements of your proposal that make it a winner. As well, there are specific tangible elements either in or missing from your proposal that make it a loser. The key is to know what these elements are, to be able to identify them, and to be able to organizationally take the appropriate action. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the key elements that lead to failure and a few that lead to success. Let’s start with the losers.

Technical Insufficiency. In too many companies, everyone’s a SME. The term has become ubiquitous within government contracting, and too many people designated as the duty SME don’t live up to the title. In fact, I too am a SME. Unfortunately, aside from Proposals, my subject matter areas of expertise are restricted to P-fired boilers, small block engines, and fly fishing, none of which are common to contract requirements.

Misaligned Staffing Plans. Many staffing plans fail to describe how the company will provide the qualified personnel on time. Aside from the technical response, this is the most substantive area where companies rely on the reviewer to “trust me”.

Reprocessed Past Performance References. Many PP references are used time and again without proper alignment to the current technical performance requirements, and are consequently graded poorly against the evaluation criteria resulting in low confidence ratings.

Incomplete or misaligned organizational approach. Many proposals are written with a boiler plate org approach that clearly does not match the management needs of the technical requirements.

Missing Elements. The majority of proposals do not address all management, technical, and administrative requirements of the RFP. A singular focus on sections L and M often results in incomplete responses.

Alright, let’s move to the elements that make your proposal a winning proposal.

Comprehensive Integrated Technical Response. The technical response is the single most important element of your response, and generally, the most difficult portion to write. Unfortunately, too many companies use a cavalier approach to the Tech portion of their response. Winning proposals address all tech requirements by telling the reader precisely HOW they will perform the work. Here, the understanding-approach-proof methodology always rings true. Furthermore, the tech portion must reflect your org, staffing, QA, and many other elements of the proposal. Winning proposals include a comprehensive integrated technical response.

Defined and Understandable Staffing Plan. The staffing plan must clearly lay out how you will staff the project, where the people will come from, and how you will ensure they are qualified. You must show (prove) that they are available when needed, and that you have a plan for replacing and surging personnel. Additionally, transition is a part of your staffing plan, and the two (transition and staffing) must be developed in concert. For those projects where you are reducing the number of personnel on the project from current levels, your staffing plan must clearly describe how you will perform all work on time with fewer personnel, and how that reduced level is a benefit to the customer.

Integrated Management Approach. Winning proposals describe how you will manage the project from both an organizational and a management perspective. They define your structure, your processes, and your controls. Winning proposals clearly explain the relationship between your management approach and your technical approach, and they define the operational “plug-in” point.

All Important Administrative Requirements Addressed. Winning proposals address all requirements, including those defined outside of section L and M (not just the tech and management). In some cases, this may not appear needed, and in most cases, it is not specifically required. However, proposals that cover all the bases by touching on all important elements of the solicitation are able to avoid a plethora of ENs, and occasionally outright disqualification.

Past Performance Related to Technical. Winning proposals clearly and unmistakably relate the work you did on your past performance project to the specific technical requirements of the current solicitation.

Is it that simple? No, definitely not. Winning proposals are developed using a proven process that captures a meticulous description of your abilities and your approach. Make it your goal to develop a winning proposal.

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The Budget Control Act and the Effects of Sequestration on the Defense Budget

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) has already taken effect. The President received his first debt limit increase. The members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction have already been appointed, and as expected, they immediately failed at their respective tasks leading to the looming problem of sequestration.

The Act affects all discretionary spending. Here, we’ll examine its impact on the Defense Budget. The Act process leads to a deficit reduction of $1.2 to $1.5T over the next nine years. Approximately 50% of that will come from the Defense budget. The actual number is more meaningful. Beginning with the $1.2T over the period from FY13-FY21, back out the interest savings (approximately $216B), divide evenly over nine years, and you get a reduction of $109B per year. This is split about evenly between defense and nondefense, and the consensus is that the impact to the defense budget will be approximately $54B per year starting in 2013.

Some key take-aways include:

  • The sequestration will      probably happen, in some form. Don’t go to the blogosphere. Develop your      opinion by analyzing the facts.
  • The DoD is already      factoring in the BCA to its 2013 budget and beyond. They have also gone      the extra mile of developing performance standards to determining their      progress in meeting those targets.
  • Sequestration is not the      edge of cliff scenario espoused by most defense contracting CEOs. The Army      will buy fewer Strykers and the Air Force, Navy, and Marines will buy      fewer F-35s and P-8s. Ultimately, all programs will feel its effect.
  • The Stage was set when the      BCA was initially implemented. For our leaders to think the supercommittee      would be able hammer out a working solution to deficit reduction was      delusional. Sequestration is simply the product of our bi-polar political      system and crushing debt.

Before you go too far, read through to the end of this post to get the full impact of the BCA on the Defense budget. The Defense budget was developed using strategic direction from the White House along with a set of parallel objectives that are essentially legacy, and that are derived from these goals:

The following tables include the Defense budget for 2013, along with the projected budgets for out years from the 2011, the 2012, and now the 2013 budgets. As you will see, the 2013 number is slightly reduced from the last two years, and significantly reduced from previous outyear projections.

Table 1; Defense Budgets, 2001 to 2013


  • 2001-2011 Actual Costs
  • 2012 Enacted
  • 2013 Request
  • OCO Overseas Contingency Operations
  • Other Non-war appropriates for increased fuel costs, hurricane relief, and other disaster relief.

Table 2; Outyear Defense Budgets from 2011, 2012, and 2013

Table 3; Force Manning Levels, 2001-2017

Remember, OCO is also subject to sequestration and is a part of the planned (and now accelerated) reductions. Unfortunately, the work we are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is subject to the political winds of Congress and the White House. Shocking.

For those who argue that DoD will have to absorb nearly $600B plus the $400B already taken, they need to recall that much of this was already planned in due to reduced optempo in OCO. The numbers cannot be added for effect.

DoD has already baked in a $488B savings over the period 2013 to 2021. This is derived by extrapolating the FY 2012 PB and FY 2013 PB rows in Table 2 above by 2% per annum through 2021, summing and subtracting. Rough, but simple, and probably closer than what the CBO calculates.

I’ve also listened to the argument that even with sequestration, there will be not reduction. It’s just that spending will not grow as fast. Aside from common sense irritation of high blood pressure, this makes no sense. These proponents conveniently discard inflation and non-discretionary costs. There will be a reduction in spending.

As you read up on the effects of sequestration, watch for threshold words. For example, Pierre Kandorfer of Defense, on October 14, 2012, stated “that 956,181 small business jobs nationwide are among those at risk under sequestration”. That may be true, but how many of those will actually feel the effect?

Make your own decisions and develop your own opinion. Sequestration in its worst form is not the end of the world. And most of the people who espouse an opinion have their own agenda, present company excepted of course.

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The Value of Debriefings

Too many people dismiss debriefings.

“Too time-consuming. Too little valuable information. Too busy. They simply can’t tell me anything I don’t already know.”

Hmm. Well, hog-wash. If you’re in this business, you need to get with the program and start requesting, attending, and paying attention to debriefings, for both losses and for wins.

The truth is that despite the fact that I have personally written close to a thousand proposals, I have probably only attended 30 or so debriefings. Typically, only the owner and company principals will attend the debriefings. That’s all good, as long as there is someone there from the company, asking questions that help us improve on our next proposal.

The most basic rule I have learned from debriefings is that regardless of the legal rules, any subject and any question is fair game. When I first attended debriefings, I was surprised by some of the questions others from my company asked, thinking there is no way the Government will answer that. Yet they did.

The bottom line is do not be hemmed in by your own experience or misperception of what is allowed and what is not allowed. If they are unwilling or unable to answer your question, the worst that can happen is that they decline.

Before you go, develop a range of questions that include both detailed questions and general questions. And make sure that at the end of the meeting, you come away clearly understanding where you fell short and what you can do to improve your next proposal

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