Why We Recommend Color Team Proposal Reviews
Advancing the industry
PropLIBRARY’s “Why we do not recommend color team proposal reviews” prompted a lively discussion within the team at Salentis International. We have long admired articles and the thought leadership provided by Carl Dickson and PropLIBRARY, and we wanted to respond with our opinion to further the discussion. We strongly believe that with proper scope, definition, and engagement, color team proposal reviews are crucial for the development of a compliant, compelling, and ultimately successful proposal.
Carl admits at the beginning of the post that he may be being ‘too honest’ regarding the idea that all color team proposal reviews are bad. It is reiterated, not just in this article but in multiple places throughout the PropLIBRARY website and published works.
In a nutshell, he argues that color team proposal reviews make companies less competitive because there is no standard across the industry that defines the specific scope of what a Blue, Pink, or Red Team entails. This, therefore, prevents the review from being repeated consistently and effectively.
He goes on to say “The color team review model neither defines proposal quality nor validates its specific attributes. As a result, color team proposal reviews do not deliver quality assurance.”
But when you read through the linked articles, such as “How To Review a Proposal” and “What Defines Quality Validation”, PropLIBRARY describes many tools and practices that Salentis International and other companies employ in color team proposal reviews. These tools and practices help produce consistent, effective results and a focus on quality criteria. They also provide a mechanism for reviewer engagement. But because we call our reviews a Pink Team or a Red Team, by this definition, it is antiquated. The concept of color team proposal reviews has been around the proposal industry for a long time. While they may not be the exact same, company to company or project to project, they are a foundational expectation for quality and compliance verification and anyone familiar with proposal work has some idea of what that means.
I would argue that the proposal industry is so open to change, that we have gone over the edge resulting in the wide variety of definitions for proposal reviews that seem to have sparked this discussion.
But rather than say, “it’s broken, let’s do away with this process,” why not use our existing construct and create change by enhancing processes?
The color team conversation, as well as a large move toward remote work environments, has provided our industry with an opportunity to discuss scalable process and repeatability. The fundamental idea of Pink, Red, and Gold Teams (in particular) are versions of an agile iterative process. This allows for measure and demonstration of progress, moving forward with the end in mind. With proper scope, definition, and engagement, these reviews are crucial for the development of a compliant, compelling, and ultimately successful proposal.
What is a Color Team Review?
Fundamentally, a color team review is an iteration review, or gate review—terms used in Agile methodology.
“Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a “big bang” launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly.” (Source: https://www.atlassian.com/agile)
The purpose of an iteration review is to measure and demonstrate progress. In preparation for an iteration review, iteration planning takes place when the team starts to think about how they will present their information. By beginning with the end product in mind, we can foster a greater understanding of solutioning and compliance before iteration execution. The color team iteration review can be further supported using an Agile process like Kanban taking the chaos and lack of preparedness out of color team reviews.
Agile concepts applied to reviews mean they become a tool for improved visibility, adaptation to customer priorities, and improved engagement and satisfaction. It also brings the most valuable aspects of the solution to the forefront.
Setting the expectation that all color teams should always be conducted in the exact same manner is an unrealistic expectation for the proposal industry. We have some counterparts who submit small proposals every week, while others submit 1 large every 3 months. Some who have 14 days to respond to a solicitation and others who have 90. There are teams of 1 and teams of 20 depending on the size of the competing business. Agile methodology also supports this variability. Color team reviews bring value because they can be applied to each of these situations. They provide a critical check against the requirements and quality and inform the next steps.
5 Steps to Setting Up a Color Team Review for Success
Every process requires a series of actions or steps to be taken to achieve a particular end. Before conducting a review, color team or otherwise, there are 5 steps Salentis puts in place to ensure scalability, repeatability, and effectiveness. This means a review that is able to consider the quality of output, how that information is presented, and validate compliance.
Step 1 – Define the Scope of the Review
To make sure you are getting the feedback you need, facilitate an In-Brief Meeting, providing detailed instructions on:
- Defining compliance and quality requirements with the writing team prior to the review, so the reviewers and writers are on the same page. Salentis uses Red Team Check Sheets. The writers have access to them before the review, so they know exactly what they’ll be evaluated against. The check sheets also allow the reviewer to see the proposal from the evaluator’s perspective.
- What each reviewer is responsible for reviewing and how much time they have.
- Key issues/elements you would like them to focus on.
- How they can help the proposal team.
- What not to do, such as provide spelling/grammar edits if you plan to perform that task later. You don’t want them spending time doing things that aren’t valuable to the bid team.
One of the standing arguments against color teams is the lack of scope. And that by being called a color team review it inherently cannot have an actionable, achievable scope. We disagree. There is no reason your color team review can’t provide defined quality criteria and validate your proposal at the appropriate level. But consistency is required.
These external factors will help you define the scope for your review:
- Size: Scope will be scaled by the size of your proposal. If it is a small response, validation could be provided by one person. Or a larger response can take advantage of a full team of uniquely qualified reviewers. Either way, by providing the reviewer(s) with defined criteria (see Step 2 – Create a Review from an Evaluator’s Perspective), they know exactly what needs to be validated, providing accountability and reliability.
- Time: The amount of time you have to respond can also impact your scope. If you have 90 days, you may have multiple reviews, multiple days in duration for your reviewers to evaluate their sections. But if you have 30 days or less, we are often looking at just one or two reviews and a single day for review feedback. Understanding which end of the spectrum your project sits will help determine the scope details given to reviewers.
It is rare that any two proposals are the same, so it seems a leap to say that because two organizations (with quite different size and time parameters) don’t conduct their color team reviews in exactly the same way, the process is ineffective, subjective, and lacks quality validation.
Step 2 – Create a Review from an Evaluator’s Perspective
Since the aim is to identify gaps and assess how closely the response meets the requirements, you need to put your reviewers in the evaluator’s seat. To do that, you’ve got to make their job as easy as possible. No one wants to work harder than they have to. And let’s be honest, internal resources just aren’t going to do it.
By taking a journalistic approach, we are always looking to answer who, what, when, where, why, and how for the proposed solution in response to requirements. A color team review is an opportunity to show reviewers where you’re at. You want to draw their attention to areas where you lack completeness or a compelling response and give them the opportunity to provide further insight into that pursuit of who, what, when, where, why, and how.
This approach allows for an information completeness check against the scope from Step 1 to remove subjectivity. It also supports our pursuit of persuasive detail to supplement a compelling narrative. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to fill compliance gaps.
By putting the reviewer in the evaluator’s seat, you eliminate the ‘fishing expedition’ that color team reviews have been branded with. Based on our definition of the iterative review, the writers are working with the ‘end in mind’. So their output is designed to be in line with the compliance and evaluation standards of the solicitation. As mentioned, Salentis uses prepared review check sheets that include all solicitation requirements for a given section. This way, the reviewer doesn’t have to spend valuable time digging through solicitation documents they’re not familiar with.
Step 3 – Establish a High-Quality Team
Don’t mark your own homework! Can you get a truly unbiased, non-advocate review if your entire panel consists of people from within your organization or worse, your proposal team? It’s unlikely. If possible, assemble a team that not only includes non-program/proposal employees, but relevant outside consultants, industry SMEs, and individuals that held jobs within the customer organization and/or contracting agency. Do the prep work to get NDAs and clearances in place in advance so they are ready to go at the right time.
When color team reviewers are outside of the proposal team, by bringing them in for an iterative review, they can focus on a specific stage of the proposal development. They will concentrate on the enterprise priorities and verify that the intended messaging is coming through to the evaluator effectively. This also provides the opportunity to bring everyone who has accountability for the project onto the same page.
It is important to note, for this to be successful and ensure that participants can be fully engaged, clear communication ahead of time is needed. You want to let reviewers know when they will be engaged, what will be expected, and how much time is required for the review. You don’t just want reviewers’ opinions. You want an objective, realistic review from the evaluator’s perspective. To get that, you must provide reviewers with the necessary tools and instructions.
Step 4 – Provide Review Tools and Instructions
Talk your reviewers through how they need to submit their feedback. What is the submission process or tool you want them to use? Give clear guidelines and instructions. Let them know who to contact if they are stumped. The last thing you want is for reviewers to spend half of their time dealing with IT problems or struggling to understand how to access or submit their feedback.
By using review tools like check sheets and directives based on the pre-defined scope, the color team review process acts as an independent verification and validation to the iterative review. This helps validate compliance, solutions, win themes, customer requirements, and quality in a way that can be customized based on the maturity of the iteration.
Step 5 – Use a Dedicated Facilitator
There is no reason for a color team to lack leadership. But it’s an easy way to lose reviewers’ attention. Dedicated support provides an organized, structured review and also gives reviewers someone to go to with questions. This prevents your bid/proposal manager from being pulled into the review to answer questions or solve problems. In turn, they get a necessary break from the proposal effort. The facilitator assembles the review team and sends out meeting invites, prepares review check sheets, enforces cut-off times for in-put, prepares in- and out-brief meetings materials, and coordinates the entire review process.
We don’t believe that color team proposal reviews are “better than nothing.” We stand behind a process that can be repeated consistently and scaled accordingly for defined quality and compliance. We agree that an improved win rate is worth an investment. So we offer this process as an opportunity to be open to making the change in setting your color teams up for success.
Author: Camille Kauffman – Proposal Manager
Article published: July 2022Back to Articles Page