What to do?

Last week I made a presentation at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals National Capital Area chapter’s 2015 Mid-Atlantic Conference and Exposition. My presentation focused on an approach to improve Gate Review decision-making.

The gist of my presentation was a visual schema that breaks down Bid/No-Bid decisions into three simple, clear criteria. If all three criteria are met, a decision to Bid makes sense. If not, the decision usually (though not necessarily always) should be to No-Bid.

After I completed my formal presentation, there was time for questions. The first question presented a typical quandary: What is a proposal manager to do when a capture manager ignores these kinds of criteria and presents every opportunity as being worth pursuing? A proposal manager who repeatedly urges caution during Gate Reviews runs the risk of being perceived as overly “negative” and not a team player. And that proposal manager will still have to work with that capture manager on those opportunities, even if she or he doesn’t believe they should be pursued. What’s the solution?

My initial response (a bit glib, perhaps) was, “Nobody knows.” The truth is that many organizations fail to use clear, specific criteria to make these essential decisions, and in most organizations all of the incentives point capture managers toward seeing–and briefing–every opportunity through rose-colored glasses. And proposal managers often are regarded as mere “technicians” whose job is to develop a winning proposal–even though the proposal manager often has little or no control over winning or losing and almost never has any real influence over which opportunities are being pursued to begin with.

However, I wanted to offer something more substantive–and, I hope, more encouraging–than that, so I continued with some specific suggestions. In a nutshell:

  • Proposal managers need to cultivate strong, positive relationships with capture managers *and* corporate leadership (i.e., the decision makers). These relationships are essential in positioning the proposal manager to be regarded as–and, indeed, to *be*–a true “player” in corporate decision-making, including Bid/No-Bid decisions.
  • Proposal managers need to engage with capture managers about specific opportunities *before* they are briefed to the leaders for decisions. At the least, this early engagement may enable the proposal manager to raise concerns about a specific opportunity in a more limited, one-on-one setting, rather than having to be perceived as a “nattering nabob of negativity” within a larger group that also includes top leadership.
  • Proposal managers can become advocates within the organization for better decision-making. A defined, repeatable process; clear and understandable decision criteria; and full buy-in from the top levels of the organization on down can help to overcome the inherent incentives/biases for Bid/No-Bid decisions and remove personal emotions from the equation, enabling data-based judgments to drive corporate strategies.
  • Proposal managers must insist on having a voice in these decisions. After all, if they are going to implement the organization’s strategies and decisions, they ought to have some input and, ideally, influence in determining what they are. If proposal managers are not typically invited to Gate Reviews, I would suggest that they work with their managers to ensure that they get invited. If all else fails, I would even advocate that they consider the possibility of simply inviting themselves. Proposal managers can bring a perspective to these decisions that neither the capture manager nor the leadership bring–and that perspective is vital to sound decision-making.

The dynamics implied by the question are complex and challenging, of course. And organizational change is never easy. Nevertheless, there are some steps that proposal managers can take so that they are more than just bystanders within the organization, upon whom the burdens of Gate Review decisions made by others fall. They can become an important part of the process themselves. That will make their lives better, and just as importantly will lead to better decisions by the organization–which, ultimately, will bring greater success to everyone.

For more information about the Gate Review schema I reference above (which I presented in detail at the conference), feel free to contact me.

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