Proposals and Agile, Challenge #2: The FAR Restricts Customer Interaction

Four weeks ago, I posted an article that discussed how proposal management is in actuality project management. I pointed out how our long-standing proposal best practices are Agile, and have been Agile long before Agile was the latest industry craze. I have been so pleased with the discussion that this article has sparked.

I have been building on some of these discussion points in a series of articles focused on how we can expand the application of Agile in our opportunity pursuit processes. First I discussed the role of stakeholders and explored how we can better integrate stakeholders into the business development lifecycle. Then I looked at Scrum, how our proposal best practices fit into the Scrum model, and how we can learn further from Agile ideologies to improve our proposal processes. Next I explored some common Agile tools, and discussed how we might apply them to increase the efficiency of our proposal processes. In the following weeks, I have looked at some unique challenges that we face in proposals, highlighted the implications, and discussed how we must adapt to be successful.

Unique Challenge #2: The FAR Restricts Customer Interaction
Agile and Scrum prioritize iterative feedback from stakeholders and customers. This feedback helps establish stakeholder buy-in and prevents wasted time working on features that the customer doesn’t like or need. With Agile software development, the team has access to the customer throughout the development lifecycle. However, this simply isn’t the case with proposal development. Once the final Request for Proposal (RFP) is released, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) limits customer interaction with industry.

What Can We Do?
The rules of the FAR have been put in place to prevent the abuses of the past, so we have had to learn to adapt. But sometimes we get so busy, juggling to many tasks, that we neglect to leverage the customer interaction opportunities that we do have. Because we can’t directly interact with the customer after the final RFP release, we must: 1) take advantage of interaction before the final RFP release, 2) leverage Request for Information (RFI) and Draft RFP Phases, 3) take full advantage of question and answer (Q&A) periods, and (4) simulate customer feedback as part of the review cycle.

1. Take Advantage of Customer Availability Before the Final RFP Release
It is critical to take the time to understand the customer stakeholder needs before the RFP is even released. Remember that building a relationship with our customer and understanding their underlying concerns takes time. Without solid customer relationships, we won’t have the opportunity to understand their programmatic concerns or determine what really keeps them up at night. Further, we won’t be able to develop solutions to meet their needs and vet those solutions prior to the RFP release. Once the RFP is released, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) limits customer interaction—so at that point, it’s too late for effective opportunity shaping and solution vetting.

2. Leverage RFI and Draft RFP Phases
During RFI and Draft RFP phases, customers are still in their own research phases, and they are still able to communicate directly with industry. In these phases, the customer has put into writing their anticipated requirements. We owe it to the Government to thoroughly review these requirements, ask questions, and respond with any research information requested. This will not only help the Government put out better final solicitations, but it also will better prepare you and your team for the final release.

3. Take Full Advantage of Q&A Periods
During the Final RFP phase, it's so important to take full advantage of the Questions & Answer (Q&A) sessions. The core proposal team and impacted company stakeholders should thoroughly read the RFP with an eye for their individual expertise. For example, the Contracts Manager should review for areas of contractual concern, the Security Manager should review for any security implications, and Technical Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) should review for items that may impact the technical solution. Make sure to ask questions where clarification is necessary. To help the Government keep their schedule, start gathering questions early and submit the questions by the questions deadline. How often do you find your team submitting late questions and still cursing the Government for extending the due date?

4. Simulate Customer Feedback as Part of the Review Cycle
Because we don’t have access to the customer as part of our sprint review cycles, we must simulate customer feedback as part of the review cycle. Our reviewers are typically a mix of actual corporate stakeholders and other professionals charged with reviewing the document from the perspective of the customer. Simulating the tasks of a Government reviewer, the reviewers look for things like compliance, strengths, and weaknesses. We may even have reviewers participate in a mock evaluation as part of the Red Team review. This stage is so critical because we don’t have direct access to the customer. For this reason, color team reviewers must be thoroughly trained in their roles and expectations for the reviews to be successful. It is helpful to review these expectations with the reviewers before each color team, reminding them of the importance of their role.

Final Thoughts
With Agile, success stems from collaboration and regular stakeholder feedback—and it’s no different with proposals. As our tried and true best practices have shown, this collaboration and regular stakeholder feedback supports a successful proposal development process. However, as we have pointed out, the proposal development environment creates some unique challenges that we must strive to conquer. Perhaps the biggest of these challenges, we simply don’t have continuous access to our customers. However, by remaining disciplined and agile, we can overcome even this biggest hurdle, and still find success in our opportunity pursuit processes.

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


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