Why You Should Conduct Lessons Learned After Each Proposal

On Monday, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar to the APMP Maple Leaf Chapter. In this webinar, I dissected six key tactics to help improve your win rate. These tactics include:
  • Applying a thorough strategy in the opportunities pursued
  • Starting pursuits earlier to gain an understanding of the customer and competitive landscape
  • Documenting the intelligence gained from the capture or sales stage
  • Applying rigor in the bid decision process
  • Making your proposals easy to score
  • Conducting lessons learned so you can understand where you are doing well and where you need to improve.

In this week’s article, I do a deep dive into one of those critical tactics: conducting lessons learned.

Conducting Lessons Learned
Conducting lessons learned is a critical part of the business development lifecycle because it helps companies to understand where they are excelling and where they can improve. This is why following each proposal submission, it’s so important for the team to capture lessons learned. So that the experience is fresh in everyone’s mind, it’s best for each member of the proposal team to document their impressions or thoughts, both good and bad, within the first week after submission. Sample questions you might ask include:
  • Was the proposal development schedule reasonable and realistic? Why or why not?
  • Were any bottlenecks or major issues? If so, what were they? How could we potentially mitigate these in the future?
  • Did the team work well together? If not, how could we have improved the team dynamic?
  • How effective was communication among the team? What went well? What could have been improved?
  • Did any unexpected problems occur during proposal development? If so, what were they? How could we potentially mitigate these in the future?
  • Did we stay within our B&P budget? If not, how could we have done better?
  • What worked best during the capture and proposal effort?
  • What areas require some improvement?

A useful way to gather and analyze this data is to send a survey out to each proposal team member using an automated tool. This can help teams to more easily collate and analyze the survey results.

Once the survey results are back, the Proposal Manager should review these comments and prepare an After Action Report that details lessons learned and recommended actions. The Proposal Manager should share this After Action Report with the Proposal Team to ensure lessons learned are incorporated into future proposal efforts. Additionally, after the formal award, the team should conduct a formal Lessons Learned Session to document and share observations, opinions, findings, and conclusions—win or lose. By understanding where the team ran into roadblocks, as well as where the customer found issues in the response—the team can address those issues and improve the process and response on future proposal efforts. The team can also identify things that they are doing well and make sure that they continue to do those things!

Analyzing Trends and Updating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
In addition to conducting lessons learned after each proposal response, it is helpful to analyze the trends of those lessons learned and After Action reports on an annual basis. As the year wraps up—either your corporate fiscal year or the calendar year—take a look at your lessons learned debriefs from the last year or so and analyze them for trends. Look at common themes and share those trends with your team. Understanding these trends will not only help you to improve in the areas that may need some work, it will also allow you to pinpoint the things that have enabled you to score well.

But don’t stop there. Use the findings from your lessons learned analysis to update your business development and proposal processes where necessary. If your internal surveys indicate you are consistently scrambling to produce and deliver your proposals, you might update your SOPs to start the production process earlier. If your customer debriefs consistently indicate a lack of customer understanding, you might scrutinize your capture process and add additional rigor surrounding the call plan execution. Continually updating your SOPs to address key shortfalls will help you to continue to improve performance and help you to win more efforts.

Final Thoughts
In this world of bids and proposals, we all certainly want to win more, and companies frequently hang their hats on their impressive win rates. However, there are so many factors that impact a company’s probability of win, and although I don’t feel like they shouldn’t be used as a company’s only measure of success, capture and win rates are great starting points for assessing the health of a business development organization. If you notice poor performance in any key areas as you conduct your lessons learned and/or reflect on trends at the end of each year, you can start to assess the reasons why you are not winning. This is why conducting lessons learned after each proposal—win or lose—is really so critical.

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


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