Business development by Federal Government Contractors is a big investment, is complex and entails a lot of skilled work. The good news is that the process of winning Federal Government business via RFPs is very well understood and supported. There is an industry standard GovCon Business Development Lifecycle (GovCon BDL). Beginning in the late 1990’s a full lifecycle was codified by Shipley Associates and then became part of the curriculum of the newly formed APMP (Association of Proposal Management Professionals). It has since evolved, become widely supported and adapted by business consulting organizations and adopted by many GovCon and general commercial organizations.
The standard Shipley BDL for GovCon lays out a Phase-based process with activities in a single lifecycle. Each item of the lifecycle is supported by a great deal of documented best practices from many sources. It is well known that organizations that adopt it and follow it will consistently win more business.
The problem is that for many organizations the BDL process largely remains on paper and in books or partially in the minds of professionals. The reason is that the BDL and all of the best practices tell you what to do but not how to get it done. Organizations struggle with taking the conceptual process and implementing it within their organization in a way that it is manageable. By manageable, I mean that there is a technical system or set of tools that enables people to follow the process (or your flavor of it) and do so consistently and repeatably across multiple opportunities.
Th first step is to figure out how to take the industry standard BDL process (or your special flavor of it) and translate it into something that can be made manageable. In this article, I’ll show you a way to break down the BDL for GovCon to do just that. We use an approach called “Vertical Breakdown”. This is a technique that takes a horizontally defined process (as most are) and breaks it down vertically into separate and distinct types of elements that you can then manage in systems. The geeky term is decomposition.
By doing this breakdown, I think that you will be surprised at how simple and flexible the Shipley BDL for GovCon process really is. You’ll find it easier to understand how it works as a system. You will then be able to take it and more easily create your flavor of the BDL and go about the task of technically implementing it in tools and systems to make it manageable.
Introduction to the Breakdown
Let’s start with some industry references addressing the standards of the GovCon Business Development Lifecycle.
- Shipley’s online Business Development Lifecycle – cool, interactive web layout of the full multi-phase lifecycle
- APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) – Online web resource, requires APMP membership
The GovCon BDL starts by organizing work into Phases of the lifecycle. Thus, the BDL is a Phase-based process. This makes a difference in real world results. There are two reasons for this:
- Winning GovCon business is an investment based process – You use Phases with Decision Gates to make your investment decisions. With just 50 or so opportunities you move into a portfolio situation of managing resource investments and requiring trade-offs.
- Agility – Using a Phase-based process approach provides organizations with a far more flexible model for work (then say a workflow process with defined dependencies). This is a key to the success of this model for GovCon who need this agility to adapt to the needs of each opportunity.
In our description and breakdown graphics below we tie everything back to the 5 core Phases of the standard GovCon BDL. Shipley’s model has 7 Phases which includes pre-opportunity phases for Market Segmentation and Long-Term Positioning. I’ll skip their first two phases as I personally view them as a different and related type of process. For me, the BDL that can be managed as an integrated process really kicks off once an opportunity is identified.
In the rest of the article I will break down the GovCon BDL into just three parts:
- The Structure – There is an overall structure to the process that is actually quite simple when broken down. It is the schedule. It is basically about tracking 30 dates.
- The Work – This consists of a standardized set of key Capture & Proposal Activities that represent the real work behind each opportunity. A good set has perhaps 60 Activities that you want to track and be good at.
- The Information – The work generates information. Lot’s of it. But, there are really just 2 forms of information that you need to manage.
By understanding these three parts, you will understand how the system works and can be made manageable. It is then up to you to decide which specific elements (dates, activities, information) to include in your implementation.
The Structure (based upon the Schedule)
The Phases of the GovCon BDL are the organizing element. Everything relates to the phases. The Structure part of the GovCon BDL breakdown consists of 5 elements as shown below. It all revolves around a schedule and a set of items with dates. The elements are:
- Phases – the overall organizing element (5)
- Customer Milestones – the key milestones of the customer with formal dates (9)
- Decision Gates – the events where decisions are made to move an opportunity to the next Phase (5)
- Color Team Reviews – best practice for team reviews of work, each with a color name reflecting a specific purpose (8)
- Contractor Milestones – internal milestones that the contractor team must meet to win business (7)
Thus, there are 5 Phases and 29 items that you need to manage across 5 element types. By element I mean a category like Customer Milestone. By item I mean one thing to manage such as the RFI Release date.
When you review information on the standard GovCon BDL these structural elements get weaved into what seems like a complex, difficult to manage process. However, when broken out in this way they start to feel manageable. And, they are.
How to make the Structure manageable:
- Each item on the schematic above has a date. In fact, they are all dates. That is easy to manage.
- You can keep all of the dates related to an opportunity together. But, if you manage it this way make sure to identify them by Element Type for reporting.
- Depending on your tools, it is best to manage each element type (like Customer Milestone) separately. This allows you to see the items across opportunities which support greater visibility of the real work schedule.
- Dates Change, The Structure Doesn’t – In general, each element and its position relative to a Phase on the above chart doesn’t change – even as the actual dates of the Government Opportunity change. This is why it works as a process model. For a given opportunity, changes in dates don’t change the process (unless it creates a fire drill).
- The Items Used Can Vary by Opportunity Type – This breakdown gives you a manageable standard of 5 Phases and 29 items. Note however that on different types of opportunities you can vary which items are used. For instance, the above represents a standard RFP process – say for a 1 year duration of medium size. However, a Task Order with a 30 day turnaround may only have a Red and Gold color team review and it may begin at Pre-Proposal. The key is that you can use a different set of items for different Opportunity types; but, the Structure of where items appear doesn’t change. You might have a maximum of 35 items for your standard and get down to as low as 15 items to manage for a Task Order.
- Customer Milestones Set the Schedule – GovCon business is almost unique in that the customer milestones are consistent across opportunities and adhere to Government regulations. Therefore, they set the rhythm of activity. The Government has given GovCon a standard that can be managed to. This is unlike commercial where it can differ by customer.
The Work (standardized Capture & Proposal activities)
With the Structure in place, we know what key events need to occur to move the process forward. The guts of the GovCon BDL are the standardized Capture & Proposal Activities (“C&P Activities”) that make up the real work. Most documented GovCon BDL specify the C&P Activities and where they occur in the Phases of the lifecycle. Shipley documents 96 C&P Activities that are part of their 7-phase BDL. Lohfeld typically trains on 72 activities of their 5-phase BDL. Every GovCon organization using a standard BDL has a documented list of their own.
Why? Because this is the list of the real work that leads to success. The better your organization is at executing each of these activities, the more successful you will be at winning business. So, organizations and consulting firms provide standards, tools and best practices for getting the work done on each of the standard C&P Activities.
Below we show you a list of 44 of the standard C&P Activities. Each Activity is slotted to occur within a given Phase.
Does the above list of work look too impossible to handle? I hope not because if you are winning Government business through RFPs you are probably doing all of these activities. They just might not be visible and formally managed.
Making it manageable consists of just 2 things:
- Establish a list, your list, of the C&P Activities that you will use in your GovCon BDL standard. This is your master list. Train and manage to it.
- Track each Activity on your list for each opportunity just as you would a task in a project. What gets measured gets done.
- You don’t need to do every activity for every opportunity. It depends on size and type. That is okay.
- The List Drives the Work – Having a list of the standard C&P Activities in your system is wonderful. Most sales/BD/capture/proposal people wake up in the morning, look at their opportunities and have to think through what they need to do next. It is a waste of time. It does not drive consistency. The beautiful part of having a standard set of Activities like this is that they are prescriptive. Nobody has to type them into the system. With each new opportunity, they are already there – ready to be worked. Everyone is aligned on what needs to be done and knows where you are. When people wake up in the morning they know what they need to do. Use the list to drive results. And, as above it is okay to not do an activity if it is not relevant. Just skip it.
- Track to Phase, don’t turn it into a workflow with dependencies – These Activities and how you work are not a workflow. For each Phase you need to track the items and work to get them done well. But, do not try and create structural dependencies. This becomes too complex and fragile. The key is that when you conduct your Decision Gate Review you want to know where you on on each Activity for that Phase. NOTE: Sometimes Activities will bleed into the next Phase. That is okay in the model. Just track it.
- Provide visibility – The Activities and related information should not live in a silo. Winning business is a team sport. Provide people with visibility into what has been done, what is being done and what will need to be done.
The Information (data and documents)
You have Structure. You are doing good Work and you know it. The third part of this Breakdown is the Information. As work is planned and being done Information is being created, stored and used. You need to accommodate these needs. This part of the BDL is often the most neglected by BDL business consultants as it involves technology and they try and stay technology agnostic. Personally, I think that this is a big miss because technology does matter. But for now, I’ll stick to the framework.
There are two main types of Information: data like what is stored in a database or spreadsheets and documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Graphics). So, at a very minimum you need to support these two types of Information – create, store, use.
The schematic below breaks down the Information that is most common. It lays out the information creation and use across the GovCon BDL phases.
Opportunities that make it through the lifecycle end up with a lot of data and documents. While the volume can scale up, the type of information will pretty much map to the above schematic.
Making it manageable:
- As above, you need two main types of storage for data and documents. In smaller organizations without formal systems, people use spreadsheets for data and store documents in folders. That meets the minimum. Larger organizations use a CRM for data and a document repository (file share, SharePoint, proposal product). Newer systems designed to support a BDL process like R3 WinCenter bring all of this Information into one system.
- Back it up. Even if people are working on their personal laptops, have them back it up onto a shared drive in the cloud.
- Try not to create information islands – The beauty of the BDL is that people engaged in the process have and need visibility upstream and downstream. This is how the BDL was designed to work. This is how it works most optimally.
- Security – You will need to follow proper security policies based upon the technologies you use. It is only a small pain when planned and done. Allocate time and attention for this.
- Reporting needs to scale to real-time – The effectiveness of the BDL assumes appropriate near real-time visibility by executives and others. Decisions are being made. They need reporting from the systems which is in essence a re-packaging of the information. Fundamentally, to manage a larger portfolio you require more comprehensive, real-time Information. Manual data calls don’t work at scale.
- Technology matters – A great deal of the effort (and thus investment) in capture and proposal work is about the information. So, the more you make it easy to create, store and use the information the more productive you will be. It is how you leverage your people and process.
Putting The GovCon BDL To Work for Your Organization
What you’ve learned so far is how to break down the BDL in a practical set of three parts. You can now use this to define your standards, educate your people and make it easier for them to follow it to consistently win business.
However, the really interesting insight is simply that the standard Shipley BDL is designed around a single RFP and the best practices for winning a single RFP. The practical problem (read Elephant in the Room) is that it doesn’t address the fact that organizations are working on many opportunities at once. Ultimately, for most organizations the challenge is to have a process that works on one RFP, but, have it embedded in a system that can scale and provide manageability across a portfolio of opportunities.
By breaking down the BDL as we’ve shown you above, you have actually begun to solve this bigger problem. You have a way to organize the work and information to make it more manageable across your portfolio of opportunities. But you do need technology. You can start with simple tools such as Excel and a File Share. Or, you apply it using your CRM, SharePoint, your legacy proposal system and Excel.
AT R3, we’ve gone the next step and brought it all together in our WinCenter solution. It is purpose-built to support the BDL across all of your opportunities. It brings the work and information of capture and proposal together into a single system running on top of Microsoft SharePoint. It includes a framework that lets you take the elements from your BDL break down and put them into the system. Then, it automates the work to insure that your people who are now following your BDL approach are happy to do so.