This is a guest post by TAPE Communications Specialist Walt Long.
My name is Walt Long and I work for TAPE as a communications editor and reviewer, with a special focus on our company’s color teaming process.
Color teaming a proposal document is a kind of “group editing” of the content. While I was already very familiar with editing a document on my own for clarity, grammar, and word flow, this multi-person process of sculpting a draft into a strong proposal was a new challenge for me.
Color team reviewing of the documents and graphics within a particular proposal not only involves editing by one’s self, but also includes presenting your edits and general experience of the document to others. This happens in a series of team review meetings, with each team identified by the colors pink, red, gold, green, and white.
Color team participants are made up of writers and reviewers, each with very different roles to play. I have learned that it’s important to assign the right people to write to the particular volumes required by the government’s formal parameters for each proposal.
There will be representatives from each team of Prime and Subcontractors, both employees and hired subject matter experts (SMEs)/consultants. It’s also important to line up experienced reviewers who can see things from the perspective of the government evaluators and explain what specifically is missing.
The color names given to different teams tell you which part of the editing process is being conducted. While individual companies may assign the colors somewhat differently, here is how I understand the color distinctions:
The Pink Team is the starter group, who clarify what the federal government is actually requiring be included within a particular proposal, and agree on an outline.
Next is the Red Team phase, where more focus is placed on refining certain sections for universal themes such as Corporate Capability, Transition Plan, Technical Approach, Management Plan for Primes and Subcontractors, Sample Task Order, etc. In addition to refining content, Red Teams have to look at the actual size and look of the proposal by considering page counts, the ratio of graphics to text, and the clarity of graphics and charts.
Meanwhile, on a parallel effort, away from this mostly word-centered review of the proposal, the Green Team is a separate group of folks who look at the always delicate task of what financial numbers will be presented in the proposal. Green Teams are made up of those with company proprietary information about how much to pay individual positions as well as how much to propose to the customer i.e., the government client.
Pricing is always both an art and a science when it comes to proposals; too high is always a risk but too low means that in the eyes of the customer, you are not facing the realities of the work in question, nor might you be able to hire and keep the talent needed to fulfill the contract.
Next comes the Gold Team, whose reviewers take in the entire proposal. These participants must have both the authority and the time to read their assigned volumes in their entirety, line by line. While Pink and Red Teams usually discuss their edits by phone, in my experience Gold Teams present their edits directly to the writing/production team.
Finally enters the White Team also known as “White Glove,” where basically every one of the final editors and compilers gets one more chance to look over the document for obvious mistakes or any visual space or sizing problems. This final edit and production phase is just as important if not more as all the work that has led up to this point. It is their job to create a physical hard copy of the entire document must now make it physically into hard copy via either CDs and/or paper, then be physically delivered.
In other cases the customer has asked for the information in electronic-only form, in which case software issues and transferring the information over the web by the deadline become the make or break process for the entire effort.
Here are a few caveats for effective color teaming I have learned along the way:
- Find or hire the best writers and reviewers you can afford. Such expertise pays off in the end.
- Writing and reviewing proposals is difficult work, dealing with large volumes of complicated information. Those in charge of the teams must allow enough time for both sides to finish their tasks with reasonable and professional process. (Having the right people who specialize in the writing or reviewing of their assigned parts goes a long way towards the efficiency needed.)
- If you are a color team writer or reviewer, it’s best to put your ego off to the side, and hear (or give) criticism as graciously and honestly as you can with only one thing in mind: What will make this document a winning proposal in the eyes of the customer? Towards that end, everyone’s opinion can be valuable and needs to be heard, within reason. Those who see things differently must be encouraged to speak up, while the others must refrain from judgment. It is this process of considering and using different perspectives that is the heart of the color teaming process.
During my experience as a newcomer to color teaming, I have learned that it is an expensive and time consuming prospect, meaning that some proposals/documents are simply too small in size and scope to justify such outlay of a company’s limited resources.
That being said, I also think that such a process is a very good way to sculpt and process a proposal or any other document from start to finish. If done right, you get a finished product that has been examined from many different points of view, resulting in a polished and evolved document.
If you’ve had no interface with the military at all, you may not realize that it’s where you find the best and brightest that the nation has to offer. As a norm, most veterans are very dedicated to what they do, have a high level of integrity, and will always put in their best effort. They’re used to a good, identifiable chain of command or organizational structure, and like working in that type of environment.
Keep in mind that veterans may not know the nuances of business. There will be a learning curve. In the military, people are used to going after a task and breaking it down. Using a distinct decision making process, they find the best people for the job and direct them to execute.
Mission execution is what it’s all about; financial considerations don’t come into place.
On the civilian side, the veteran employee has to learn to consider costs, understand people’s set roles and responsibilities and who’s doing what; work around the logistics of moving someone from one role to another.
Making the transition as a veteran
As one of TAPE’s own employees tells us, veterans facing this transition need to make a plan, upfront and early. Put a lot of critical thought into it, and then execute your plan.
He suggests a self-assessment – where you are, and where you want to be. The bottom line. You have some choices you need to make. First, when you get out, are you going to follow the job (move), or do you want to stay where you are? That’s your first fork in the road.
From there you’ll have other choices depending on which route you take. Of course a lot of these choices will depend on your family, for example wanting to let your kids finish up high school in the same place before you would consider moving.
TAPE, like all government contractor firms, is very veteran-friendly. But over and above the obvious legal and HR issues, our experience is that veterans, even with the direct-from-service learning curve, are trained in a particular way, and respond to direction by just heading off and doing it.
By the way, a similar experience comes from direct-from-the-retirement-pool civilian employees of the Federal Government. Both of these pools are also likely to have that magic word, relationships. And that will be the key to success, to utilize the skill sets and maximize the relationships.
The key and universal truism linked to mission success is “Train as you Fight.” Realistic training is critical not only for mission success but for soldier survival.
The challenge is that live, realistic training is often expensive and time sensitive as the resources are finite and required by multiple units. To overcome the limitations of live training resources, the Army has developed and employed virtual, constructive, and gaming capabilities.
One such capability is the U.S. Army’s Synthetic Environment Core (SE Core), a Program of Record (POR) under the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation (PEO STRI). SE Core provides fully correlated, common, geospatial terrain databases; ultra-high resolution cultural and common moving visual models; Common Virtual Components (CVCs); and a common Computer Generated Forces (CGF) for Training Aids Devices Simulators and Simulations (TADSS).
SE Core is the Army’s central link for all common virtual environment requirements, helping to ensure that simulators and simulations correlate and interoperate across critical training platforms.
One critical aspect is the integration of new virtual terrain representations to align with current operational environments and missions. The Army has a requirement to quickly develop and integrate new and accurate digital terrain that corresponds with potential future missions. Fulfilling such a requirement is a fair amount of work and is very complex.
Mr. Thomas Kehr of PEO STRI and Mr. Trey Godwin of Strong Point Research, A Division of TAPE have investigated using Google Earth Pro to track and generate terrain representation requirements in order to produce higher-quality digital terrain products. Their paper, published in Army AL&T magazine, can be reached via the following link:
The best and brightest of your staff are the ones who will carry a company far into the future, and every time you promote someone, that act resonates through the entire organization.
This is one such of the “million stories in the Big City” – a Junior PM job opened up, and we promoted a billable supervisor to an overhead PM position. The following is a first-hand story about that transition, and what we as senior staff and managers can do to help the folks going through a similar transition.
Meet Ken Geary, retired Marine, and newest PM on the TAPE block.
What was the biggest change going from being a supervisor to being a project manager?
“I would have to say the scope of management. I went from directly supervising a relatively small team of five individuals performing a task that I was intimately familiar with, to managing a much larger group of people through delegation and direct communication.
Also management is no longer my sole responsibility. I work to not only provide exceptional service to our customers but also focus on business development, seeking to grow our current contracts as well as procure new ones.
I see this as a general trend, where business development is less one person’s specific role, and more rolled into all program management roles.”
A year later, what would you tell yourself when you were about to start?
“Keep better notes and to-do lists. When I first started in the program management role, I was assuming I could continue to just remember everything I needed to do, as I did when managing a smaller team and wasn’t being pulled in so many directions.
Now that I’m often switching from one project to another, I’ve found that writing everything down helps me to ensure that I complete all of my tasks. I can quickly see the current status and be reminded of the key points that are relevant when working with different contracts.”
What do you think are the most important traits of a good project manager?
“When I was in the Marine Corps we affectionately changed the slogan from semper fi (short for semper fidelis – Latin for “always faithful”) to semper gumby (“always flexible”) and I believe that holds true here.
As a program manager many things fall into your scope of work and you need to be ready to switch gears instantly, manage multiple things, and perform those tasks – proposal writing, performance reviews, and anything that comes along in day-to-day program management.”
What are the biggest benefits to having a project manager in place?
“One of the major benefits of putting a program manager in place is to provide a single point of contact for any issues. This is something that benefits our employees as well as the government points of contact by delivering to provide accurate information effectively and directly.
I can work with them to solve a problem directly, or find the answers for them without them having to get passed around. I know when I call up to get answers or solutions it can be frustrating to get passed around from one person to another.”
Is there anything else you would tell a new project manager?
“Ensure that you are asking questions daily. There is a lot of information to learn and if you don’t ask when you have questions people will assume that you know and understand the information and tasks that have been delegated to you.
If you’re not sure about acronyms or other shop talk, say so. Don’t be scared to ask questions, you need to make sure you understand everything.”
So there you have it – Ken’s story, a year later. Without blowing up his ego too much, he’s done a superb job. What he didn’t tell you is that several of our contracts were coming to a close and needed bridging, and his relationship skills with the customer saved TAPE a lot of problems that would or could have surfaced.
As a follow-up to our recent post about targeting cybersecurity work in your contracting business, I sat down with TAPE’s cybersecurity program manager Stewart Wharton to give you a glimpse behind the scenes.
Stu, what does a typical day look like for the TAPE cybersecurity team? Is there any such thing?
It’s a very high visibility, fast-paced environment, working for one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The team is involved with all aspects of analyzing threats and vulnerabilities.
We do a daily assessment of risk to the systems; we do a lot of reporting using a variety of dashboards. We can suggest fixes, and make sure those fixes are acceptable. We also follow up to ensure that the systems people have implemented them.
It’s a lot of analysis work – analyzing data to see if it’s a threat, a vulnerability, or a mitigation, and also determining the likelihood of the impact of the vulnerability to a system, and the overall risk to the system.
We just wrote in this blog about how government contractors can find cybersecurity work by approaching their existing customers. How has TAPE used this strategy?
Our customer base has grown twice in the year and a half that we’ve been here. And we continue to look at other entities within the agency that could use our BPA (blanket purchase agreement) – an existing contracting vehicle that any federal customer can funnel money to, as long as the scope of the BPA is within cybersecurity.
What is the most common misconception you hear about cybersecurity?
That cybersecurity is all about tools and technology, when really a lot of breaches are socially engineered and simple, such as a user opening an email or attachment they shouldn’t have. Yes, breaches in security can be highly technical, but it can also be amazingly simple.
What do you wish everyone knew about cybersecurity in the workplace?
No matter what job you’re doing, whether you’re at work or at home, everyone should be more aware of how simple it is to give away the keys to the kingdom, just by doing the wrong thing with your email.
- Don’t open an email if you don’t recognize who it’s from or it’s not from an official account in your workplace.
- Don’t open attachments if you don’t recognize who it’s from. Attachments are the easiest way to get a bug or virus into your system.
- Don’t share your password or write it on a sticky note and keep it on your laptop. When working remotely in an airport, you’d be amazed how easy it is for someone to look over your shoulder. They can find out a lot about you, and then pretend to be you.
What do you see going on in the cybersecurity industry right now?
There is a huge demand signal for people doing this kind of work, but at the same time, the quality of people able to do this work is increasing. A lot of graduates are hitting the streets with certifications or degrees that used to take somebody five or ten years of experience to get.
These young workers have all the right credentials but not a whole lot of experience. While this means the cybersecurity market has been flooded with talented individuals, what used to be a high value work area has been somewhat watered down.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your work in cybersecurity?
That at the end of the day, our team and I have helped national security across the United States. Cybersecurity is officially recognized as a domain where the enemy can wage war against you, so we need to be prepared on that same kind of footing.
In The True Cost of Proposals, we talked about the effect of ambiguity on the capture and proposal process, and how contractors shouldn’t waste time or money writing proposals unless they can clearly answer three questions:
- Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
- Can your company solve this problem?
- Do you have the capabilities to win this job?
I asked Bo Nak, a sales engineer at TAPE, to talk about how TAPE navigates through this process.
How do you see these three questions fit into the capture and proposal process?
At TAPE, our capture process really begins after we’ve identified an opportunity – through a government proposal site, third-party analyst, word of mouth, etc. Our first step is talking to the customer, learning what kind of problem they’re trying to solve, what they’re trying to do.
This really goes back to building a relationship with that customer. No one wants to do business with people they don’t know. You can win business [with strangers], but it’s a lot more difficult. Building that relationship is probably most important thing you can do.
That leads into TAPE’s bid/no bid, gate review process. Our own self-critique of our odds of winning that opportunity. Answering those three questions is going to increase our PWin (“probability of winning”) percentage. Whatever we can do to increase that, we should.
If you don’t have a good PWin percentage, you probably won’t or shouldn’t get to the proposal writing stage.
To answer Bill’s second key question, “Can your company solve this problem?” take an honest look at yourself and your company. Is the potential work within your company’s capabilities and will it take you in the direction you want to be going?
The third question follows along the same lines and asks us to take a hard look at our own company and team. Do we have the manpower? Do we have the time to put forth the proper effort into the proposal?
If you don’t have the people or the time, do you have or do you know of other companies you could bring on to form a team? Obviously you want to find strong partners for your team to build the strongest response and proposal.
Note from Bill: Also consider whether your company should act as the prime or sub.
Sometimes we have a relationship with the customer, but no bandwidth to be the prime contractor, or the size standard (NAICS code) is too small for us to be the prime. So we seek partners, also those with whom we have a long-term relationship. Knowing how they will allocate staffing afterwards is a critical issue for choosing a prime contractor.
How does TAPE manage their proposal writing costs?
It’s true what they said in the podcast, that capture and proposal writing starts long before the RFP or RFI comes out. That’s really where your costs start to accumulate. As in most companies, our CFO and company leadership form annual budgets, and its our job to match our spending to that.
Obviously that means we can’t chase after every opportunity out there, so we make sure to put our time and effort into the proposals we have the best shot at winning, ones that match our company’s capabilities and direction and that we have a realistic chance of winning.
What did you think of the podcast about how much proposals cost?
A lot of the messages in the podcast and Bill’s post were things that seem like common sense, but that some contracting officers never calculate or see. There are a lot of costs attached to what we do as part of writing proposals that aren’t necessary considered by the government.
Ambiguity leading to mediocrity was a huge point that needs to be reiterated. And this goes back to one of the podcast hosts saying that questions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Industry wants to create a great proposal and put their best foot forward, that’s why we ask questions. Getting back answers in a timely manner and getting the answer sufficiently answered is highly important to us AND the government.
I can’t tell you how many times the same question was asked four, five or even six times in the Q&A section of an RFP, where the government gave a canned response, didn’t fully answer the question, or took forever to answer. This really puts a strain on our ability to write a good proposal.
Hopefully contracting officers in the future will be able to take that part of it more seriously and make more of an effort to help industry and contractors by giving them the answers that they need. It comes around full circle – the better answers you can give us, the better response we can give the government, saving taxpayers more money in the long run.
As they said in the podcast, putting an hour of effort in now can save many more hours on the backend. And that’s certainly something anyone would want to do.
Bo Nak is a sales engineer at Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE). A graduate from Virginia Tech with a BSE degree in industrial and systems engineering, he has worked as a sales engineer for over six years developing solutions and proposals for private, industry, and government customers. He focuses on developing credible solutions and proposals, building revenue, and driving organic growth opportunities.
In a small business like TAPE, our VPs need to be very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of the company. They’re responsible for business development, maintaining current customer relationships, building our repository of teammates and partners, and strengthening and maintaining those relationships, each for their specific line of business.
This “leaner, meaner” approach enables us to respond more quickly to opportunities and optimize our resources.
One of our VPs, Daria Gray, transitioned into this role from another leadership position in marketing and communications. I asked her to share her reflections on the challenges and opportunities of this type of change.
She says the internal transition happened quite naturally, “Once I’ve made up my mind to do something and am committed, I want to put in the time and energy to succeed.” Yet for some of the people around her, it took time to let go of Daria being in that former role, and to allocate her previous functions to others within the organization.
She says this is an example of a lesson that holds true in everything in life, and that is that you cannot change others. “They are going to continue to do what they have naturally done, but you can change your response or your reaction to their behaviors.”
Daria said that by being firm in her own mindset about the path she was on, she could gently remind others that she was no longer performing those capabilities.” For others in this same situation, she suggests you “stay focused on your new role and kindly redirect people to others who can provide guidance on matters for which they are seeking assistance.”
For Daria, this has been a really positive move, and she’s enjoying the responsibilities of her new role – managing not just the work, but the people and all the new endeavors that have come with it.
As many small businesses transition to a more lean/low-cost/low-overhead environment in the Federal sector, these kinds of transitions will become much more common.
It is much better to take a current, committed employee, who has demonstrated leadership, and train them in a few functions gaps, rather than go through the hiring process and then guess as to whether you were right or wrong on your choices.
As your existing customers are your greatest source of increasing growth and revenue, so too, your existing staff may be the best to fill new leadership roles. Reach out and see if someone wants to grow in a (sometimes surprising) new direction.
This is a guest post by Matthew T. Clarke, Vice President, Modeling, Simulation & Training (MS&T), Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE
Dr. Leonard Hobbs is a quiet professional. He seldom appears agitated and never raises his voice, but he easily stands out as someone of presence and authority. Within five minutes of meeting Leonard you conclude that he is competent, he is capable, and he is a leader. You understand you could follow him with confidence and that if you do, you will achieve something greater than selecting an alternate path.
There are thousands of books that explore leadership and attempt to produce the specific characteristics and practices of exceptional leaders. You could read them all, but at the end of the day, there is no cookie cutter solution. Leadership is an art and people are unique. You must find your own formula for success. Most never do.
Individually, Leonard’s leadership traits are subtle. However, he uses them with poise and élan that bring about a very strong cumulative effect.
- He is a compelling speaker. He is energetic, enthusiastic, and always well-prepared.
- He knows how to use humor and audience involvement to gain and hold people’s attention.
- He is an exceptional listener.
- He is a strong supporter and champion of people’s innovative ideas and works to secure the resources needed to achieve outstanding results.
- He is passionate about follow through and meeting commitments to ensure customer satisfaction, and expects others to be the same.
- He sets achievable but challenging goals.
- He is self-aware, with a clear understanding of what is expected.
- He is dependable. You can count on him to meet deadlines.
- He projects an enthusiasm that motivates others.
In October 2014, Leonard was named as a 2014 Leaders Portfolio Award winner, recognized in the category of Rising Business Leader of the Year – National. He also recently had his first book published at Xulon Press – Inviting Jesus Into Our Families Will Bring Healing and Restoration in our African-American Families.
He says that many of the skills he uses at TAPE – his interpersonal skills, and his management of personnel, skills and processes – can be linked to that part of his life. “In the book,” he explains, “I identify a bible-based foundation that has worked for thousands of years. Once you set a foundation from the Word of God you can do almost anything.
A company like TAPE needs and has unity, vision and purpose. If there’s no vision you won’t have success. How can people walk together unless they agree?
If you have a vision, you have to be able to share and articulate it to others so they can buy into it. When another person can understand your vision, they can comprehend their purpose in their company and how they can help you turn your vision into a reality.
We all have our individual goals, but they still tie in with leadership and the objectives of the company. There can only be one leader. When TAPE bought Strong Point Research, I had to understand Bill and Louisa’s vision and where they were headed. Ultimately I came to see that they truly did have our interests at heart.”
Leonard is capable, compelling, passionate and trustworthy. But even more so, Leonard understands that leadership is not the same as the authoritative use of power. He has that unique ability to get people to follow him even when they have the freedom not to do so.
Veterans make great entrepreneurs, and supporting veteran-owned small business is a smart way to address the high unemployment rates facing today’s veterans.
In a hearing last spring, veteran business owners stepped forward to share their experiences and highlight the contributions of groups like the International Franchise Association, the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
You can read their quotes in this press release or watch the entire hearing below.
I bring this up almost one year later because this year’s Women As Veteran Entrepreneurs (WAVE) 5th annual Women Veterans Small Business Seminar is coming up on March 19, 2015 (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) at The Women in Military Service Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.
My wife Louisa Jaffe, President/CEO of TAPE, LLC is one of the event’s many prominent and inspirational speakers. In 2014, Louisa was selected as the first Women Vetrepreneur of the Year for the National Association of Veteran Business Owners.
She tells me that the WAVE event is a focused time for veterans who are women entrepreneurs to come together with each other and with government. Veterans, particularly women veterans, are finding more and more opportunities as entrepreneurs.
Their wonderful problem solving, leadership and “get the job done” military skills are perfect preparation for the challenges of running a business. We both highly recommend the WAVE event!
The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) is the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference.
TAPE exhibited again at this year’s event. It took a lot of work, but it was a fun and wonderful experience. I/ITSEC is always an interesting show and we got to see a lot of new stuff that’s going on.
Overall attendance was down, not unexpected given government travel restrictions and budgetary constraints. (The federal budget itself wasn’t approved until a couple of weeks after this event.)
It all came down to 45 minutes
For all the preparation, our results at I/ITSEC all came down to about 45 minutes, spent visiting with a very important person for the work we’re doing, and work we’re going after in the future. If we hadn’t been at the event, if we hadn’t been at the booth, that conversation would never have happened. Frankly, while not really “revenue-bearing,” it definitely made the whole exhibit and show worthwhile. It’s this kind of interaction that doesn’t really happen even in an office call – the atmosphere is much more relaxed and open to conversation.
We made other important contacts with different folks as well, and a lot of business-to-business connections.
To get the most benefit from a trade show booth, you always have to be sensitive to what is your goal. For us it was to meet a couple of VIPs in a more private setting, and we were able to do that. We invested a lot of money for those visits, but they could easily pay dividends down the road.
Trade shows are training grounds
One key thing we did at I/ITSEC, and then a week later at National Veterans Small Business Engagement, was to bring some new employees. They got to hear more experienced staff talk about what we’re trying to “sell” and to what audience, and who we think we are at our company.
It’s important for everyone in a trade show booth to hone that message, focus it, get it down on paper, and then deliver it. In a trade show environment, when somebody shows up at your booth you have no idea who they are, what they’re interested in, or even their specific function at their agency.
That means you not only have to have these core messages down, you must be able to adjust and adapt quickly them as you get into the conversation. Sometimes you have literally 20 seconds – a true elevator speech – so you just start talking and hope that you find something that clicks, because that person would just as soon move on and get someone else’s free samples.
Learn more about finding customers at trade shows.