Subcontractors’ performance on proposals can be either the bane of a capture and proposal managers’ existence or the saving grace. Usually, subcontractors’ contributions to the proposal effort fall somewhere in between. Teaming partners are often tricky to manage since they are not your employees and you can only apply limited pressure. Their own priorities get in the way of completing their assignments. You can, however, increase your teammates’ performance on proposals and your likelihood of success using the tips below.

Plan ahead and negotiate for what you need. Subcontractors should be selected for a , such as technical capability, past performance, specific subject matter expertise, cost, etc. Teaming agreements should have clear contract scope and outline responsibilities for each sub contributing to the proposal. Teaming discussions and agreements that detail capture and proposal efforts will set the team up for success from the beginning. This doesn’t guarantee success or an easy proposal effort, but your subs will likely perform better if you set clear expectations upfront.

You may have brought in a teaming partner because of their specific expertise and asked them to participate in pre-proposal and proposal development activities. You may have wanted their specific subject matter experts (SMEs) to help during specific meetings. You may also have hoped to use their proposal writers, graphic artists, and editors to complete specific tasks. Never assume a subcontractor knows your expectations about their desired level of involvement unless you have explicitly requested it and received an affirmative answer. By communicating your expectations and confirming that your teammates understand their tasks, you can make sure everyone is on the same page and marching towards the same goal.

Non-exclusive subs are harder to manage than exclusive subs, especially when they say “we’re giving the same content to everyone.” This has to be mitigated when negotiating the agreements by specifying what sections of the proposal they will contribute to and naming the specific SMEs who will be available for interviews, perhaps exclusively to you. You can also freshen up any boilerplate content they give you, rewording it and weaving in your win themes for maximum value to your proposal.

Achieve buy-in. Buy-in is a precursor for many activities. It has to happen when negotiating teaming agreements and during the kick-off meeting when you share the capture or proposal plans, schedule, and associated resources. Subcontractor management needs to be present at the kickoff to show to their personnel and the entire team that this pursuit is a priority to the company. When you present your schedule, everyone should have a chance to comment and agree that the team is ready to meet the milestones to produce a quality proposal. The kickoff is also a great time to schedule daily status calls and line up resources for color reviews, as busy executives need lead time.

Invite the subs to participate in solution development. Subcontractors are on the team for a reason and the exclusive subs may be willing to share in the capture/proposal development cost. You have a chance to pull their expertise, experience, and perspectives into the solution. In addition to a better product, this builds rapport and teamwork that will be an asset during project execution and future opportunities. Non-exclusive subs should not be invited into brainstorming unless there are contractual firewalls and exclusive SME designations in place, specified in the teaming agreement. We have noticed a positive correlation between more open collaboration among teams and proposal quality.

Over-communicate. When subs are remote, the proposal professional has to over-communicate through formal check-ins. We use regular morning status meetings to plow through the status matrix and coordinate major tasks for the day. You should conduct frequent in-process reviews, requiring everyone to either work on the same virtual document or upload their progress daily into a common online workspace at a set time.

Apply tactful but consistent pressure. If a teaming partner has 10 pages to deliver, they haven’t uploaded anything, and their deadline is approaching, then either discuss this with the team on the status call (peer-pressure works miracles) or call them directly to discuss their plan for completion. Everyone understands deadlines and most people want to do a good job, but the onus is on the proposal professional to recognize early when authors are falling behind and develop a plan to get them back on track.

Develop an escalation plan for poor performance. When all else fails, you may need to bring in your own and subcontractor management to address performance issues, such as missed deadlines or poor work quality. We always discuss escalation procedures in the proposal kickoff meeting. Discuss who you will talk to, by name and organization, if you experience performance issues, and then discuss how the team can escalate performance issues they may have with you. You should hold yourself to the same or higher standard you hold your team to.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you have to remove a sub for poor performance. Workshare is not welfare, and if the sub is not pulling their weight or meeting their commitments during the proposal, then there is no reason to believe they will perform better during contract execution.

Developing a winning proposal is hard enough without factoring in performance issues from your subcontractors. Managing subcontractor performance can be challenging, but you can set yourself up for success by anticipating issues and implementing smart measures to mitigate them. We cover these and other techniques in greater detail through our Bid and Proposal Academy courses. For more information, visit our Bid & Proposal Academy schedule.

David Huff
Director of BD and Operations
OST Global Solutions, Inc.
7361 Calhoun Place Suite 560, Rockville, MD 20855
Office: (301)384-3350
Mobile: (513)316-0993

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