You are at the post-award contract debrief. Win or lose, you search for the good, bad, and ugly about your proposal.In the past, you posed the usual questions to the government:
- Why did we win (or lose)?
- What was our score relative to other bidders--or at least the successful contractor?
- What were our major strengths and deficiencies?
- How competitive were we on price?
- What did we do right?
- What could we have done better?
- What about next time?
All good questions. If you are among the fortunate, maybe you received helpful responses from evaluators. But even this feedback was guarded and generic. Words carefully parsed, meaningful feedback reduced to generalities. All to avoid protest fodder. Some unsuccessful offerors actually exit the debriefing unsure of why their proposals tanked--so glowing were the Government's comments even to the loser.
"We thought your proposal was very strong," the contracting officer blandly asserts, "We just thought the winner's was stronger.”
Next time, ask questions the answers to which will actually help you write a better proposal. Pose questions that appear to be in the weeds. Not only questions about winning or losing which will, in many cases, cause the government to circle the wagons.
Meaningful feedback on these questions will help improve future proposals.
Here are 25 questions you should ask at a post-award debrief.
- What did you like/not like about our Executive Summary?
- Was our document visually appealing? How do we improve readability?
- Did we strike a proper balance between text and graphics?
- Your reaction to our thematic call-out boxes?
- What message did our cover send?
- Did our resume format work for the evaluators?
- Did our photographs help or hinder our story?
- Were the features/benefits/proofs tables of any value?
- Did it matter that we chose not to use all allotted pages when responding?
- Did our compliance matrix (not just the required Table of Contents) help?
- Given the page limits did we address the SOW in sufficient detail?
- Did you detect any of our themes? Which, if any, were most compelling?
- Did it matter that we put your agency's logo on the cover and on the header of each page?
- What instances of competitive “ghosting” did you detect?
- Was the proposal compliant?
- Do you think each subcontractor added value?
- Was the proposal easy to read and score?
- What did you think about our approach to [itemize]?
- Was anything missing that you expected to find?
- What could have made our transition approach stronger?
- What did you like and dislike about our vision for the contract end state?
- What did you think of our safety approach and credentials?
- What did you like and dislike about our initiatives, promises, commitments, or approaches?
- What did you think about our emphasis on [itemize]?
- Were we a credible prime? If not, why?
Consider submitting these questions in writing in advance of the proposal post-award debriefing. There is no guarantee that the Government will answer these questions any more robustly than the standard ones.
But perhaps the reason why many debriefs are of marginal utility is that contractors are asking the wrong questions from the start.
This article was originally published January 7, 2015, and updated October 6, 2020.
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