The world of Government proposals is a world with its own language and rituals.
The first of these is learning the acronym RFP (Request for Proposal) and the process of shredding it down to the customer requirements located (or should I say buried, hidden, or disguised?) in Sections C, L, and M in particular.
Soon thereafter, you will encounter on the proposal schedule color-coded reviews: Blue, Pink, Red, Green, Gold, White, and sometimes, shades in between. And if that wasn't confusing enough, documents reviewed in each of these are often rated as Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue.
In this article, we will break down the color review process and explain that at the end of this rainbow of colors can be a pot of gold (sorry, couldn't avoid using a color) in the form of a winning proposal.
What is the purpose of the proposal color review teams?
Color-coded reviews are an accepted industry practice for a disciplined, logical process to bring an RFP response to completion in winning form. The reviews represent increasing levels of maturity. At each level, the reviewers should be qualified to assess the proposal at its given stage and provide the necessary assessment and guidance to move the proposal to the next level.
Each level of review should be evaluating the presence or absence of win themes and discriminators, compliance with the RFP requirements, and responsiveness to the customer’s needs that produced the RFP in the first place.
The reviews should be somewhat overlapping to ensure connectivity between reviews. To this end, while you want reviewers geared to each level and each aspect that must be assessed, there is a good case to include someone from the previous level review on the next.
At the end of the iterative writing and then review process for each level, the proposal response should be compliant, compelling, and complete.
What are the goals of each color review team?
Blue Team Review
At Blue Team, the proposal sections are in outline. Some proposal managers use outline templates or writer’s work pages to guide writers in developing the initial framework of the response. Initial graphics and tables are inserted in the draft or, at a minimum, their purpose and location described. If the proposal calls for key persons and/or resumes the names should be identified. Very importantly, the client should have a description of the proposed solution, win themes, and discriminators to include features and benefits.
A Blue Team review ensures that the basic outline of the proposal is correct and complete and that a writer is assigned to each section. The Blue Team review also identifies gaps in information, data, designated SMEs, discriminators, and win themes.
Pink Team Review
Some organizations describe the goal of a Pink Team document to be 65-70 percent complete. A more useful definition is to describe the expectation that the document addresses with content, approach, or intent in every section of the proposal. The Pink Team document adds narrative and detail to the outline developed for Blue Team. The document contains graphics and tables. Emphasis is on content, not on form, style, or grammatical perfection. At the same time, the document should begin to incorporate consistent ways of spelling, acronym use, common quantity references, and common ways of referring to discriminators.
Pink Team document should not have any sections blank even if all a section contains is a description of what will go there and what has been done to obtain the information. The Pink Team document should reflect the initial collaboration between the writer and the responsible SME. If there are key persons or resumes called for, then the resumes should be submitted in the draft at a minimum and ideally formatted as intended for submission. The document should have RFP references leading the sections to help in the compliance review.
The Pink Team review has essentially the same responsibility as the Blue Team with respect to compliance, completeness, and being compelling. Any gaps become key action items. However, now the emphasis shifts to the story. Is the story correct? Are the information and data current and relevant? Is the story understandable and does it speak to the RFP requirements and underlying customer needs? Are there any Red Flags (sorry, another color) that signal a major problem in the proposal that could if not properly addressed, result in the proposal being non-compliant and just not competitive?
Reviewers should be focused on content and not on spelling except in those instances that reflect inconsistency.
Red Team Review
The Red Team document should be nearly complete. Some organizations want to quantify it by saying 85 to 90 percent. Again, a more useful definition is that it should have all the changes, additions, and corrections identified in Pink Team Review. The document should have final or near-final graphics, tables, data, and resumes. All sections should have complete narratives and the documents should be formatted the same as they will be submitted without going through a formal desktop publishing edit. In regard to this last point, depending on the review process, the document may or may not retain the full RFP references but should retain RFP paragraph references after the heading titles.
The Red Team review should reflect the perspective of the customer’s evaluators/source selection review board.
- Compliance and clarity are the top priority items.
- Next should be responsiveness, and does it tell a compelling story?
- Does it show best value; does it prove that it is technically acceptable?
- Are there features and benefits stated and documented?
- Does the technical solution match the price and is it priced to win?
This latter question is not always easy for the Red Team since it is not uncommon for the price not to be complete at this point. Nonetheless, the Red Team should make an assessment if the solution offered is potentially too expensive and what risks are involved in the delivery.
Green Team Review
The Green Team is the pricing review. This review may occur at any time but often is at or after Red Team but before Gold and may occur after Gold. Normally, if the proposal manager and or writing team are consultants and not part of the client, they will not be involved in pricing development or review. The review documents are the pricing information in the formats prescribed by the RFP.
The review team is responsible to ensure that all pricing information required by the RFP is presented and in the formats prescribed. The team will also ensure that company pricing policies are followed depending on the type of contract (Firm Fixed Price, etc.)
A critical aspect of the Green review is that it reflects the technical solution. Getting to this point requires close collaboration between the Technical/Management writers and the cost team. You do not want a solution going to the customer wherein the solution cannot be accomplished at the proposed price.
Gold Team Review
The Gold Review document is pre-submission quality. It should be complete in all sections, all information, all graphics, and fully compliant. It is formatted and looks exactly like it will for submission.
The Gold Team Review is usually done by 2-3 senior executives or managers who are in the authority chain for the unit(s) providing the services/products under the RFP. Ideally, these executives have been kept up to date on the results of the previous color review and have received periodic IPRs on related information such as the status of production if an item of equipment is to be submitted for evaluation with the proposal. The Gold Team reviewers' focus is on high-level win themes and discriminators and select aspects of the technical proposal that are considered key to winning the award. Critically, the Gold Review must ensure that the proposal is priced to win.
White Team Review
The White Review often called the White Glove review is a page-by-page mostly visual review of the document to catch any obvious errors in printing. The review will check those select items identified at Gold Review for correction. The focus is primarily on compliance items.
What does the color rating of the review team mean?
Now that you have mastered the intricacies of the color codes on the reviews, you are ready to learn the secrets of the evaluation of the reviews. Here too there is a color system. It is reasonably intuitive but still important to understand.
A red rating means that the reviewer believes there are major elements of the proposal which are deficient that would result in the proposal being non-compliant and not technically acceptable.
A yellow rating means that the proposal/section is generally compliant but not complete. The response may be confusing or not present information in a convincing manner. Some individual sections may not be compliant but there is an identified path forward to be compliant. If submitted, the proposal might not be thrown out but it would not likely win.
A green rating means that the proposal is essentially compliant with minor areas requirement correction or improvement. The proposal if submitted in the condition would be competitive but at risk for selection.
A blue rating means that the proposal is fully compliant, complete, compelling, and priced to win. It represents best value, and has a technically superior solution with distinctive features and discriminators.
The color-coded review process can be confusing to a newcomer. And, importantly, it can also be confusing to the SMEs who have been through other proposals and may have different understandings and expectations of each review. This latter situation is exacerbated because often the role of the SME is simply to provide information and not to prepare the document. Consequently, they may not appreciate the type and quality of information needed at each step of the review.
The good news is that this process is methodical and takes you from reading the proposal to developing a high-quality, winning document if followed correctly. And you don’t have to be a Leprechaun to find the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow!
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This article was originally published on December 13, 2013, and was updated on March 22, 2022.