Why Your Program Manager Would Make a Bad Capture or Proposal Manager

Sep 15, 2014

We are often asked, sometimes too late, if the incumbent program manager should be assigned as the Capture and/or Proposal Manager for the recompete.

I cannot emphasize my answer too strongly: No, No, No, and NO again.  Capture Manager and Proposal Manager hats generally do not fit Program Managers and there are a few reasons why.

Many times the incumbent Program Manager is the incumbent’s biggest liability. Oftentimes, when we are hired by companies to do an independent 3rd Party Assessment of their performance as the incumbent contractor, we find that the Program Manager is not the stellar performer the boss thinks they are. They may have some management failings, not have a good relationship with the client, and/or be lacking the insight into client needs, wants, and biases that you would expect them to have. As a result, if they were the Capture or Proposal Manager they would be executing their responsibilities through distorted lenses.

This being said, even if the Program Manager were terrific, they still probably are a misfit for capture or proposal management.

Here’s why:

Program Managers tend to be left brained. That is, they are analytic, directive, methodical, and extremely data driven. The best Program Managers see things as a systems engineer. They put together pieces and get them to run together to achieve programmatic objectives. This is diametrically opposed to the prototypical Capture Manager, who is a strategist and an idea person. Capture Managers do not see “things”, they see “concepts” and are adept at molding these ideas into a strategy that is responsive to the needs, wants, and biases of the client decision makers and influencers.

Ok, then. So why would they be a poor choice to don the Proposal Manager’s hat? After all, the description of a Program Manager in the previous paragraph sounds like the characteristics of a Proposal Manager.  Shouldn't a Proposal Manager be left brained? Methodical? Adept at putting together diverse parts to achieve a coherent whole? Focused on completion, compliance, and utility? Yes, of course it does.  The mismatch here is not about personality, it is about process. The proposal process is a fickle beast. It must be followed and it must be respected. But more than that, it must be caressed. The best Proposal Managers know how to follow the process, but also know the art of making adjustments at the line of scrimmage when a cold dose of reality tells them that the proposal is at risk of going off the track if followed religiously. Only an experienced Proposal Manager knows how to do that – probably learned how from a great mentor, or from painful experience – but a Program Manager would be a babe in the woods and might go down in flames.

Has your team ever used an incumbent Program Manager in the Capture and/or Proposal Manager role? What were the results?

Dr. Richard Nathan

Written by Dr. Richard Nathan

Dr. Richard Nathan, PhD, is the former CEO of Key Solutions. He has over 45 years of corporate management and federal proposal development experience. He has served as strategic lead, capture manager, proposal manager, orals coach, and review team lead. His ability to develop and integrate effective win themes and discriminators unique to a given contract opportunity has resulted in multiple large contract wins with DOE, NASA, DHS, DoD as well as state and local governments.

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