The Color Team Process of Proposal Management – Notes From a Newcomer

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© alotofpeople – Fotolia.com

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.

This post originally appeared on Bill Jaffe’s blog, The Fish Don’t Jump in the Boat, at http://blog.federalsmallbizsavvy.com/proposal-writing-tips/the-color-team-process-of-proposal-management-notes-from-a-newcomer/.