My mentor and the one who coached and trained me on all things federal proposal management also demonstrated daily how to persevere through the difficulties of the profession with grace, resilience, tolerance, and most importantly, humor. We can all agree that this work is challenging and rewarding, but there are some days–and some personalities–that throw you into the deep, dark depths of a proposal underworld of extreme anxiety, absurd deadlines, and dangerously high stakes. My dear mentor, skilled at recognizing the warning signs of one about to lose their ever-lovin’ mind, was always at the ready with the best advice. Today I bestow upon you her advice on how to deal with those coming to your color review meetings to swoop and poop.
If you are new to federal proposal management, here are a couple of definitions.
Swoop and Poop: Not participating or paying attention to the work unless it’s only to criticize the work that’s been done – usually without giving any constructive feedback or solutions. Now you have an expression for it. Trust me, it will make you smile during the tough times. You’re welcome.
Gulls: Generally harmless, these creatures are the only ones having fun and enjoying the act of the swoop and poop. The gulls come to your meeting, disrupt the flow with a lot of squawking, swoop and poop on your work, leave you with a mess, and then fly away to never be heard from again…. well, at least until the next review. You probably already have someone that comes to mind, don’t you!?
Color Review Meetings: These are milestone meetings during the proposal development phase to help you verify your win strategy, refine your messaging, improve customer focus, and maintain compliance. Ideally, there are a series of these color review meetings during the proposal process. For example, a pink team draft may be a draft at about 35% complete. A blue team draft is around 65% complete. A red team draft is much more developed and might be at 95%
Here Come the Gulls
A color review is the Super Bowl for the most talented of gulls. You know there is always going to be a good swoop and poop at this time because the gulls have a captive audience and can show off their swift moves and acrobatics before the rest of the team even knows what happened! And before you know it, the entire meeting becomes about the gull and its shenanigans.
We’ve all been there, right? We’ve done everything we can to dissect the solicitation and provide the most compelling, compliant, and visually appealing response. You’ve traveled for kick-off meetings, created new winning content from the ground up, argued through technical interpretations with the federal subject matter experts, and you have bonded with your proposal team. Surely the extended review team will see the dedication and sacrifice poured into the document you are about to share!
You package up your draft and prepare your reviewers on how to provide comments beforehand, what to expect from the meeting, and how to prepare for the discussion. You even ask your reviewers to provide thoughtful comments and alternative content if something isn’t clear or compelling. You’re prepared for the gulls and have designed the perfect gull deterrent.
And then it happens. The gull found the structural vulnerability in your plan, and cunningly asks for clarification. “Is this a red team review? I thought it was a red team review, but this document looks like it’s a pink team review.” It’s a low blow, and you immediately feel defensive.
After the first hit, you’re cautiously optimistic and breathe a sigh of relief. Surely there’s nothing left in their tank, right?
WRONG. They will be back for another swoop. In my experience, there is usually a series of swoop and poops from the same person.
Here are some of my favorite swoop and poop comments:
- I didn’t review the document in its entirety, but it doesn’t flow well at all.
- I didn’t read the solicitation, but why would you choose this project?
- Who wrote this? The whole section needs to be re-written.
- Is this even compliant? Has anyone checked the for compliance?
- I am completely distracted by the choice of photo on the cover page. I couldn’t continue.
- I have an issue with the text next to that… what is that? Is that… a WINGDING? Yup, the gull went and dropped the wingding poo. Now everyone is distracted… and you feel dirty and ashamed for using the damn wingding in your work-of-art proposal design.
See what the gull did there? They failed to prepare for the meeting, vaguely called out perceived shortcomings, and then assumed it’s someone else’s responsibility to make the fix. Then, just as it comes time to discuss action items from the comments, they have timed their final swoop and poop, and just like that…they are GONE, and you are left with your wingdings trying to figure out what just happened.
Before you go into a downward spiral and accuse the gull of being a big bully out for blood, let’s identify some of the gull’s motivators and work through some responses to help you get the team back on track.
Get Inside the Mind of a Gull
Generally, the gull just wants to be heard, and this can happen with an ear-piercing squawk. Maybe it’s a misguided attempt to set the stage as an expert. Or could they be feeling especially passionate about this specific pursuit? Perhaps they felt their comments weren’t considered the first time.
And we do have to face the possibility that they are just someone that enjoys the swoop and poop. Do they have a reputation for wanting to discount the decisions of the larger team in order to be viewed as the smartest person in the room? Sadly, it happens. And if it does, your response may be to make it a little less comfortable for them to continue with this behavior. In any case, keep an open mind, and ask questions to unpack the comments.
Overcoming the Swoop and Poop
After identifying the behaviors and possible motivators of the gull, let’s discuss how we can overcome this type of behavior in future review meetings.
1. Set boundaries and clear expectations for reviewer participation at the get-go.
Include the rules of engagement in the meeting request, agenda, and during the opening statements at
the beginning of each call.
2. Uncover the true meaning behind the comments. Although under the guise of poop, the comments may hold some great value. Get to the bottom of it with questions like these:
Just so I understand your concern, can you please clarify what you are suggesting needs to be changed? What would you like to see here instead?
Can I rely on you to provide the content that should replace the existing?
Am I hearing you say the messaging is unclear (or disjointed, confusing, inaccurate, unnecessary, non-compliant, etc.)?
3. Explain that while comments are appreciated, they will not be considered without an accompanying solution.
Gentle reminders throughout the call can go a long way for the excited gull! They may be so excited to “uncover” the holes that they forget to provide the alternative solution. Simply guide them back to providing constructive feedback.
4. Thank the individual and validate their concern.
Ask them to share more of their thought process so that you can capture it accurately. (This is a great way to get the content without assigning an action item!). Read it back to them, confirm it’s the correct messaging, and BOOM! You have the fix on the spot!
5. Ask the pursuit champion or capture leader to help you field comments and questions if comments are too vague or keep coming from the same individual.
This is especially helpful if the reviewer is struggling with a way to articulate the needed changes. By engaging the pursuit champion or capture leader, it’s a great way to really take that content to the next level!
The dreaded swoop and poop is an unfortunate reality in the federal proposal world, and we hope these tools will help you to get ahead of the gull on your review team! By sharing your boundaries and expectations ahead of each color review, you and your team can turn the swoop and poop into useful feedback and a stronger proposal…and perhaps even train the gull on how to become a more productive member of the process.
For more tools on navigating the federal proposal world, please visit our website www.itsago.com or find us on social media at It’s A Go Pursuits.