Your proposal has just been submitted and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. It was a roller coaster of ups and downs and you are thankful that you came out unscathed. But wait, it’s not over yet. The lessons learned meeting! Many of us have gotten to experience the thrill of an unstructured lessons learned meeting in which one or two loud mouths thrash their coworkers with personal attacks, while the rest of the people sit silently, unwilling to share their true feelings about what a terrible experience the proposal effort was. After these meetings people feel variously vindicated, remorseful, and burned out. Obviously, this is not a recipe for organizational success.
Then what is a useful lessons learned process? It’s an opportunity for an organization to identify issues that reflect a systemic process weakness. It’s also a chance to identify performance issues in individual staff members that can be addressed through training or changes to job assignments. But a lessons learned process is not an opportunity for people to complain, to rant, or to throw other people under the bus.
How to achieve a useful lessons learned process
A useful lessons learned process starts with the proposal manager soliciting input from all the participants in the bid. That input can be provided confidentially, if needed, and should be sent back to the lead of the organization’s proposal or business development organization. That person reviews all input received, filters out inflammatory input, and categorizes the input into three buckets: process issues, personal performance issues, and one-off anomalies.
The organization should then convene the heads of the various parts of the Growth team to talk through the process issues to identify any opportunities for changes to the standard processes. That leadership team then reviews the personal performance issues to identify opportunities for training, and to discuss whether anyone was placed in a role in which they were not prepared to succeed.
When proposal participants are asked for input after a proposal project, they should be asked to provide opinions on what went well, as well as what went wrong. And they should consider all phases of the effort, including:
- BD, Capture, Win Strategy
- Solution Development
- Proposal Management
- Proposal Process
More pro tips for making the lessons learned effort effective
- In an organization with a lot of proposal activity, consider conducting this lessons learned effort once a quarter, to cover all the proposals worked during that quarter, rather than running through the process after every single proposal
- After a contract award, always request a debrief from the customer, whether you won or lost. Review the debriefs with the leads of the organization’s proposal team, BD/capture team, pricing team, technical solution team, and others as appropriate. Look for trends in proposal sections that repeatedly score well or badly
After a particularly bad proposal experience, it’s okay to yell and scream and blame everyone else. Just do it in the privacy of your own home. And keep the lessons learned process focused on positivity and improvement.