Deploy a Government Contracting ‘Red Team’: John Chierichella

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Navigating contracting’s twists, turns and bumps can be treacherous, and guides through the complicated landscape can, if engaged early, mean the difference between winning and losing.

By harnessing the full potential of those guides—the red team—contractors can increase their chances of winning bids, fortify their projects against potential threats, and gauge their competitors’ strengths.

A red team is a coordinated group of experts assembled from outside the proposal team, or even outside the affected business unit. Its task is to critically evaluate, provide a fresh perspective on, and reveal hidden vulnerabilities in a proposal. A red team offers an independent and impartial scrutiny of the proposal from multiple angles.

Bidding process complexities and project execution intricacies creates a high demand for expertise, but red teams are underused in government contracting.

The cornerstone of a successful government contract bid is a strong proposal, and relying solely on the proposal team’s assessments and expertise may put a bid at risk.

Based on nearly five decades of experience, here are the best ways I’ve seen contractors utilize a red team to help win and keep the prize.

Crafting a Winning Proposal

Early, collaborative engagement with the red team is essential.

Involve the red team at the proposal’s embryonic stage to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the project’s goals and requirements. This involvement will help identify potential weak spots, making it possible to address them proactively before the proposal submission.

Commit to a building a red team composed of diverse experts from various disciplines. This diversity ensures a holistic assessment, uncovering not just technical vulnerabilities but also potential financial, legal, and operational risks. Moreover, this diversity of perspective aids in aligning the proposal with the values and expectations of the evaluating government agency, increasing the bid’s appeal and chances of success.

Foster an open and transparent environment during the red team review to achieve the best proposal possible. Contractors should encourage candid feedback and actively embrace constructive criticism.

By instilling a mindset that embraces red team feedback as a catalyst for growth, contractors can avoid potential pitfalls and enhance long-term resilience.

Preparing for Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities can emerge from the shadows, arising from technological shortcomings, insufficient risk management, or inadequate contingency planning. They can ruin even the most promising project.

The red team will be instrumental in preparing contractors for potential threats and preempting such disasters.

Prioritize objectivity to harness the full potential of the red team in vulnerability preparation.

It is easy to fall into the trap of seeking validation rather than criticism. However, a red team’s value lies in its ability to pinpoint weaknesses that internal stakeholders might overlook due to their familiarity with the project. This is why contractors should actively encourage the red team to explore all possible vulnerabilities, no matter how uncomfortable they might be.

In addition to identifying vulnerabilities, the red team can help proactively devise effective mitigation strategies. This approach not only highlights the team’s solutions-oriented approach but also empowers contractors to implement robust measures before issues escalate.

Integrating the red team’s insights into a comprehensive risk management plan fosters a culture of continuous improvement: vulnerabilities should not be perceived as one-time hurdles but rather as learning opportunities.

Feedback may challenge egos but will ultimately lead to a refined and compelling proposal capable of standing strong against the fierce competition.

Assessing Competitor Strengths

In the cutthroat world of government contracting, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of competitors is a strategic advantage. The red team can serve as the ultimate reconnaissance unit in this regard.

To make the most of the red team’s competitor assessment, contractors should define clear evaluation criteria to ensure the assessment remains focused, relevant, and actionable. A comprehensive competitor profile will carefully consider factors such as technical expertise, past performance, and pricing strategies.

Contractors should also leverage the red team’s independence to gain an unbiased evaluation of their own offerings vis-à-vis the competition. This insight allows contractors to refine their value proposition and optimize their competitive positioning.

Lastly, the red team should be encouraged to think like the evaluating agency. By adopting the perspective of the customer, the red team can identify the strengths that are most likely to sway the decision-making process. This approach provides invaluable guidance in tailoring proposals to maximize their appeal and effectiveness. For this reason, red teams often include former government personnel who can bring that perspective to bear on the proposal effort.

Government contractors must recognize the vital role that a red team can play in achieving success. Embracing a collaborative approach to proposal development, preparing diligently for vulnerabilities, and gaining a competitive edge through comprehensive competitor assessments are three key recommendations for making the most of the red team’s capabilities. By heeding these recommendations, contractors can navigate the challenging waters of government contracting with vigilance and excellence, ultimately securing more wins and delivering exceptional projects that stand the test of time.

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Author Information

John Chierichella is the founder of Chierichella Procurement Strategies , a consultancy helping contractors pursue and perform Federal contracts and subcontracts. An alum of Shepard and Mullins, Chierichella has 50 years of bid experience and is nationally recognized by Chambers & Partners, Legal 500, and most recently by Who’s Who Legal as one of the most instantly recognizable names in government contracts law.

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