This post is a follow-on from a previous blog on focusing a black hat review.
If you’ve been doing the GOVCON business development thing for a while, you’re probably familiar with the black hat review. To be certain that we’re on the same page, we execute black hat reviews in order to:
- Evaluate competitor strengths and weaknesses specific to an opportunity;
- Anticipate competitor win strategies; and
- Build counters to neutralize that competing win strategy.
(If you would like a more expansive exploration of black-hat basics, check out a golden oldie at the FedSavvy Strategies blog – “Capture Essentials: Black Hat Review Sessions.”)
Black hat reviews can be time- and resource-intensive. So how do you do one that is “right-sized” to your organization and, most importantly, your resources?
To start, keep an eye on the goals above. If you fail to meet those objectives, you’re not going to get much out of the exercise. Consider the following to appropriately scale your review to meet your resource constraints:
Keep teams small. The full-scale black hat review that we do involves teams of people acting as miniature capture teams for competitors, working each through an extensive series of revealing exercises. Assign 2-3 people to a competitor team. This allows them to discuss points quickly, to document their thoughts quickly, and to work through problems quickly. In the case of a black hat review, more is NOT better: Big groups don’t get things done and easily get off track. On the other end of the spectrum, having solo “teams” really isn’t effective. That’s just one person trying to be really smart, without the benefit of multiple perspectives and counterpoints within the team dynamic. Too small means too limited a result.
Have a high-energy, disciplined and prepared facilitator. Scaling exercises to be small and fast requires someone to orchestrate it. That person needs to give significant guidance, gentle (and, sometimes, not-so gentle) nudges to keep people on track, and support to work through problems as they arise. They need to have familiarized themselves with the subject-matter prior to the review. Facilitating such meetings is a balance of working with people to get them to their best self or being firm to stop the inevitable journey down a rabbit hole that is going nowhere. Ideally, this should be someone that has run black hat reviews on numerous occasions. (I.e., there are many types of business facilitators, but a black-hat leader is a specialized skill.)
Do short and timed exercises to tackle specific problems. What do we mean by this? Continually refocus on the core questions that you need to have answered. These core questions are generated before the session in order to focus efforts. Work with the capture team to help generate these questions. Don’t let the teams work with unlimited time, either getting bogged down or drifting too far afield; rather, give them short sprints to do this. If you’re short on time and resources, then you have an even greater need to keep momentum going.
Keep exercises highly structured. We love to get creative with opposing win strategies, however, in a smaller format, you really don’t want to do this. This shouldn’t be a form-filling exercise so structure the review around specific questions. Provide the teams with “what good looks like” in terms of the answers that they need to provide (and overall, the output that the review intends to generate).
Regular review and course corrections. The short and timed segments are great to keep people focused and moving. Following the completion of each exercise, make the results/findings immediately reported to the group at-large. The facilitator will walk through results and then give feedback to the teams on progress made. The next exercises can build on both findings of previous exercises and examples set through the demonstrations of teamwork and effort. (Competition is healthy!)
Document everything! Your process should make this easy. A small-scaled and fast exercise makes it even easier to forget what you learned.
While we’d all rather do a black hat in a highly creative manner, sometimes, we have to do with the time and resources that we have. That’s okay as long as your review meets the core objectives. We hope these lessons-learned from years of practice will help your firm and its partners to get the most out of its black hat reviews. That said, if you need some help in designing, facilitating, and maximizing your efforts, just let FedSavvy Strategies know. We’ll be happy to assist!
© FedSavvy Strategies and FedSavvy Strategies blog, 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to FedSavvy Strategies and FedSavvy Strategies blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.