Why do capture teams across the GovCon industry conduct Black Hat Reviews? The Black Hat Review process helps you better understand you vs. your competition. How a Black Hat Review is executed ranges from the highly informal approach (a.k.a. sharing rumors) to rigorous and structured workshops. While the highly structured approach may not always be practical, there is a simple process to follow to help you get closer to an optimal Black Hat Review.
Follow five (5) simple steps to get to an optimal Black Hat Review.
Select the team
The participants are a critical ingredient. When selecting participants, you need to be mindful of some important factors. Don’t just look at the individuals. Consider the team as a complete entity.
Diversity of thought and perspective is important. Why? If you’re just using your core capture team, how do you really expect to challenge pre-conceived notions on the competition? Invite people you know and trust who are not directly involved in the capture effort. These people should not have a tendency to be “yes men.”
Does the team as a whole have demonstrated experience in:
- Capture leadership
- First-hand knowledge of the competitors
- Customer knowledge
- Technical understanding of requirements
Do your pre-work (a.k.a. your homework)
Doing your pre-work (a.k.a. your homework) before the Black Hat Review is critical. If you think you’re going to walk in with a comprehensive view of competitor capabilities, customer needs, and other emerging competitors, you’re begging to lose. In simpler terms, you’re “winging it.” The setup for the Black Hat Review is essential. Here are some things to do:
- Gather and share competitive intelligence on competitors – This can be a heavy lift, but if you maintain a knowledgebase on competitors it will be easier. Share this information with the team in advance of the session.
- Research and describe customer / stakeholders and needs – Without knowing what the customer wants, this is a really pointless exercise. You’re serving the customer! Frame the competitor against the customer’s needs.
- Conduct environmental scan of potential competitors – While it is easy to assume the “usual suspects” will compete against you, this is lazy thinking. We live in a dynamic world. There are always emerging or non-traditional competitors. Do an environmental scan to stay wary of new competitors who could very well win.
Design workshop activities
Design your activities around your desired outcomes. Develop and adjust templates to drive questions, foster discussion and then capture the necessary information. Ask yourself key questions such as:
- What information do we need?
- How much time to we have for the workshop?
- Will people be traveling in to participate? Remote? What technology setup will we need to enable remote work?
- How much space do we need? What space can we use?
Caution on remote participation: Avoid it! At a minimum, ensure you have critical mass in the same room for face-to-face interaction. Yes, we live in a remote world. However, we’re getting deep into competitive analysis. People need to be focused on the problem at hand, which becomes more difficult if they’re out of sight and “multi-tasking.”
Facilitate the workshop
The time has come for the Black Hat Review. Someone has to lead it. What are you looking for in a Black Hat Review facilitator?
- Objectivity – This should NOT be someone directly tied to the capture. The person needs to be emotionally detached from the capture. Why? You need an impartial person focused on giving the competitors credit for having a reasonable chance to win.
- Facilitating, not dominating – The person is a facilitator. They are there to get the best insights out of the entire team. They are not there to be a “boss.” If you have a person with a domineering personality, don’t expect them to facilitate well.
- Adaptability – Process is a fine tool to keep you on track. The facilitator needs to keep with the process designed but open to adapt the plan as needed.
- Knowledgeable – On both the competitors and capture / business development strategies. Teams can get stuck working through the process and may need a slight nudge in the right direction or an injection of creativity into their solutions. A good facilitator knows how to help.
Post workshop follow up
The session is done. Everyone is exhausted. It’s easy to tell everyone what great work they did, how much was learned, etc. However, a Black Hat Review is not an academic exercise. This is an exercise with a purpose – to better understand your competition and improve your capture. Do the following:
- Write a summary of what you learned – Capture all learning on the competition. Why? You will not remember most of it within one (1) week of the session. Write everything down in a summary document.
- Review all results – Participants in a Black Hat Review may have different opinions on which competitor is most formidable and why. Capture these opinions. Compare them against each other and how you stand against them. Where does the differentiation start?
- Create and execute a list of actions – What follow-up research, customer engagement, teaming, hiring, etc. actions need to be taken? What about your solution do you need to adjust?
As always… stay focused. Do your capture homework. There are some great opportunities out there. Good hunting!
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