If you’re in the business of winning new business, it demands an extraordinary level of creativity, skill, and focus. We embrace these same concepts in execution of competitive intelligence and Black Hat reviews.
When we work with capture teams during the Black Hat review phase of any complex capture, there are many competing priorities and interests to manage. There are some very straightforward principles and practices to follow in order to, as the title of this blog states, keep your head in the game. Those who fail to be creative and focused often find themselves on the wrong end of a debrief – a loss debrief.
Use structure and process to focus the team
Using process and structure is useful to focus a group of people to work towards an objective. Here are some tips on how to structure activities such as a Black Hat review to be effective.
- Use short exercises (30-60 minutes) to break up the monotony of what can be “Death by PowerPoint” sessions.
- Frame each exercise with a concise task / question to meet a specifically stated objective. Don’t lock people in a room for hours at a time and expect them to magically answer the question.
- Use smaller exercises to build towards a bigger objective…such as understanding your competition.
Create a competitive and focused mindset.
If you’re in the business of pursuing U.S. Government contracts, it is likely that you’re a competitive person. You’re not alone in your drive to win. How do we embrace this?
- Start with the assumption that you are beatable. Use the competitor’s capabilities and behaviors to exploit all your weaknesses.
- Channel that competitive manner in Black Hat reviews. Assuming your competitors won’t do everything it takes to win is foolish; they are just as competitive as you.
- Don’t pull punches. This isn’t a license to be rude. However, glossing over your weaknesses because you don’t want to offend someone’s delicate sensibilities is silly. Would you rather find out about a weakness during a loss debrief? Identify gaps early and often. Fix them.
Involve creative and objective people
This may be a sacrilegious statement, but it must be made. Not everyone is suited to join an exercise such as a Black Hat review. Just because someone is smart or skilled at their job is not a qualifier. What makes a good person for reviews such as Black Hat sessions?
- Creativity is key. While you might have some “super smart people,” if they cannot think beyond the obvious “what we’ve always done,” they’re simply holding you back. Any capture activity needs creativity to identify, test, and develop concepts needed for a winning solution. Persons who constantly argue for the status quo are less inclined to do anything but advocate for the same old tired solutions which may no longer be relevant.
- Objective and free from bias. People that have blatant biases against a concept, a competitor, etc. are simply going to object for the sake of objecting. A degree of self-policing is necessary to maintain objectivity. Facilitators can only do so much.
Watch for behavior inconsistent with the desired outcome
Objectives of individual capture activities – such as Black Hat reviews – need to be apparent and behavior needs to be aligned with objectives.
- If you’re doing a Black Hat review, you are working to find how a competitor can beat you, NOT solution as you. While it may be very plausible to have similarities in solutions, are you merely projecting what you think is the right solution on to a competitor? Consider likely capabilities and behaviors of a competitor based on what is known. Keep people out of teams if they’re only able to think like your solution and not other possible approaches.
- Mind your Section M. When we enter the “art-of-the-possible” in a Black Hat review or any other win strategy / solution session, it is incredibly easy to lose sight of known or suspected evaluation criteria. We love playing with “what if” scenarios as much as anyone could. However, ensure you stay grounded in what is likely to be evaluated. This is a common trap. If it cannot be evaluated, it does not matter. This applies double in a Black Hat review.
- Don’t focus on “table stakes” items. If some capabilities are “table stakes,” they should not be used to articulate the competitor’s win strategy. If that is their story, you need to be aware of (1) wishful thinking in terms of the poor depth of competitor capabilities and (2) you really don’t have a clue what they can do to win. What happened to (3) they don’t have a win story no matter what they do? Never default to (3) because that is the easy way out.
Stay focused and keep your head in the game. Do your capture homework. There are some great opportunities out there. Good hunting!
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