How to run an external Red-Team Review

By Morgan Johnson | 25 February 2020

Often times teams utilize external expertise heavily when they are doing their initial capture research for a proposal or tender opportunity. They send teams out to the country to interview technical experts, ask questions about what is currently happening on the ground, what approaches have or haven’t worked in the past, etc.

Once they have that initial information, once they’ve developed a technical approach for a proposal, spent all their time and energy putting the pieces together and writing a beautiful and compelling argument for why this approach is the best possible way to solve the challenges the project seeks to address. But who double-checks their work?

Red Team Reviews:

Most BD teams put together a review process where they bring in other people from the company who were unassociated with the proposal to review and give feedback on the proposal. Often there are a series of reviews like this, but the final and most serious is the Red Team Review.

The Red Team Review usually happens after a proposal has gone through several drafts, and is nearing its final product. The Red Team reviewing the proposal is supposed to have minimal contact with the proposal team, so as not to have their review and feedback tainted by knowledge of previous conversations or ideas earlier in the process.

The goal, then, is to give honest and critical feedback about the proposal as a whole, and the recommended solution, in order to drive it towards a better and more successful final product before submission.

Who will ultimately review your proposal?

The challenge with most Red Team Reviews, is that they are still done in-house. This process and these Red Teams provide valuable feedback and criticisms, but no matter how little contact they had with the proposal team before that review, they still work for the same company. There is still an implicit bias on the approach, on the bona-fides of the company itself. 

Often Red Team Reviews are done in person as well, so there is a disconnect between the review process happening in the Home Office or HQ, and feedback that could be provided by those on in country. This is especially important when the RFP or Tender opportunity has been released by a Mission office, and proposals will be reviewed there.

The Importance of External Reviews

This is why it’s important to engage external experts as a part of your review process. External experts don’t need to replace in-house Red Team Reviews, but they are a critical supplement. 

External experts help to give feedback and critiques that are unbiased from any contact with the proposal team in advance, as well as unbiased by any ongoing work with the company submitting the proposal. They are reviewing the approach on it’s merits, plain and simple.

How to conduct an External Review

When conducting a review with an external expert, the process and the content of the review is usually a bit different than the internal Red Team Review. While internal reviews focus on the entire proposal (e.g. content, graphics/ presentation, pricing, team members, etc.) External reviews tend to focus mostly on the technical approach and making sure it will hit all the marks of the challenge, as well as fit into the local context.

Sometimes teams will send across a full copy of their draft proposal for an expert to review (all OnFrontiers experts are covered by NDAs) other times proposal teams will simply go through the suggested action items with an expert point by point to get their thoughts and feedback.

Here are some common questions that have been asked to external experts during the proposal review process – just before the final submission:

  • How well do our proposed activities align with the government’s current priorities in this area?
  • How well do our proposed activities align with what other projects/ stakeholders are also working on?
    • Are any of the activities we’ve included duplicative of other efforts?
  • Based on your experience working directly with beneficiaries, do these proposed actions meet their specific needs and address their challenges?
  • Have any of these activities/ action items been tried here before?
    • If so, how successful were they and why?
  • Are there any stakeholders we should be aware of who may be opposed to any of these action items?