As we continue to talk about how to write a proposal, we realized a piece on the compliance matrix’s role was missing. It’s an essential topic for our customers that are bidding for big or government-funded projects was missing, so we looked for the right guest blogger to shine a little expertise on the issue. We uncovered the treasure of James Wittenbach, an executive proposal manager with 18 years’ experience managing proposals, analyzing markets and competition, making value assessments and loads more.
James uses that wealth of experience to teach you why the compliance matrix doesn’t have to be a necessary pain, but rather it can be just the thing that gets your proposal signed.
There are a lot of elements in a proposal that, if you do them right, you get no extra credit, but if you do them wrong, you could lose it all. Many recent RFPs I have dealt with treat Past Performance as Pass/Fail in evaluation. The Compliance Matrix — too often treated as an afterthought — is better treated as an opportunity to sell your solution.
The Compliance Matrix — sometimes called a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) — is the document that maps the requirements of the RFP down to the volume, section, and page of the proposal where the requirement is answered. It acts as both a guide to the evaluator and a checklist for the proposal manager to make sure every requirement is answered.
If you wait until the end of the writing to create the compliance matrix, you should just turn in your APMP membership, get out of proposal management, and consider a career that involves inquiring whether your client is interested in super-sizing their meal. Building your Compliance Matrix at the end of the writing effort is like waiting until the house is built before drawing up the blueprints. The Compliance Matrix, like the outline of the proposal itself, should precisely parallel the structure of the RFP and should be developed in tandem with the proposal outline before storyboarding and writing even begin.
That’s basic Proposal Management 101.
The basic Compliance Matrix is generated by going through the RFP and identifying everything in it that is a requirement; this is also known as Shredding the RFP. There is software that supposedly does this, but it’s wise not to rely entirely on a software tool. The tool can’t always tell the difference between a real requirement and other information and may miss requirements if they don’t contain keywords the software was programmed to recognize. Whether you use software or perform the shred conventionally, check the work; don’t just trust, verify.
The proposal outline should address the requirements in the same order as the RFP and, if possible, use the same numbering system so that the number of the section in the proposal matches the number of the section of the RFP. For example, if section 6.6.6 of the RFP requires ABC and XYZ, it must refer back to both sections clearly. This can be challenging, it can result in repetition, and it can confound your sense of a sensible proposal narrative, but it makes it easy for an evaluator to go through a checklist and score you without having to go back and forth in your proposal. It’s all about making it easy for the evaluator to see why you are the most qualified bidder.
So, what should a Compliance Matrix look like?
A typical compliance matrix is constructed as a table and placed in the Front Matter of the proposal, listing out:
- the RFP Sections
- the requirement
- the volume, section, and page of the proposal response
RFPs usually don’t specify a compliance matrix format. This means you have an opportunity to use the Compliance Matrix as more than just an index, you can use it to sell your solution.
Assume, for a moment, that some (not all) of your evaluators are lazy, not interested in every detail of your solution, and would frankly rather be on the golf course than scoring eight to ten proposals; in other words, they are human. Think how they appreciate anything you do to make their job easier.
With that thought in mind, why not construct a compliance matrix that doesn’t merely state the Requirements and directions to the response (more work for the evaluator), but contains a brief statement of how you comply (less work for the evaluator) that also reiterates a win theme or discriminator (selling your solution).
When I can, I add a column for “Compliance Summary.” That way, an evaluator, if he or she is so inclined, can just read through our Compliance Matrix and have a good idea of what our solution is. It makes the evaluator’s job easier, and it leaves an impression of the bidder as customer-focused organization (“Look, attractive potential customer, I’m saving you work.”)
For example, if an RFP had a requirement that 50 percent of your support staff were Comp TIA A+ certified and 100 percent of your proposed staff were so certified, your Compliance Summary could read “Technical Staff is 100% Comp TIA A+ certified.” The evaluator can follow up by reading the detailed response in the referenced section or can just check you off as exceeding that requirement on the spot.
In laying out the Compliance Matrix, you should try to make it as user-friendly as possible. Having Requirements and Responses in separate columns can result in some ridiculous layouts, especially if the requirement is long and detailed. One way to work around this is to design a table that lines up the Requirement in one row and Response in the row below, and shade the response a different color than the requirement. Make it easy to read through, and make the summaries brief and concise. You don’t need to make every line a selling point, but just draw attention to the lines that reinforce your win themes and discriminators. Use bold and italic text if you think it helps — have no shame!
A Compliance Matrix is a utility, and some will say “Just get it done, it doesn’t have to be pretty.” I would counter that it doesn’t have to be ugly, either. Develop the Compliance Matrix with the Evaluator in mind. As with everything else in the proposal, treat it as an opportunity to sell your bid to the customer and show them that you are thorough, thoughtful, and focused.
James Wittenbach has worked in Proposal and Capture Management for 18 years. He’s performed proposal management, market research, competitive intelligence, and price-to-win at Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and is currently a Senior Proposal Manager at Harris Corporation. He also served for 12 years as a licensed foster parent and adopted three boys from foster care. He currently resides in Maryland, but would like to reside elsewhere. Thanks, James!
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