How to stop the endless cycle of color reviews? Ask Proposal Doctor

Dear Proposal Doctor,

How can we stop the seemingly endless cycle of color reviews? My capture manager forces the pink and red reviews way too early in the schedule and then adds multiple review cycles that leave everyone exhausted and demoralized. After pink, we have the rose review. After the red review, we have the wine review, the magenta review, and so forth. The writers give up because they know that no matter what they do, they will be forced into another review cycle.

The capture manager justifies the additional reviews by pointing to the poor quality of the proposal at any given point. It’s a vicious cycle that I cannot seem to break. What to do?


Dear Colorblind,

This question is so old that it is practically a point of proposal management theology. Let’s start with the basic principle that any piece of writing needs a review by someone who was not involved in the writing process.

Distance is necessary to get clarity, see errors, and find ways to make the document stronger. This is why color reviews exist in the first place. On the other hand, the formal review process as it has evolved in proposal management literature is time-consuming, energy-intensive, and often cumbersome.

Furthermore, when the date is set artificially early in anticipation of a sub-standard document, the expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By forcing the review to take place too early, thereby depriving writers of the time that they need, your capture manager is virtually guaranteeing a sub-standard product in advance.

As you say, it is a vicious cycle. If you cannot make your capture manager see the logic of this argument, I suggest exploring other ways to accomplish the goal of a review without the burden of a formal color review. For example, ask the writers of different sections to take a break for 4–6 hours on a staggered basis over a day or two, and give a smaller number of reviewers online access during that time for an off-cycle virtual review of each section. Comments can be posted or discussed via phone or email.

On your next proposal, consider asking writers to post their work every day and asking reviewers to give feedback early and often rather than waiting for the formal review. First-time writers might cringe at this idea, but the good, experienced writers will welcome it.

These are just a couple of ideas, and I wish I could tell you that there is a sure-fire way to fix this problem. It is worth noting, however, that the proposal manager needs to own the proposal schedule. You should get input and suggestions on the schedule from the capture manager, but not let the capture manager make the decisions. If he or she does not agree with your schedule, that is the time to escalate and make a common-sense case to the next level of authority.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor


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Lohfeld Consulting