Tag Archive for Stage-Gate

Using software to improve your capture competitiveness in 2014


Next week the 2014 Federal Government Contractor race begins.  The competitive landscape will just get more intense.  Last week, Bob Lohfeld, CEO of Lohfeld Consulting Group, wrote the article 2014 realities force companies to change tactics in Washington Technology.  They surveyed 300 Federal Contractors to assess where they are today in their capture process and where they plan to invest in 2014 to improve their capture competitiveness.  The article tells you why change is needed by most and what most intend to change.  In this article I address the how – as in how you can actually get to where you need to be and beyond.  I explain how software, the new generation of Work Management systems represented by CorasWorks, can be a differentiator in this increasingly competitive marketplace.

First, a few key takeaways from the Lohfeld article:

  • Only 22% of the 300 companies surveyed felt that they had a competitive capture process that was a) defined, b) repeatable, and c) well-managed.
  • 49% of the survey respondents planned to invest to improve their capture process.
  • Another 24% believe they need to improve pricing methods and 22% need improvement in the quality of their proposals.

In summary, most Federal Contractors have a lot of room to improve the effectiveness of their capture process, capture analytics, and pricing approaches to be at a top competitive level.  It starts by defining your process, including the phases, activities, methods, and decision making approaches.  But, to be competitive in 2014 you have to ensure that you not only have a process but ensure it is standardized across your company, is repeatable, is flexible enough to tailor as things change, is measurable, and provides good management visibility to enable educated decision-making. Translating this defined approach into software systems that drive the process and support its management will accomplish this. The new generation of Work Management systems like CorasWorks makes this practical and raises the bar.  The mix of people, process, and technology as applied to the capture function of Federal Contractors is in a big state of transformation.

Let’s look at where most competitors are in terms of their systems to support their capture process…

The Situation

Based upon my many discussions with Federal Government Contractors, here is what I would define as the norm for mid-size to larger organizations:

  • They have a commercial CRM/Opportunity Management system.  The most common are Deltek GovWin CRM, Microsoft CRM, Salesforce and Oracle Siebel.  For small businesses, Zoho CRM is up-and-coming.
  • They have a “modern” document management (DM) system.  They are off file shares.  The most common are SharePoint, Documentum, eRoom, and Alfresco. I estimate that half are using SharePoint as their primary DM system.
  • The majority use their DM system to manage Proposal Development, basically to store documents.  Each proposal is usually siloed.  A smaller portion also have a commercial, proprietary Proposal Automation system such as Privia or VPC.
  • Reporting is all over the map, pulling from different systems.

Limitations of the Status Quo

The current status quo noted above is limiting and constraining.  Here are the realities of this situation:

  • Siloed, mostly proprietary systems – the core systems noted above are greatly siloed.  The systems aren’t usually connected.  Even within systems, like the DM systems, the information is in silos. In addition, within the same organizations they often have different systems or instances of the system for the same purpose. The glue for capture activity is ad hoc email, excel, and navigation links. It is everything except a unified, manageable system to support a defined capture process.
  • The process is not embedded in the software – if they have a defined process it is usually on the whiteboard, in a 100+ page manual, and, in people’s heads.  At best, they might have broken the activities of the process into sections stored as documents or web page narratives. The capture process, the activities, the work to be done is not “instantiated” in a software system that structures the process, captures the activity, drives the results, and measures progress.
  • No Phase-Gate based process system – the religion of capture is by definition a Phase-Gate based process. The best processes have systems to track the activities and automate the work. Yet, most organizations don’t have a process-based system to use for capture. Instead, they tend to leverage CRM databases or document management to do parts of the work. Then, to address process needs they do a great deal of manual work.  They simply lack a process-based system.
  • Lack of Work Automation – the day-to-day work is still incredibly manual vs. automated which results in lost productivity and inconsistencies in results.
  • Little Real time Visibility – given the above, the real-time visibility of executives, managers, and contributors into capture is limited. In most cases organizations invest a great amount of effort to manually put information together for gate reviews, executive reviews, and briefings, often repeatedly “repackaging” the same data (hosted in myriad documents) into templates or formats du jour—an unbelievable waste of time.
  • Advanced Management Tools are missing – capture process analytics, portfolio optimization, real-time reporting, capture M&S/B&P burn-down, resource allocation management – largely doesn’t exist. The core data for capture activity isn’t captured in a way to drive these management capabilities.

If the above sounds a bit like where you are, that is okay because 60-70% of your competitors are also in that place. The question is how to do better.

How to Get Ahead of the Pack

The design of software systems has greatly changed over the last 5 years to accommodate collaborative processes such as capture. We provide software, particularly Work Management software that, when combined with good capture process definition, will get you ahead of the pack. Our approach is simply different than the databases, document management systems and proprietary applications of the past.  Here are the core elements…

  • Purpose Built, Off-the-Shelf Solution – We put the capture process front and center. We have a purpose-built, off-the-shelf base solution called CorasWorks Capture and Proposal Management. It is built specially to address the full life-cycle of capture. This provides an out-of-the-box integrated system. It brings all of the core parts of the capture process together.  But it is— by design—just the start.
  • Phase-Gate Based Process System – Our solution is designed from the ground-up to support the full capture life-cycle. This means that at its core it is designed to support a collaborative Phase-Gate based process and to automate and track the capture activity. Our design gives you the foundation for your process.
  • Unique Flexibility - Our solution is built using the CorasWorks Work Management platform which runs on Microsoft SharePoint. This platform approach makes the solution open (vs. proprietary) and uniquely flexible. Thus, organizations are able to easily embed their defined process, their language, their data to capture, and their activities into the system. In fact, it is so open, flexible, and non-proprietary that our customers are able to customize it and enhance it on their own, and even, create new features and completely separate applications that support the capture process. As a result, organizations are able to create a capture system that is a competitive differentiator.
  • On and Within SharePoint – As above, our solution and our platform runs on SharePoint which we use for data, security and administration. If you already own SharePoint, then we leverage your existing investment and skills and lower your costs. In addition, it means that it is a native part of your existing work environment on SharePoint and can natively connect to and interact with other existing information and applications.
  • Work Automation Drives Consistency and Analytics – With the above, a great deal of the work becomes automated. By automating the user actions and activities based upon your defined process, the work is done more efficiently, in a consistent way, and you are then empowered to have real-time visibility, reporting, and analytics.
  • The Glue for Capture – Our Work Management platform contains a comprehensive integration framework to integrate with external systems such as your CRM, HR, ERP, Contracts and Program and Project Management systems. This puts your CorasWorks based Capture system in the middle of the activity serving as the glue to bring it all together. For instance, many Federal Contractors leverage Deltek products.  A common integration for capture processes is with Deltek GovWin IQ and GovWin Capture Management (their CRM, read a case study of this in Leveraging CorasWorks to integrate Deltek GovWin CRM with SharePoint-based Capture and Proposal system).

Quick ROI and Continuous Improvement

There are two practical benefits to adopting a CorasWorks-powered approach for capture: Quick ROI and Continuous Improvement.

The pricing and cost of our software and solutions is incremental so you have a low cost to start. You can also get up and running very quickly, usually faster than proprietary systems and way faster than custom development.  And, the flexibility of our software allows you to decide where and when you want to address needs.  The result is a Quick ROI from the start.

In addition, in the past, when you had to buy proprietary software or invest to custom develop it, you were locked in. Improvement was too hard and costly. Where CorasWorks really excels is empowering you to continuously improve your process (now instantiated via software) and the results you get. The unique flexibility of CorasWorks means that you can have it your way to start, learn, then easily and cost-effectively change the software to get better.

People, process, technology – have the right mix and you’ll be on top.


Building a Solution Catalog? Start with These 4 Core Work Management Solutions

Are you building out a re-usable solution catalog?  If you use SharePoint as an application platform, you should.  This is how you get tremendous leverage, save costs, decrease time to app, reduce risk, and, cut out lots of “noise”.  In this article, I’ll give you some context of why you should have a generic, re-usable solution catalog.  Then, I cover 4 core Work Management solutions that I’d recommend you add to your catalog.

Don’t have a Solution Catalog?  You are not alone.

Most folks started with SharePoint for Portals, Intranets, and general collaboration, largely via collaborative Team Sites.  When the idea of doing more on top occurs, such as business applications, they tend to think of development.  Over the years, as the standard enterprise application development teams have been migrating to the SharePoint world, the habit of doing “classic” development of applications has infiltrated the SharePoint world.  So, for anything that sounds like a business application, they do requirements gathering, waterfall development, custom code development, and hopefully, end up with an application.  This approach doesn’t lead to a catalog of re-usable solutions because it is technology focused vs. business focused.

This is unfortunate.  SharePoint, particularly in an environment enabled by CorasWorks, is the ideal environment for re-useable applications.   All of the elements are there to dramatically improve the process of delivering applications and be able to serve demand based upon known, re-usable frameworks and “base solutions”.   It is not just about the cost of developing a single application, but, about how you can transform the process into a virtuous cycle that actually drives business innovation and continuous improvement.

Envision A World of “Magic Apps”

Imagine, a world where there were 10 basic application frameworks or design patterns for information work.  These 10 were the core elements for 90% of what most business users needed.  If you had these 10 pre-packaged as templates in your Solution Catalog, you’d be able to reduce time to solution 5x, cut your costs in half, and, be able to focus right in on the key features that drive productivity and enable innovation.

The challenge is that these 10 core design patterns aren’t easy to see.  We get focused on the specifics of a requested app and fail to step back and see the pattern which is necessary to build up your generic catalog of what I call “magic apps”.  Here is an example…

A business customer comes to you asking for a Materials Storage Request solution for managing the storage of manufacturing chemicals.  They have come up with some requirements.  Of course, the application is unique or so they think.  But, you happen to have a Work Request Management magic app in your catalog.  You whip it out, spin up a site, spend a couple hours tweaking some words, fields, navigation to “localize” your magic app to the “language” of the customer.  Then, you engage with them.  All of the sudden you are not doing requirements, but rather, you are in the stage of “finishing” the application.  You immediately have them working with the app, thinking through the process as they touch and feel it.  In this imaginary world, good things happen all around.  But, is it really fantasy?

4 Base Work Management “Magic Apps” for your Catalog

If it is real, then what are the 10 magic apps for your catalog?  We’ll start with the basic 4 for work management that we use with new customers.  They cover a lot of needs.  Each is targeted at structured work management – getting specific work done.  However, their design is different because of the context of the work.  They are:

  • Team Work Management
  • Work Request Management
  • Role-Based Process Management
  • Stage-Based Process Management

We’ll take a look at each below.  Along the way you’ll get examples and see how they build and differ.

NOTE: I tend to think of Solutions as the somewhat generic way to meet a need.  The Application is the solution that is applied to a specific problem for a specific person or group.  Example: we provide coffee (solution), do you want a Mocha Chai Latte or a Yukon Drip with Soy (specific applications).

Team Work Management

This solution is used by a self-contained team to get work done amongst themselves.  It is not a Team Site where a team can generally collaborate.  It is purpose specific and structured to help the team get something specific done.  A key difference the others that I’ll cover below is that you don’t have external people requesting things or external parties involved in the process.  The team is creating the work and managing the work.

Examples for this would include: Task Management, Marketing Collateral Management, Idea Management, Meeting Management, Knowledge Bases, Design & Work Standards.

This is really the most basic solution for work management.  In a SharePoint-context the key is that the users are working in a controlled UI, with a managed set of things they can see and actions they can take.  This separation of the work from the content (which would be users working directly in native SharePoint in a list or library) is what gets you into structured work management and gives you control, consistency, and user task automation.

Work Request Management

How many apps depend on one team getting requests from a) individuals or b) other teams?  A lot.  The key difference in this solution design is that there is an external individual or group that is making a request.  Then, a specific team manages these requests through to completion.  By its nature this work is “interrupt” driven – the team is responding to outsiders.

Examples include:  a Help Desk, Change Requests, Materials Storage Requests, Product Information Requests, Security Clearance Requests, Contract Review Requests. (see article with examples)

In a sense these apps are just one step up from Team Work Management.  The external Request and the interactivity with the requestor are the additions.  A standard application contains the request form, the work management displays and user activity, and reporting.

Role-Based Process Management

SharePoint is natively content-based and many of us are used to the idea of simple sequential workflows to individuals for document approvals.  With this type of solution, we change the design to provide a common UI where people in their roles vs. as individuals, usually cross-functionally, participate in the process of reviewing requests/submissions to arrive at an outcome.

Examples include: Contract Review, Policy and Procedure Management, Legal Matter Management, Capital Approval, Project Proposal Review.

The standard application is a UI with tabs for different roles and the work management to control the flow and the activity that occurs within each role.

Stage-Based Process Management

This is similar to role-based process management yet fundamentally different.  The process is typically a Stage-Gate based process.  Thus, instead of roles or individuals, work flows through a set of standard Stages.  This solution is designed to open up a process and allow for collaboration within the Stages.

Examples includes: New Project Onramps, Idea Management, Business Development Capture & Proposal Processes, Knowledge Creation/Publishing Processes, R&D Product Innovation, Patent & Trademark Reviews.  (See article with examples)

Again, you typically have a UI with tabs, but here, each represents a Stage vs. a Role.  Then, you have the work management to automate the activity within each stage and promote work through its gate to the next stage.

Build the Catalog.

The above is a bit abstract.  It should be, that is the key to building your catalog of “magic apps”.  You are abstracting from the specific to the general.

My recommendations are simple.  Decide that you will build a Solution Catalog for your organization.  Understand the standard business design patterns that apply in a workplace.  Measure how many solutions you add to the catalog per quarter and how much you use them.  Promote the applications that you deliver leveraging the catalog.  You’ll have better results.

Now of course, I’d highly recommend that you include lots of CorasWorks in your apps.  Our software gives you the consistent framework as your base and we have many base solutions to leverage to augment your catalog.  The great flexibility of CorasWorks allows you to easily customize the “magic apps” of your catalog to meet specific needs and enhance, extend and integrate them.  It is time to get your virtuous cycle humming…


Design More Effective Collaborative Processes by including “external” people and activities

Most of us are familiar with workflow approval processes using SharePoint.  These are targeted towards efficiently routing items for approval usually in a serial fashion with known actors.  However, a great deal of information work is done through collaborative processes.  And usually, this work has a large impact on organizational results.  The key here is to be organizationally effective.  In this article, I’ll define collaborative processes and look at a general design approach that includes not just the core process but the “external” people and activities that drive a higher degree of organizational effectiveness.

What I Mean by Collaborative Processes

Collaborative processes are ways of working where the work progresses through stages that involve a number of people and activities.  Basically, individuals are often not the decision makers.  Rather, work progresses via collaborative group decision making.  Often these processes are oriented towards making the right (or at least a better) decision through collaboration and incorporating relevant activities.  Examples of such processes are:

  • Demand Management: New Project Initiation – onramp to project management
  • Business Development-Capture and Proposal Management – working the process of responding to RFP’s/tendors
  • Policy Management – getting policies out and incorporating feedback
  • R&D Innovation – managing R&D proposals through the funnel
  • Idea Management – the process of capturing, reviewing and deciding on new ideas

The Core Process

When you go about designing such processes, in a SharePoint context, most people initially focus on the core process.  This is typically a single SharePoint site.  Usually, the process is defined as a set of stages for items to pass through (see this article for a more detailed discussion of stage-based applications).  In each stage, items are acted upon, people weigh in, and, an item must pass through a gate to move to the next stage.  The main participants are the core process members.  CorasWorks adds various features to this core process to enable and enhance collaboration amongst these participants.

In most situations, this core process meets the expected requirements. Just getting this done is worth declaring victory for your team. However, we have found that organizations are usually able to make the process more effective by going beyond this core process and incorporating external people and activities in their overall design of their system.

Broader Perspective of Collaborative Process

Below is a schematic illustrating a broader perspective of your collaborative process.  The items in green are the expected elements.  You have the core process and the engagement of the “standard” process members.  The three other elements (in blue) extend the process to engage additional people and activities to flesh out the system.  I’ll discuss each of these three extended elements below.


External People

Imagine you are part of a product team.  You all have your ideas.  You put a process in place to enable your product group to work on them in a more collaborative way.  This works.  However, you could broaden your scope of who is engaged in three ways to improve the effectiveness.  First, you could open up the idea funnel to enable people outside of the group to submit ideas.  Second, you can make those ideas visible to the broad community and allow them to collaborate and enhance the ideas – outside of your control.  Third, you can vet your ideas with the external community.  In effect, you take your internal idea and push it out to the broad community or to external targeted groups – allowing them to also engage with other in vetting your idea.

Simply, you are taking your black box process, that has historically been fully controlled by the few and opening it up to external communities.  The objective is to drive effectiveness by a broader set of eyes and experiences on the idea.

Supporting Activities and Teams

You are working to get things through your process.  Within each stage there are various activities.  Most are done by the process members.  But often, the activities involve people that are outside of the core process membership.  Imagine that you are working on business development proposals and you need to resource people.  You may want to drop in a programmatic activity that engages HR and other “sources” of people to check the box on the required people resources.

Some of these activities can be ad hoc.  Others that are common to your process deserve a more permanent and structured way of working.  In a SharePoint context, it is important to note that others work where and how they work.  So, HR might want your activity to nicely become a part of their place and way of working rather then HR folks having to go to your place and work your way.  Thus, you agree on how to work, and then, drop in the element to tie your process activity to their work space.  Over time these “activities” of your process start to become standard ways of working amongst a broader group of people.

Downstream Activities and Teams

So, your process is all set and you start processing.  Imagine that you are working to drive new projects for products and services.  At the end of your process, the approved projects appear in your Portfolio.  You are done – right?  Yet, the project is not.  So, what you now need is a nice, effective handoff from your process to the next downstream activity, maybe the PMO to handle a group of like projects, or, to a project manager.

The key to the handoff is to do it in a programmatic manner and set it up so that the receiver of the handoff has access to the information and decisions that were made upstream.  Likewise, as they do their work on the project, you’d want a certain access to or flow of information back to you to keep track of the results of your decision and help you improve the effectiveness of your process.

As you define this you are again starting to define a broader “workstream” of related activities.  As a design note, these types of workstream are loosely coupled.  This means that each process/activity can live on its own but connects to the other upstream and downstream activities.

Take a Broader Perspective, Start Small and Allow it To Evolve

Collaborative processes are very important to organization success.  You need them to be effective because you are making decisions with a broad impact.  By all means, start by focusing in on the core process and getting the stages and basic activities right.  However, step back and consider the three additional elements outlined above early in your thinking. This broader perspective will enable you to design more effective processes.  As always, I’d say think broadly, start small, and evolve.  The best processes evolve forward with input, lessons learned, and, results. CorasWorks provides you with the flexibility to start simply and enhance and extend your system to add the new elements – take advantage of it.


Using Stage-Gate Processes for More Effective Collaborative Work

Stage-Gate processes have been around for many years. They grew up to serve the needs of Product Development.  Over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of customers opting to use this type of design for their applications across many other functions (vs. role-based application design and classic workflow).  The main driver of this new adoption is that organizations are finding this type of design to be more effective for purposeful, collaborative work.  It lends itself to bringing a group of people together to collectively drive the results of the process.  In this article, I’ll look at the overall design of a Stage-Gate process, provide examples of different uses, and talk about how it drives effectiveness for collaborative work processes.

Stage-Gate Process Design

It starts with people aligning on the high-level Stages an item will go through.  Each Stage is then represented visually to make it easy for the group to see where things stand.  Within each Stage there are a set of activities, which must be completed for an item to pass through the Gate and progress to the next Stage.  This is really the power of this design in that the activity is separated from the top-level Stage flow.  The activities can change, but it doesn’t affect the Stages or the Gate.

Below is a screenshot of a standard CorasWorks-based Stage-Gate application.  It is used to manage an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery – Indefinite Quantity) contract, which is a business development vehicle most often used by Federal Contractors.  The Contractor gets a contract.  The government then issues Task Orders, each of which is bid on by a number of contractors.  Each Task Order goes through a set of Stages along its life-cycle.  Decisions are made and work happens to drive the Task Orders forward.


IDIQ Program - New Task Order - ITES - annotated


Above we are showing the New Task Order stage.  The Task Orders come in here and are reviewed and prepped.  When ready, they are pushed to the Bid Assessment stage where the team decides whether to bid on the Task Order.  The key elements of the design are:

A. Stages – lay out your stages as you want them

B. Stage Management Display – where you see the items in that Stage and can access information, report, slice, dice, and take action

C. Actions/Activities – custom set of actions to be used in the Stage to get the work done that needs to be done


An important part of the design is considering what is actually moving through the Stages.  It is common to think of each item above as a record of information (list/database).  However, with CorasWorks you can associate related information and sites that act like folders.  For instance, in the example above when a new Task Order is entered, a related Task Order collaboration site is automatically provisioned.  This site is where the detail information is and the detail collaboration happens.  In other scenarios, it might be a project site.  Or, an item might just have related information from within SharePoint or external data sources which is surfaced as a virtual workspace.  The upshot is that you have a simple top-level process to track the flow through the stages, but you have access to a very deep set of supporting information and activity for each item.


Examples of Stage-Gate Processes

Now let’s look at examples of different types of stage-gate processes and how they might differ.


R&D Innovation Process for Consumer Products

This is a classic application.  One customer is using this design to manage the full-life cycle for molecules it creates to be used for fragrances and flavors in consumer products.  The molecules are created in a lab and go into the process.  They go through a multi-phase process with many detailed activities (more than 50 activities are individually tracked).  The process takes about 3 years and they have about 700 molecules at a time.


e-Policy Management for HR

One customer uses this design for their corporate policies.  They have converted more than 600 corporate policies from documents into living, digital articles.  Each policy is submitted, reviewed, and published through a series of Stages involving Finance, Legal, Admin personnel, and more.  Users are empowered to ask questions, rate the articles and make comments that can be used for revisions.


Demand Management: New Project Initiation for Everyone

This is a common use of stage-gate.  The objective is to have a visible, collaborative review process BEFORE projects are initiated.  It is part of the evolving approach for Demand Management.  We have a standard solution for this where projects are proposed and then put through the stages leading to an approved process.  When approved, this information is used to kick off the actual project management site (a downstream activity).


Application Development for IT

A stage-gate process is great for application development.  You have your basic stages of the application development process that can span the full life cycle from proposal to completion or that might just cover the development process itself (because you are using the New Project Initiation process above as an upstream activity-right!).  When the project is approved you can have a project management/collaboration site that is used to manage the development work and the related information.  This site is effectively what is going through the stages.


Proposal Development for Business Development

Many BD organizations, particularly our Federal Contractor customers, use a standardized Stage-Gate process (originated by a company named Shipley) to manage business development.   This is very high level.  In addition, each Proposal they are working on has its own Stage-Gate process using a standardized system for color reviews.  Thus, in this scenario, you have a system with two-levels of Stage-Gates.  The top level is the overall BD process with each “opportunity” being managed.  Then, each opportunity that has made it to the Proposal Development stage has a collaborative site for the actual proposal work.


Effectiveness for Collaborative Work

The power of the Stage-Gate design is that it gets a group of people on the same page of where things stand and what needs to happen to achieve desired results.  It is simple to understand and easy to use.  The key is that the people involved will be aligned on the top stages.  From there, the systems empowers all of the people involved to work together collaboratively to achieve the result.

CorasWorks has built in a number of features over the years that enable effective solutions for stage-gating.  They enable the core solution and the ability to flexibly support the many different types of activities and changes to activities to support the process.  In addition, with CorasWorks on SharePoint you have the ability to engage “external” people in the process for upstream, downstream and supporting activities.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of a stage-gate process comes by having the visibility, input and the work coming from different people, but, aligned on the core objective of your process.