Have you ever worn a black hat?
In GovCon, a Black Hat Review (Black Hat) is one of the color team reviews typically conducted during the capture phase. It is a formal process to 1) analyze the top competitors’ likely strategy and 2) identify solutions to improve one’s own strategy and positioning.
A Black Hat Review is one of the best tools to include in your capture and proposal management toolkit, as it allows you to think like your competition and expose the strengths and weaknesses of your team and your competitors.
When conducted early enough in the bid cycle with good inputs from knowledgeable reviewers, it can provide great insight for the capture manager to use in developing the winning solution. Here are four ways to ensure a more successful Black Hat Review.
DEFINE INFORMATION YOU WANT TO GATHER OR LEARN
Often, the proposal manager or a specialized consultant is selected to be the Black Hat Review lead or facilitator. The review lead must manage the review process, set expectations, maintain the schedule, and motivate the review team. The review lead works with the capture team to determine what information is required. This means identifying what information has been gathered on competitors, the customer, and the competitive environment. Gaps in this knowledge are the focus of the review. Since a Black Hat Review is conducted early in the capture phase, you will most likely use a Draft RFP or previous RFP as guidance for evaluation criteria and anticipated proposal content. The review lead prepares open-ended solutioning questions, written instructions, a kick-off briefing, and presentation templates for the review team. The lead will help reviewers focus their information gathering and will guide them in developing their presentations.
DETERMINE BLACK HAT REVIEWERS AND ASSIGN ROLES
Black Hat reviewers may come from the prime contractor, teammates, or outside consultants. Reviewers must have knowledge that will be beneficial and they must be willing to complete assignments. Reviewers may be capture managers, BD managers, proposal managers, program managers, business operations personnel, or subject matter experts. You may also include former employees of competitors and the customer, or others who have competitive insights. It is important to ensure there are no OCI issues when using former customer or competitor employees, consultants, or even personnel from a teaming partners in the review.
The review lead assigns reviewers to a specific ‘team’ based on their expertise and experience. This also builds relationships across companies and ensures teams have a diverse background. The review lead provides reference material prior to the review so reviewers can become knowledgeable of the RFP and research their assigned role. When the capture manager, Black Hat lead, and reviewers commit the time to prepare before the review, they will be able to participate more fully and produce high caliber solutions.
FACILITATE THE BLACK HAT REVIEW PROCESS
The review lead prepares a kick-off meeting, details the review process, sets expectations for team presentations, and provides reference materials, including capture plan information. The lead also provides the solutioning questions and a presentation template. After the Kick-Off, reviewers split into their assigned teams to develop their solutions. The three types of teams in a Black Hat Review consist of:
- Proposed Prime Team (who we will call Great Prime) – One team of reviewers assumes the identity of Great Prime and completes a SWOT analysis of their team (Great Prime and subcontractors). They also complete a SWOT analysis of Competitor A, B, and C. They respond to solutioning questions as they complete the presentation template for the Black Hat Review.
- Competitor Teams (Competitor A, Competitor B, and Competitor C) – For the top 2 or 3 competitors, reviewers assume the identity of their assigned competitor. They complete a SWOT analysis of their team, which includes the competitor and their potential subcontractors. They also complete a SWOT analysis of Great Prime and the other Competitor teams. They respond to solutioning questions as they complete the presentation template for the Black Hat Review.
- Customer Team – One team of reviewers assumes the role and adopts the mindset of the customer. These reviewers must thoroughly understand the RFP and have knowledge of the customer. Someone who previously supported the customer in a technical or management role or a former acquisition officer would be very beneficial to this team.
To get the most from your Black Hat, the reviewers need to be honest – brutally honest. It is okay to note weaknesses in a company – even if it is your company. Reviewers must look beyond company clichés to expose any weaknesses by analyzing the competitors and prime from the customer’s point of view. The review lead should include these topics in the kick-off.
After completing the solutioning questions and presentations, the teams reassemble and deliver their presentations to the entire group. Any team can ask questions or probe for additional information. The customer team scores the presentations in accordance with the evaluation criteria. Some companies even declare a ‘winner’ and award prizes.
IMPLEMENT BLACK HAT-DRIVEN STRATEGIES INTO THE PROPOSAL
The ultimate goal of a Black Hat Review is to understand the competitive landscape to drive improvements to your company’s position before you write the proposal. To do this, the capture manager must transform the Black Hat data into actionable strategies. The outputs of the Black Hat Review help to leverage the prime contractor’s strengths and the competitors’ weaknesses, while mitigating prime weaknesses and competitors’ strengths. Once you have thoroughly evaluated the competition and your own team, you may be faced with several actions:
- Alter your team. As you uncover competitive intelligence, you may consider teaming with a competitor to increase your PWin. You may decide you need an additional teaming partner to overcome a weakness.
- Validate your win strategies. Use recommendations from the Black Hat to update and clarify initial win strategies and proposed solutions and to develop ghosting strategies. Recommendations can validate current solutions or cause you to rethink an entire strategy.
- Decide to ‘No Bid’. The review may uncover a competitor’s strength that you cannot overcome. You may determine the cost of winning is too high, or that you have insufficient time to position your company. Any of these may lead you to a No Bid decision, which is a valuable outcome for the review.
A Black Hat Review is key to developing a winning capture strategy based on extensive research and the collective knowledge of your review team. Download our Capture Management Toolkit, which includes a SWOT Analysis template for a Black Hat Review, qualification matrix, capability matrix template, and other customizable capture planning tools to improve your capture success!