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Black Hat Reviews: Uncovering Vulnerabilities in Government Contracting Strategies

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In GovCon, a Black Hat Review is one of the color team reviews typically conducted during capture. It is a formal process to analyze the top competitors’ likely strategy and identify solutions to improve the offeror’s own strategy and positioning. A Black Hat Review is key to developing a winning capture strategy based on extensive research and the collective knowledge of your proposed team.

A Black Hat Review is a great tool to include in your strategy process of knowing the potential RFP competition, as it allows you to think like the competition and expose competitors' strengths and weaknesses and more importantly, the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

Conduct the review early in the bid cycle with inputs from knowledgeable reviewers, it provides insight for the Capture Manager to develop winning solutions.


What Information is Gathered?

Often, the Proposal Manager or a specialized consultant is selected as the Black Hat Review Lead or Facilitator. The Lead manages the review process, sets expectations, maintains the schedule, and motivates the review team. The Black Hat Review Lead also works with capture to identify and organize information 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 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 Black Hat Review team. The Review Lead helps reviewers focus their information gathering and may guide them in developing their presentations.


Who Should Participate in Black Hat Reviews?

Reviewers must have beneficial knowledge and they must be willing to complete assignments. Black Hat reviewers may be:

  • From the prime contractor, teammates, or specialized BD consultants.

  • Former employees of competitors and customer.

  • Others who have competitive insights.

  • Capture Managers, BD managers, Proposal Managers, Program Managers, business operations personnel, or subject matter experts.

It is important to ensure there are no OCI issues when reviewers are former customer or competitor employees, consultants, or even personnel from a teaming partner.  

Assign reviewers to a specific ‘team’ based on their expertise. Each projected competitor team and the offeror has a separate Black Hat team, with a mix of subcontractors and different roles. Provide reference material prior to the review so reviewers can study the RFP and research their assigned team. Reviewers who are prepared and fully engaged during the review produce higher caliber solutions.


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 (we will call them Best Prime) – One team of reviewers assumes the identity of Best Prime and completes a SWOT analysis of their proposed team, including subcontractors.

Competitor Teams – For the top two or three competitors, reviewers assume the identity of their assigned competitor team. They complete a SWOT analysis of their team, which includes the proposed competitor and their subcontractors. They respond to solutioning questions as they complete the Black Hat Review presentation template.

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 is very beneficial to this team.

To get the most from your Black Hat Review, the reviewers need to be honest – brutally honest. It is okay to note weaknesses in a company – even if it is your own 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. The idea is to think like the customer and discover information that can help the bidding team improve their offer.


What about the Results of a Black Hat?

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 output of the Black Hat Review helps 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:

Modify 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 shows areas that need improvement.

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 for a win. Any of these may lead you to a No Bid decision, which is a valuable outcome from the Black Hat Review.

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!


This is the 8th in a 13-part series focused on learning about Government RFPs and your response to RFPs as a government Contractor. Be sure and download our complete guide, Government RFPs: What you Need to Know. Check back each week for another installment in the series. Happy Bidding!

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OneTeam is a complete, secure, cloud-based collaboration platform for GovCons to track, qualify, capture, propose and win more contracts with fewer resources by streamlining and automating processes. OneTeam was designed and developed by a federal government contractor to address the lack of resources and time, as well as the pain associated with winning government contracts. Our team of Proposal Managers, Capture Managers, and BD Managers write extensively about business development topics and best practices.


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