Engaging the Program Manager During the Opportunity/Capture Process

Immediately after the pursuit gate decision, engage the Program Manager. The Program Manager must have input into the opportunity/capture strategy and will help validate past performance, management, and technical solutions.


Best practice is to name the Opportunity/Capture Manager and permanent Program Manager as an output of the affirmative pursuit gate decision. Ideally, the named Program Manager will be immediately available to support the opportunity/capture effort.

Customers regard the Program Manager as a key position, even when not stated in the bid request. Customers recount poor experiences when Program Managers are parachuted in post-award. If suitable proposed and expected Program Managers are unavailable and are changed post-award, customers see this as a negative bait-and-switch tactic.

Unfortunately, the named Program Manager might not be available for several reasons:

  • Currently managing another program
  • Work overlaps with another assignment
  • Not yet employed by the organization
  • Size of opportunity or length of capture effort restricts immediate assignment

When the named Program Manager isn’t available, seek an experienced (if temporary) replacement rather than asking the Opportunity/Capture Manager to fill that role. The skills required of the Opportunity/Capture and Program Managers differ.

The discriminating features of most proposed programs are the individuals assigned to key positions. One of the most important opportunity/capture strategies is to position the customer to prefer—or, at a minimum, accept—these key personnel. If another individual must assume the Program Manager role, persuade the customer that the named Program Manager is actively involved in solution development, is the ideal person for the position, and is personally committed to manage and deliver the program.

Carefully tailor the Program Manager’s resume. Specifically address recent experience and performance on similar programs. Emphasize the Program Manager’s role in risk management and reduction.

Best Practices

1. Develop the opportunity/capture strategy collaboratively with the Program Manager.

The initial draft opportunity/capture plan requires extensive input from the Program Manager on the solution, potential risks, and incumbency issues.

The breadth of the Program Manager’s role varies depending on the products and services offered. A large complex systems contract might require significant engineering design and configuration management input, whereas a services contract might be entirely within the expertise of the Program Manager.

The Program Manager is best positioned to identify the cost and potential risks to the solution schedule.

Incumbency is a major consideration, given the industry consensus that incumbents win 60 to 80 percent of recompetes. If you’re the incumbent and the existing Program Manager is to continue, you have excellent but potentially biased insight regarding the customer’s view of your performance. Corroborate this view with the customer performance reports, surveys, and subsequent opportunity/capture activities.

Incumbency relates closely to relevant experience and past performance. The most relevant experience and performance data in order are:

  • Performance on the current program
  • Performance on other programs with this customer
  • Performance on similar programs involving key individuals who will be named for this program
  • Performance on similar programs

The Program Manager should be in the best position to identify which programs are most relevant and obtain quantitive performance data.

2. Showcase the Program Manager with the customer.

Introduce key program personnel early and repeatedly in the opportunity/capture process by assigning them a prominent role in presentations to customers, bidders’ conferences, site visits, and industry day events. Showcase their skills as knowledgeable, customer-focused communicators. Convince customer personnel that your key program personnel, starting with the Program Manager, are capable and compatible.

Prepare, rehearse, and coach program personnel to listen attentively, interact professionally, and present confidently.

As you develop rapport with the individuals in the customer organization, seek feedback on the incumbents and our key personnel—specifically, the Program Manager. Identify who likes or dislikes the Program Manager, assess the reasons why, and plan actions to reinforce or mitigate those perceptions.

If the customer doesn’t want a person, change the person, because the customer’s opinion is the one that matters. Ask customers who they would like to see managing this contract, and then find a way to commit that person to the contract.

3. Delegate select tasks to the Program Manager.

If the Program Manager is to complete the program profitably while meeting the customer’s expectations, he or she must own the solution. Ideally, the Program Manager will build the solution collaboratively with key individuals in the customer’s organization and solution experts in the manager’s own and teaming organizations.

Include your Program Manager in make/buy teaming and workshare discussions, especially on programs with significant service components.

When delivering services, the Program Manager must understand the roles and requirements for every key position and the number of people required. Assign the Program Manager the following tasks:

When you’re attempting to unseat an incumbent

  • Identify and assess the roles and responsibilities within the incumbent team
  • Assess any additional roles and responsibilities required for the new contract
  • Identify internal staff with the right skills and knowledge for each role
  • Prepare to recruit remaining vacancies

When you’re the incumbent

  • Evaluate the customer’s opinion of key individuals
  • Determine who will be retained and in what position
  • Recruit replacements and new personnel if necessary
  • Secure new hires’ commitment to accept positions if offered

When the program is new

  • Identify and assess availability of internal resources
  • Develop a recruiting plan if necessary
  • Determine recruits’ availability and cost
  • Secure recruits’ commitment to accept positions if offered

Additionally, confirm that your Program Manager understands how to manage labor rates and labor categories to prepare a competitive management and service delivery solution.

Leave most price-to-win analysis to specialists, but ask the Program Manager to help define assumptions, test rationale, and supply current data. Use price-to-win data and competitive analysis to improve or revise your assumptions, solution, and pricing approach.

4. Include the Program Manager in teaming discussions.

The Program Manager will manage the winning team, so include them in teaming partner selection and contracting. Discuss and conceptually define responsibilities, level of authority, reporting relationships, customer interface relationships, management systems, customer invoicing, and intercompany invoicing on the contract. In addition, determine each organization’s role and financial responsibility in opportunity/capture management, proposal preparation, and post-submittal and mobilization activities.

Separate the workshare and program management decision. The organization with the best program management capability from the customer’s perspective should manage the program. The organization with the largest workshare might not be the best lead contractor.

5. Ask the Program Manager to present the baseline solution at the proposal kickoff meeting.

As the owner of the solution, ask the Program Manager to demonstrate ownership and understanding by presenting the baseline solution at the proposal kickoff meeting.

6. Keep the entire solution aligned with your evolving strategy.

As the individual with the best overall understanding of the solution, the Program Manager should monitor the teams that are developing the entire solution, management approach, technical solution, past performance, and pricing. Instruct the Program Manager to keep the strategy and solution details aligned.

As part of your opportunity/capture strategy, you decided where to position your solution in the capability/price trade space. Ask your Program Manager to help maintain this position by assuming the following tasks:

  • Explain and justify your capability price position to all contributors.
  • Review your management, technical, and pricing position regularly with leads from each group. Ask each lead to discuss solution refinements and changes.

7. Impose a solution freeze.

Determine who has the authority to freeze the solution, set the date, and make it happen. The Program Manager often has the authority to freeze the solution in a services bid, but the Technical Volume Manager or Chief Engineer often has authority in a complex technical systems bid. In these circumstances, the Program Manager and the Technical Manager or Chief Engineer need to work together early to set an agreed-on date and make sure it happens.

In general, an early solution freeze will lead to a superior proposal with an adequate solution. A late solution freeze will result in a poorly written proposal, wherein evaluators find it much harder to understand the solution and reduce your evaluation score. A late solution freeze will stress the pricing team because the pricing must be adjusted every time the solution changes.

8. Formally transition program responsibility from the Opportunity/Capture Manager to the Program Manager.

The formal transition point is at contract signing, when the customer becomes a new or renewed customer. However, the transition timing varies depending on the capabilities of the individuals, the organizational demands on their time, and the duration of post-submittal activities.

Opportunity/Capture Managers are often asked to manage multiple opportunities so the Program Manager might formally assume responsibility to manage ongoing, post-submittal activities that largely focus on contracting details. When bidding as an incumbent, the Program Manager is already in place and is best positioned to handle post-submittal activity.

For new contracts, make the transition a formal event that includes key customer representatives. Something always goes wrong during transition, so the primary purpose of a formal transition is to clearly state who is responsible for the success of the contract.

9. Increase the contract during delivery by identifying, positioning, proposing, and closing additional tasks.

In addition to managing the quality delivery of contracted services, ask Program Managers to grow the contract by identifying, positioning, proposing, and closing additional tasks. Program Managers report spending as much as 60 percent of their time proposing and closing added tasks.

The motivations of customers for this are mixed:

  • The original budget was knowingly insufficient, and they’re seeking or have secured additional funding
  • The budget has been reduced, forcing a scope change
  • Requirements as written were incorrect or incomplete
  • Improved technology or methods are now available, newly identified, feasible, or accepted
  • Objectives, issues, and requirements have changed
  • The in-place contracting vehicle is the easiest way to purchase

Program Managers are in a unique position with unfettered access to the customer organization. Customers increasingly view contractor personnel as fellow employees or as an extension of their workforce. Hence, contractor personnel are viewed as collaborators, and these contractor recommendations are accepted as the constructive recommendations of experts.

Program Managers and their contracting team are in the ideal position to identify entirely new opportunities in the customer organization. However, they might fail to see or report these opportunities due to their focus on service delivery, remaining billable, and routine daily activities.

Ask Program Managers to devote a small portion of each internal program management meeting to discuss potential new business opportunities.


Engage program management after the pursuit gate decision has been made. Early engagement of the Program Manager allows time to introduce the individual to the customer and influence the stakeholders to prefer your Program Manager and approach. Let the Program Manager drive the solution development, risks, assumptions, and costs, but make sure it stays aligned to the strategy. Agree on a date early to freeze the solution and stick to it.