“Owning and Solving our Customer’s Problems” in Proposals

By Mark Lester, Vice President of Business Development

Mark LesterOperations were my sole focus for the first dozen years of my professional career. I operated satellites, planned air combat missions, troubleshot aircraft navigation systems, engineered and tested next-generation soldier systems, conducted missile defense tests, and orchestrated intelligence gathering operations. So, when my boss asked me to step away from my customer to write a proposal for a new program the customer was inheriting, I was perplexed.

I was focused on customer service and not selling them something from ‘corporate’. A number of questions rushed over me… Was I value-added to the delivery team? What about the big deliverable deadline looming? Didn’t we have a proposal team to write proposals?

My boss quickly realized my dilemma and told me to not worry about the proposal. He switched topics and we had an hour long discussion about the customer. I was back in my comfort zone. We talked about the customer’s challenges and demands for meeting new regulations; how we were making some people and process adjustments to address new emerging needs; how my coworker had an idea for a new tool to help streamline meeting the new regulations, etc. My boss took copious notes, asking me to explain how we were meeting the customer’s needs and what outcomes we were achieving. Ahhh, my boss ‘got it’—no more silly discussions about proposals, but rather a great discussion about the customer and delivery.

At the end of the conversation, my boss handed me his notes and stated “You just wrote the first draft of the proposal.” The bulleted notes were scribbled against a proposal outline the Business Development team had developed from the solicitation. He went on to explain that successful proposals are all about the customer and solving their problems. It was all there—an understanding of the customer’s environment and challenges, our approach to finding the people, processes, and tools to solve those challenges, and quantitative examples of expected outcomes based on previous experience. Since it was organized against the RFP, it was compliant but admittedly still needed some help on being compelling.

This wasn’t what I expected from proposal writing. I agreed to clean up some terminology to ensure it was consistent with the customer’s terms and to create a short flow diagram to show how the new tool would fit into the customer’s processes.

We won the proposal. In fact, our customer said it wasn’t even a close decision despite us being more expensive because our proposal showed we ‘got it’—we got his new mission and personal vision and provided a detailed approach on how we would solve his problems. As a bonus, the proposal write-up largely served as our first deliverable—a program plan. I learned then that the most successful proposals are customer focused, and that those who know the customer best play a vital role in designing the proposal that will win. Who knew customer service would be disguised as a proposal?

Leveraging Communities of Practice to Enhance Solutions

By Russ Wolfe, Vice President of Engineering

RussWolfe150In the 20 years since MTSI was founded, our company has expanded from a small company to a large prime contractor. Today, we have more than 600 employees working in more than 20 locations across the country. MTSI has always benefitted from our employees working together to solve our customer’s most technically difficult challenges. Like any company on a similar growth path, we have had to work to ensure that employees can communicate and collaborate across a geographically dispersed company with multiple divisions and business units. One significant initiative that has helped us accomplish that objective is the MTSI communities of practice (CoPs).

Approximately one year ago, MTSI leadership put the communities of practice into place with the vision that the CoPs would establish “communities” of MTSI employees who have common interests and expertise to share knowledge and best practices, educate one another, and better leverage our collective expertise across the company. In November 2013, five CoPs were established: 1) Acquisition and Program Operations, 2) Systems Engineering and Integration, 3) Mission Assurance, 4) Modeling and Simulation, and 5) Test and Evaluation.

Each CoP was initially tasked with identifying the people, processes, tools, and technologies within MTSI that were related to each CoP area. The CoPs developed the MTSI Capability Database, which identifies specialty areas within each CoP, an assessment of our level of expertise in each specialty, a short description of our relevant capabilities and tools, and the MTSI subject matter experts (SMEs) for each CoP specialty. The database informs MTSI’s assessment of new business development opportunities and proposal development efforts, informing data call and RFI responses, etc. It helps to ensure internal awareness of corporate competencies and strengths, and that the full breadth of the company’s capabilities is brought to bear on every major proposal effort.

The CoPs have also facilitated knowledge sharing and best practices, which directly ties to benefits for our customers and industry partners. Each of the CoPs has been using the MTSI internal Get Connected collaboration tool to share articles and recently published guidelines and standards within the CoP. In addition, many CoP members have found this tool to be very useful for posting questions pertaining to real-world problems that they are trying to solve for their customers. In only a few hours, or even minutes, the individual’s question may receive multiple inputs from other SMEs within the CoP. Having a capability like this at our fingertips enables our MTSI employees to be more responsive to our customers’ challenges by leveraging the collective knowledge that exists across MTSI.

Over this past year, many of the CoPs have also conducted training classes to help educate fellow CoP members, increasing the collective knowledge of our employees and stimulating discussions about solutions that can be leveraged across projects and customers. The training provided by the CoPs has included such topics as “Understanding the DoD POM Process”, “Model-Based Systems Engineering”, and “Satellite Toolkit Training”, to name a few. While many of these classes have been taught by MTSI employees, we are starting to see an increased number of outside speakers providing insightful instruction to the CoP members.
In the past year, MTSI has benefited tremendously from the establishment of these five CoPs. We have found them to be a valuable mechanism to protect and bolster our core values of teamwork and collaboration even as we grow into a more diverse and distributed company. Not only have the CoPs made us more aware of the vast capabilities and tools that reside within MTSI, but they also contribute to the education of our employees, enabling us to take a proactive approach to delivering the highest quality solutions to our customer’s problems.