Understanding the RFP: Why Section M is so Important

Section M describes how your proposal will be evaluated and scored. The section defines the factors and subfactors that will be graded, and the scoring lexicon to be utilized. Proposals are graded and then cost is considered to determine who is awarded the contract. Fully understanding this section may help you win a bid that you’re less qualified for than your competitors. Knowing and leveraging how a proposal is going to be graded is vitally important!

In many cases, the government wants their cake and to eat it, too. The government typically wants the technical section addressing the Statement of Work to be worth a disproportionate amount of the evaluated score. However, they also want to see how you’re going to address other contract functions, such as Quality, Staffing, Program Management, Security, etc. Every additional requirement they include dilutes the weight of what they really deem most important. Using this fact to your advantage can help you win when you’re nowhere close to being the most capable bidder!

Here’s an example how Government Contracting Academy founder, Randy Wimmer, exploited a favorable Section M to obtain the highest Technical Proposal evaluation score on a Full & Open bid (e.g., both large and small companies can bid on it) where he had little solution experience. The RFP was for a Cyber Security enterprise solution and Randy’s company had ZERO real, technical experience regarding the work to be performed. Section M defined the Factors and Subfactors to be graded as follows:

Factor 1: Security Program

Factor 2: Technical/Management Approach

Subfactor 2a: Technical Approach to meeting IDIQ Performance Work Statement (PWS)

Subfactor 2b: Quality Control Plan

Subfactor 2c: Project Management Plan

Subfactor 2d: Staffing Plan

Subfactor 2e: Subcontracting Plan for Other than Small Businesses

Factor 3: Past Performance (FIVE Past Performances)

Factor 4: Price/Cost

Section M defined the weighting of these factors to be the following

  • Factor 1 (Security) is graded as either Acceptable or Unacceptable, depending upon the prime bidder having the necessary Facility Security Clearance.
  • Factor 2 (Technical/Management) is evaluated as being more important than Factor 3 (Past Performance)
  • Subfactors 2a through 2e are weighted equally.
  • Factor 4 (Price) is weighted less than Factors 1-3 combined.

This riddle requires some interpretation. Factor 1 listed Security as Acceptable or Unacceptable. This simply eliminated uncleared bidders.  Factor 4 was the typical “Price is weighted less than” the other factors. It was Factor 2 that caught Randy’s eye.  Factor 2 scoring enabled a small business with very little technical expertise to be very competitive against some of the largest and best branded companies in the world.

In Factor 2, all five subfactor scores were equally weighted!  Subfactor 2a (Technical Approach to meeting PWS) was obviously the most challenging and most important to the customer.  This was the “solution.” However, its weight was severely diluted with four other subfactors that carried equal weight! In fact, it was no more important than Subfactor 2e, a small business subcontracting plan that a small business bidder would be guaranteed to have the highest score since at least 51% of a small bidder’s workshare would be going to small businesses!

This is how Randy’s company addressed the other Subfactors.  He partnered with two large companies and tasked them to write Subfactor 2a, “the solution.” To hide the fact that his company, the prime bidder, had very little actual technical experience, they branded their team as “Team Analytics.” So instead of specifically highlighting his partners’ vast experience and his company’s minimal experience, all credentials were credited to “Team Analytics.” This trick hid how little Randy’s company contributed to the solution.

Being ISO 9001 Quality Management System Certified, Randy’s company aced Subfactor 2b, the Quality Control Plan. Being ISO certified gave them an advantage in a scored section over bidders that were not ISO 9001 Certified. You would be surprised by how many large businesses are not ISO 9001 Certified!  

Citing their proposed program manager’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and closely following the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), they wrote a very solid Project Management Plan. Including “best practices” from the industry’s gold standard in project management makes their Subfactor c, Project Management Plan, somewhat bullet-proof. Their team used the same “Team Analytics” approach for Subfactor 2d, Staffing plan, highlighting their large partners’ recruiting capabilities.

Subfactor 2e, the small business subcontracting plan, was the specific reason why they had the highest evaluated technical score. As a small business prime bidder, they were required to perform at least 51% of the contract requirements, greater than any small business workshare from a larger bidder’s small business subcontracting plan. By simply bidding as a small business, they maxed out a subfactor score that was weighted as heavily as the “solution” subfactor!

Randy’s company had the highest Factor 2 “technical score” of all bidders despite being a small business with negligible experience in how to implement an enterprise cyber security solution. Because he knew how to effectively analyze Section M of the RFP, Randy’s company scored higher than multi-billion-dollar companies that specialized in cyber security!  

In many cases, having a solid strategy to leverage how the test is being graded is more important than understanding the solution requirements. Proposal scoring doesn’t always make sense, especially when the Federal Government makes “everything important.”