Thoughts on Use of Executive Summaries

As we go about our business of working with clients on Government Proposal preparation and reviews, we are often faced with the question, “What really matters in our Executive Summary?” For me, this is an excellent question. I have personally been involved with many proposals from an Industry point-of-view and my Agility co-workers from a Government evaluation point-of-view. I always thought the Executive Summary was a chance to tell the Government how good my organization was and how well we did on similar work in the past. It wasn’t until I understood how the Government evaluates proposals that I realized we were wasting time and precious white space by doing so. If we focused on writing to the requirement and evaluation criteria, we would have been much more successful. It is critical to write an Executive Summary to help the evaluator understand the overall context of the proposal. Success in proposals comes from understanding how the Government chooses successful Offerors.

We are seeing more evaluation criteria in solicitations specifically telling the Offeror what should be included in the evaluation criteria for the Executive Summary. One of the best examples we have seen from a recent Government solicitation:

“In the Executive Summary, the Offeror shall briefly tell the Government about its company. The Executive Summary shall also provide an overview of the proposal submittal and is to be used by the Government as an aid in understanding the organization, content, and interrelationship of the proposal material. Information is to be presented at the summary level and should only include general information about the proposal and the Offerors understanding of and capability to meet the requirements of the solicitation. Any summary material presented here shall not be considered as meeting the requirements for any portions of other volumes of the proposal, nor will it be considered as part of the evaluation or assignment of color ratings.”

In this example, they are asking for only a summary of the company, not a complete marketing pitch. They specifically state what the remainder of the summary should include. It is always best to follow the guidance and do exactly that. Another more recent RFP simply stated, “The executive summary shall summarize the offer — highlighting the salient features of the proposal.” No room for marketing in this response!  As a matter of standard policy, it’s always best to use this approach if no specific guidance is provided. Simply tell the evaluator a little about your organization and then summarize how the proposal is constructed and highlight the offer’s strengths.

We often get into good dialogue with our partners as to when in the proposal process should Executive Summaries be written.  If you are going to use the Executive Summary as a tool to guide writers then early is ok, but generally speaking, few proposal efforts end up in the exact place the team thought they would be at the beginning of the journey.  Consequently, in order to truly summarize and orient the evaluators and contracting officer or specialist, I think it’s best to write it later in the development process. You truly can’t write it well until you see how the response is organized, a decision which is rarely decided at the beginning of the proposal effort.  Additionally, as a result of the proposal review process you often know much more about what is required for compliance at the end than you did in the beginning.  Once your proposal structure is finalized and the narrative complete, hit a home-run by crafting a summary that tells the evaluator how you organized the story and what the major strengths are in each section of the proposal.  Use this to orient them to the proposal and guide the evaluators to the conclusion you want them to come to as they evaluate your work.

Let us know how we can help you succeed in this or any other business effort!

-Dave Mock