What drives the best capture managers?
The need to win is the key when picking the best person to chase the big contracts
- By David Hubler
- Oct 09, 2009
Good capture managers are known for their business and technical skills, understanding of complex government requirements, and intimate knowledge of their company’s competencies.
But outstanding capture managers have at least one other asset: an innate drive to win.
“Nobody is born knowing how to program a computer. But the competitiveness, I think, is born,” said Bob Lohfeld, president of Lohfeld Consultant Group, a consulting firm that specializes in capture management. “And you’ve got to have gifted ability if you’re going to play at a level of professionalism that a larger company and a successful company will demand.”
Some industry experts liken capture management to the sports world, where overall excellence is rare and therefore highly valued.
“Good or excellent capture managers are very hard to come by,” said Eric Gregory, senior vice president of capture and proposal development at CACI International Inc. “In my 32 career years of doing this, I can probably count 10 to 12 who are truly outstanding.”
The capture manager is one of the most important skill positions in any organization, said Mike Gaffney, president of business development for CSC’s North American Public Sector unit. “It’s basically the quarterback for the deal. [He] calls everyone together, calls the play and then directs the activity as you march down the field.”
As in team sports, the better an organization’s supporting players are, the better the capture manager and team can perform, Gaffney said.
“I like to think of capture as the most fun you can have in the company,” Lohfeld said. “You have this wonderful opportunity to compete against similar players in the market. It’s all about being better than the competition.”
“And it’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the passion of people to be successful, not to finish the race in second place.”
Gregory agreed. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s [winning] a $25 million deal, a $250 million deal or a $2 billion deal," he said. "I get the same satisfaction."
Gregory’s colleague, Ron Schneider, executive vice president of business development operations at CACI, said the best capture managers must possess an element of pragmatism. “Because at the end of the day, they have to take the vision and the passion, and they have to help mold that into a plan that satisfies some discrete requirements,” he said.
CSC’s Gaffney said outstanding capture managers also have operational experience, “so that they understand how the actual work we’re bidding on gets done.”
They also need to fully understand the federal acquisition life cycle, he added. “You want your people trained on that methodology.”
They also come with the proper tools: a diverse and successful background in business development, finances, contracts, proposals and management, said Chris Hassler, president and CEO of consulting firm Syndetics.
As in athletics, scouting for employees with the tools and potential and then coaching them are the first steps toward creating outstanding capture managers.
“Somewhere along the line they have been adopted by a really good capture manager who teaches them the majority of the skills they need in capture management to be effective for their company,” Gregory said.
Hassler said they also must have “the battle scars that come from experience.”
That experience should include some failures, Gregory said, because that teaches what doesn’t work, “which is almost as valuable as knowing what does work.”
However, Lohfeld cautions that learning capture is difficult and time-consuming. “You can’t just waltz through it,” he said. “It’s a very demanding process, not one that is easy to push a deal through or to push people through.”
That’s why companies are increasingly making capture management training an integral part of their business development life cycle.
Lohfeld recalled that about five years ago in his capture management classes of about 30 students each, only 3 percent had the title of capture manager.
“Today when we teach these classes, if you get 30 students in the class, about one-third of the students will say their job is capture management,” he said. “Of that third that say that’s their job, half of them still don’t know what it is.”
CACI’s capture training focuses initially on how to make a good business case for pursuing a particular deal.
“That becomes critically important because you don’t want to spend your life chasing deals. It’s not good for the company, and it’s certainly not good for your morale,” Gregory said, adding that another prerequisite for success is knowing how to create a successful capture plan.
Schneider said CACI usually has about seven to 10 capture teams operating simultaneously, augmented by specialists who might not have much capture experience. “Part of the job of the capture manager is to educate them and to define precisely what role and what expectations we have for them,” he said.
Lohfeld enumerated a multistep process that hones capture management skills, “the first being to deeply understand the customer requirements and objectives.”
Other steps include developing a solution for the company to offer, understanding the competition and developing win and teaming strategies, setting the price to win the award, assessing performance risk from the government’s point of view and the contractor’s, and conducting periodic capture reviews to ensure the team is moving toward victory.
“The capture team becomes the orchestrator of getting the company resources aligned toward getting the procurement,” Lohfeld said. “So internally, if you’re a capture manager, it’s really important that the business development team work with you to support your capture initiative.”
The capture team also must be involved during the transition from capture to operations, ensuring that the bid strategies are being following, he said.
“We have 15 black belts,” said Gary Mather, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, citing the company’s term for the group that oversees the capture process. “The black belts are the people who can facilitate the process and recognize when there are [problematic] issues.”
“They teach most of the courses on competing, on capture; they develop intellectual capital along with the partners. This is a very elite group,” Mather said.
Outstanding capture managers also will support the technicians who do the work, the program managers who oversee it, and the budgeting, finance and human resources offices.
So when a company contracts to do certain things, Lohfeld said, the capture manager makes sure those things get done.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.