Win Theme coverage, how frequency analysis & Excel uncovers gaps

As a software vendor, working with customers can throw up some very pleasant surprises. We really love it when a customer shows us a product usage scenario we had not anticipated. This is an exhilarating experience! Such was the case last week.

Our customer; Doug, is currently leading a major bid response. He is applying VisibleThread in a very innovative way to help inform ‘win theme’ coverage analysis and was kind enough to share. It was quite a revelation and I wanted to blog on it.

So where to begin?

Well, let’s first consider ‘win themes’. As anyone involved in fed bids or commercial proposal development will appreciate, there are two core ideas at play when trying to win a contract, first; ensuring you are compliant with RFP requirements, second; making certain the core pain points of the offerer’s RFP are covered.

The first element; ‘compliance’, I always think of as a kind of a ‘dot the i’s cross the t’s’ type of process. In many cases, this is quite a mechanical, often tedious management process. VisibleThread does a pretty good job of facilitating compliance by identifying obligation language in the RFP or SOW, using automated scanning for ‘will’, ‘must’, ‘shall’ etc. It can generate an Excel output in a few minutes based of a fresh RFP, forming a really good starting point for a compliance matrix.

The second aspect; making certain the core pain points of the RFP are covered, is most frequently addressed by establishing win themes at varying levels in the response. This is less mechanical and dependent on the skill of the Bid/Proposal Manager. Basically, a Bid Manager will want to reinforce certain themes. Examples include; low-cost, low risk, history of achievement, innovation, or performance-based accountability.

Shipley and others have a lot to say on this topic. I really like how Larry Newman in his ‘Compliance vs. Responsiveness‘ podcast characterizes these two aspects. Really well worth while listening to, if you have a couple of minutes. I think his definition of responsiveness is nicely aligned with effective ‘win themes’. Are we really addressing the true underlying needs of the issuing authority?

But I digress. Back to win theme coverage. Let me share the steps that I was shown.

Step 1: Firstly, the response volumes were added to a VisibleThread project as shown to the right.

Step 2: Now, the ‘Discovery’ view at project level displayed the documents side by side, with frequency of noun occurrence across the docs.

To explain the below view: the first column enumerates the nouns found in all documents, the second the frequency of occurrence of the nouns.

Each subsequent column represents each of the added documents, with a green indicator telling us that the particular noun is present. Within VisibleThread, as you hover over a green ball, you get the specific number present in that document.

In this case, we can see that ‘Cost’ is not mentioned at all in our 4th doc ‘122151-BOG…’. Now, let’s assume that one of our themes involves an emphasis on establishing a very ‘cost’ effective approach. Clearly, lack of reference to cost in the doc suggests, we have some detective work to do. Possibly one of the collaborators has accidentally removed references?

Step 3: Now the cool bit. Doug took the above and clicked on the ‘Export’ button highlighted in blue. This gave him a file that opened in Excel.

He then highlighted the cells containing frequency data and applied color scales using conditional formatting capabilities that come with Excel. This gave him an instant and very concise ‘heat map’ of the distribution of key theme words, red indicating heavy density, blue indicating light density.

Now, not only were gaps evident ala the normal VisibleThread view, but lack of sufficient distribution in other documents were highlighted too. Looks like ‘cost’ was not only absent in 1 document, it was too lightly covered in 2 other docs, with only 2 and 4 references respectively. Now that was concerning!

By adding a discussion comment in VisibleThread, Doug could then flag this for the team to take immediate action. As an aside, ‘In Context Discussion Threads’ were introduced in release 2.4 of VisibleThread and flagging commentary around possible issues is one of the ideal usage scenarios.

Bottom-line, the data that was provided by VisibleThread allowed really detailed coverage analysis in Excel. Now there’s a great example of product leverage!


1. Using ‘discovery’ in VisibleThread can help determine win theme coverage.

2. Exporting the VisibleTherad data to Excel (available on all VisibleThread screens) can allow deeper analysis insights.

PS: Thanks go to Doug (you know who you are) for showing me this cool usage scenario.

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