Winning the War on Data – Knowledge Management in the Business Development Lifecycle
By Gillian A. Dionne, APM.APMP, CKM

As many of you have suspected, you are already acting as knowledge managers every time you retrieve a management plan from a document repository, track down a past performance reference, or run a data call for a corporate capabilities matrix. Perhaps you think of it more as a “lack of knowledge management” in your organization based on the time and effort you spend trying to locate previously written proposal documents, figure out who has the latest company statistics, and just how many employees hold a specific skill set required ...just to name a few things. Sounds familiar? Well, read on here to learn more about how you can champion knowledge management (KM) in your company to make proposal development almost painless.

An Overview of Knowledge Management

KM efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, sharing of lessons learned, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization.

As defined by Wikipedia ( KM comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organizational processes or practice. These efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, sharing of lessons learned, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization. (Knowledge Management, 2011)

For proposal management, KM can be effective in organizing project past performance citations, prior proposals, and maintaining a comprehensive set of BD-related statistics, just to name a few.

The Goal of Knowledge Management
KM as a field has been around since the early 1990s, and the mission of certified KM practitioners is to apply technologies and tools to transform information into meaningful knowledge. As mentioned earlier, an easy way to define KM is via the technologies and tools used; however, in real world application, a KM system is not a plug and play commercial off the shelf package (COTS) but a custom integration of tools into an organization once a cultural change has been established to acknowledge the role and capabilities of such a system. These KM tools are a collection of technologies not necessarily acquired as a single software solution. The tools must integrate with existing IT infrastructure for best results.

KM is acknowledged as an area of competency within many large organizations now. Certified Knowledge Managers are increasingly called upon to assist highly efficient (aka Capability Maturity Model 3 or higher) organizations to leverage existing IT infrastructure and industry best practices to develop and maintain interactive, highly flexible capabilities in what is known now as the Knowledge Age. Yes, we are now in the Knowledge Age. The advent of computers brought about the Information Age back in the 1950-1906s with the advent of data processing. The increasing volume of content, the emerging availability of highly sophisticated software and search engines, and the ready availability of high speed digital storage have created the perfect storm known as the Knowledge Age. We now focus on knowledge-intensive activities, rather than data and information.

Defining Data, Information, and Knowledge – What’s the Difference?
Data is the most small of bits of information. Information is what data becomes when we do something with it. Massive amounts of data are overwhelming unless we apply processes to classify and organize it into information. Figure 1 captures the differences between data and information.

data becomes information
Figure 1. A good visual metaphor for the difference between data and information. A funnel contains multiple bits of data that when mixed and poured out are transformed into actual information.

Now that we understand that data can be transformed into information, how do we further transform into knowledge and beyond? Knowledge is what we do with information to make it relevant and useful to the purpose at hand via context.

KM Technologies and Tools
The not so new field of KM seeks to apply technologies and tools listed below to transform information into meaningful knowledge. A KM system (KMS) is not plug and play, it is more typically a custom integration of tools into an organization once a cultural change has been established to acknowledge the role and capabilities of such a system. Buying a KM tool and deploying a KMS without organizational buy in will lead to the classic end result of building a system that no one uses.

Typical technologies and tools that KM embraces:

  • Groupware/collaborative software
  • Document management systems
  • Expert systems
  • Semantic networks
  • Relational/object oriented databases
  • Simulation tools
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Social computing—wikis, blogs.

A KM system is not self-maintaining; it requires constant upkeep. New inputs, analysis of new/emerging user requirements and use cases, adjustment of content are not low maintenance activities. Useful (and used) KMS require significant requirements analysis, system design, and continuous upkeep. Too much data = too much information = no value-add.

The BD Lifecycle

From opportunity identification through final submission, significant information is generated by the capture and proposal teams.

BD and KM are made for each other. As shown in Figure 2, the typical BD lifecycle creates lots of “information items” that are easily parsed into KM tools. From assessment through award (and beyond), our BD processes and procedures generate significant amounts of information to feed KM systems.

BD Information Items
Applying KM basics to the BD lifecycle allows us to identify the content milestones in our processes that lend themselves to capture and reuse. While content is typically visualized as documents in the BD lifecycle, it can be discrete information items such as a statistic that serves as a discriminator for a technical proposal. A partial list of information items in our lifecycle is provided here.

  • Solicitation documents
  • Call/capture/proposal plans
  • Pursuit/strategy/bid reviews
  • Storyboards
  • Final proposal documents
  • Lessons learned.

The key for effective BD KMS is to look beyond the documents and examine how we do things – our information worker process – in order to apply value and become knowledge workers.

BD Process
Figure 2. From Phase 1 Assessment through Phase 5, Post-Submittal, the typical BD lifecycle creates significant amounts of information that can be parsed into a knowledge management system.

Turning BD Information into Knowledge
Information age solutions created electronic filing cabinets full of documents (proposals, RFPs, past performance citations) that were organized in a hierarchy (by year, by customer, by owning organization, by solicitation number) that was not easily searchable. When information was located, it was not in context – a proposal document had to be cross-referenced against a separate system to determine if it was a winning proposal, and then another system again to find out information on the current status (who’s the Program Manager, what’s the period of performance, how are we doing?). Information systems make you do all the analysis and correlation manually.

Effective KMS maps the BD lifecycle phases to the three major business development milestones: Opportunity, Award, and Project. Figure 3 maps the BD lifecycle to the business lifecycle.

  • Opportunity – what are we pursuing? What is our plan to capture?
  • Award – how did we win, what is our plan for performing?
  • Project – how are we doing, is this a good reference?

Figure 3. Mapping the BD Lifecycle to the Business Lifecycle. Overlaying the Opportunity, Award, and Project milestones to the BD lifecycle phases allows KMS to clearly identify knowledge relevant to winning new business.

Lifecycle Information Items
Information artifacts generated during the BD lifecycle can be identified and categorized for reuse. Figure 4 shows potential information artifacts that could possibly be captured in the Opportunity phase., as shown in Figure 4.

Lifecycle Info Items
Figure 4. Tying the Information Artifacts Together—BD and KM. For the Opportunity phase, several potential information artifacts are listed. These items can be captured and provide knowledge to assist active and future opportunities.

Tying it All Together—Moving toward a KMS

The first step in moving toward a knowledge-centric process is to analyze the existing process and determine where the gaps allow information to get lost.

There are several turnkey KM systems in the proposal/business development marketplace. Some systems require a wholesale replacement of your existing IT infrastructure and your BD process. Turnkey systems are best deployed in a small centralized organization that will readily accept such fundamental change and has the financial commitment to support a complete overhaul of systems, processes, and procedures. In the real world, many organizations are completely decentralized with local ownership of the processes and procedures to support business development and the business lifecycle. These organizations may be better served by gap analysis to determine how to apply KM best practices and institute a change management plan to move the organization from information management to knowledge management.

To get started with knowledge management, every organization must embrace change. Traditional processes generate information in traditional ways, and store it in traditional ways. KM requires a significant amount of commitment to change.

© Gillian A. Dionne, All Rights Reserved

Gillian Dionne is Director of Proposals at General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) in Fairfax, VA. She has led the deployment of multiple KMS to support business development activities. Gillian is accredited by APMP at Practitioner level and is recognized by the KM Institute as a Certified Knowledge Manager. Contact Gillian at

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