It was early on a Friday morning. I had been awake all night, working with a team of people to get a proposal ready for a deal review. This was my first deal review and at this point, coffee had moved from stimulant to life support.

After dusting the detritus of an all-nighter off my far from pressed suit, I walked into the deal review meeting. Shockingly, most of the people reviewing said deal were just getting started for the day. Must be nice.

After covering the high points, my colleagues and I pushed through the barrage of questions with seemingly acceptable answers. All things considered, the review was moving along as well as could be expected.

“What's the competition look like?"

(The usual suspects.)

“Have we hit all of our win themes?"

(Sure. Otherwise, our themes would be loss-focused.)

“Why is the font so small?"

(RFP requirement. Glad to hear you read it.)

“During my 40 years at this agency, it was a closely held secret that this program officer really likes the color orange. Can we make all of the graphics orange?"

(Sure. There's nothing I'd rather do than recreate 47 graphics. Who says 'luminaries' aren't worth it?)

As we were wrapping up the review, one of my (now) favorite questions came up.

“What's our probability of win?"

Immediately, one of the more senior team members piped up and said, '124 percent'.

While I thought this was either a feeble grasp at humor or an attempt to violate the laws of physics, it turns out this was an actual answer. Even stranger, the review panel nodded their respective heads and that was that.

I was confounded by this occurrence. Barring the obvious issues with the impossibility of the number, I didn't even understand how it was computed. Moreover, was it above average? Was it reasonable? Was it good? Did it even really matter?

I'll let you guess whether we won or lost this deal. Hint: Our otherworldly probability of win was just a bit off.

Moving On

Fast-forward a bit and I've moved on from professional services to my current company - GovTribe. After many years and many more pursuits under my belt, I decided I wanted to build modern and affordable tools that helped government contractors compete. Goodbye deal reviews, hello software development.

As such, the GovTribe team was working on our new Pipeline management capability. Staying on top of a pipeline of pursuits is important for any government contractor and we wanted to make that process was easily accessible for companies big and small. If you're interested in learning more, here's an overview.

As part of our initial release, I wanted to include a single simple stat focused on probability of win for each stage of a Pipeline. After wiring up some basic math, I had a number between zero and 100 that represented a weighted, aggregate probability of win for all pursuits in a given stage.

At this point, I wanted to visualize this number. I'd figured a simple little donut chart, colored red, yellow, or green based on the number would do the trick. Seemed simple enough, but after thinking about it more, I was again confounded. Here's a screenshot of a Pipeline stage, with it's associated donut chart.

What colors should be assigned to what probabilities of win? If green equals good, yellow equals ok, and red equals bad, where should I draw the lines? Should any probability of win over 60% be considered good? Or should it be relative, based on a company's past win rate? For example, if a company's win rate is 25%, should anything over that be considered good?

As I thought about this more, I recalled the aforementioned story of my first deal review. If the senior member of my team had responded with 24% instead of 124%, would the deal have gone through? Would it be considered 'green?'

Likely not. Even if a 24% probability of win was higher than the company's average win rate, I can't imagine the deal review panel looking favorably upon spending the money to pursue.

And thus, back to my color conundrum. What is the right threshold for a 'good' or 'green' probability of win? Should it be based on reality? Or should it be based on optics? In the end, I decided to go with the following:

  • > 65% Green
  • 35% - 65% Yellow
  • < 35% Red

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. What's a “good" probability of win to you?