Can you improve proposal quality by cancelling the reviews?

It seems counterintuitive. It sounds like something your boss would never go for. But there is a better way to ensure proposal quality than by having reviews.

What do you really get from having a proposal review anyway? Especially if it’s one of those big fat sit around a table reviews? In the name of “making sure it’s correct,” they usually end up rethinking the message. That’s another way of saying they wait until after the proposal is written to figure out the best strategy. Huh? Does that sound like a great way to achieve proposal quality?

Let’s try another perspective and look at what you need for a quality proposal. You need input. But you need it on the strategy. And maybe to make sure you’ve covered all the details. You need some validation to ensure you haven’t made any mistakes.

In industrial processes, the best way to achieve quality is during the design phase. Instead of adding reviews on top of a process to catch defects, they eliminate defects through design. Why can’t we eliminate defects during the design of our proposals?

You might still need a little quality assurance to catch mistakes, but the level of review needed to catch typographical errors and omissions is minor. And it doesn’t need the most expensive labor in the company to spend hours doing it.

So how do you design defects out of a proposal? it comes mostly from how you specify and measure what should be written, with a pinch of making sure you deliver the information that people will need to write a winning proposal. That’s right, you can’t just sit down and write about whatever’s on your mind, and writing can be measured.

Writing gets measured by comparing it to what was supposed to go into the proposal. What is supposed to go into the proposal needs to be thought through before you start writing. If you do this correctly, you get a feedback mechanism and a tool for validation. The writers can self-assess whether what they have written does everything it was supposed to. Quality assurance reviews become checklist simple.

Here are a few articles that describe our approach to planning the content of your proposals:

What this really means is that you shift time from reviewing and rewriting at the back end, to making sure you write the proposal the way you need it to be written the first time. Most people would like to achieve that, but aren’t confident enough, so they leave some time on the back end for “risk mitigation” and end up causing what they sought to avoid.

Go back and re-read the second paragraph. If you make the most major review of the proposal after it is written, how will you ever achieve quality?

But what will really put you in a Catch-22 is when The Powers That Be tell you that “I have to see it before it goes to the customer.” The only people who should be allowed to read the proposal after it is written, are the people who actively participated in defining what the proposal was supposed to be. In other words, only people who reviewed and approved the Proposal Content Plan have any business reading it after it is written. Explain the second paragraph to them and pose the same question to them.

If they get it and support you by participating in defining and reviewing the Content Plan, it will go a long way toward shifting the focus of the organization to the front end of the proposal instead of the back end. Then they can see it after it’s written, and while some changes will occur, there shouldn’t be any surprises.



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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