6 tips for measuring proposal progress

You can't manage it if you don't measure it

When a proposal has an absolute deadline, it’s important to know that things are on track towards completion. But that’s easy to say and hard to do. It’s even harder when there are multiple people involved in the effort to create the proposal.

1. Milestones

Proposals typically start with making assignments and setting deadlines. Then you wait for the deadline and find out the assignments aren’t complete. Or worse, the assignments look complete, but the quality is low. Either way, you have more work to do to complete the first milestone chipping away at the time you have to meet the next one. You are already falling behind. You need some way to measure progress before you get to the milestones. Most people settle for subjective queries, or early read-throughs. Neither one gives an accurate picture of the real progress.

2. Measuring whether the glass is half-full or half-empty

You can measure proposal progress by what you have completed. Most people take this approach when they measure progress by checking off items on their outline. You can also measure it by what you have left to do. It’s not necessarily a choice between the two. You can measure proposal progress both ways.

When I'm working with reliable proposal writers, I like to have them perform a gap analysis as progress milestones in between submission milestones. You have to look over their shoulders and make sure the gaps are accurately reported, but in addition to being easier than doing it all yourself, the writers gain a much better understanding of what they still have to accomplish when they do the gap analysis. That drives results better than when you tell them they have gaps.

3. It doesn’t matter if you have something written if it’s not what you need

If you measure by whether “something” is written, that’s all you’ll get. It won’t reflect what it takes to win. You need to define completion as passing a test that the writers can apply themselves. A model based on getting something written, and then having a review team do a subjective assessment, will not produce consistently effective results. That’s a polite way of saying that you’re setting yourself up for failure and low win rates. If you are using proposal reviews to assess progress towards completion instead of assessing whether the proposals reflect what it will take to win, something is wrong.

The way you consistently achieve what it will take to win in writing is to define criteria for each section that tell you and the writer what it’s supposed to be. Then people don’t measure progress by how much of the page is covered, they measure it by how many sections fulfill the criteria. Of course, this means you have to define criteria for each section. And doing that means knowing what it will take to win before you start.

4. Much depends on the skills of your proposal contributors

The amount of guidance and oversight needed depends on the skills of your proposal contributors. Unfortunately, experience does not guarantee skills. Ten or more year's experience producing countless ordinary proposals does not mean the writer can produce a single great proposal. Most proposal specialists, even the professionals, produce ordinary copy. Ordinary is acceptable. Most proposals with multiple contributors are a mixed bag of experienced and inexperienced staff. It is usually best to assume a lower skill level than you are hoping the contributors actually have and provide more guidance and oversight than is actually needed.

5. A Proposal Content Plan is also a progress measurement tool

A Proposal Content Plan contains instructions for writers. Content Plan instructions go well beyond an outline and address everything related to what it will take to win, and not just the RFP requirements. You can measure your progress by how many of those instructions have been acted on.

6. Progress is not a milestone

Progress is not an event or a point in time. The step after starting is not completion. Measuring progress is not about determining where you are, but about determining whether you will get to where you need to be. The secret to measuring proposal progress is to have progress and fulfillment criteria that show you whether you are on track.

What you don’t want are undefined milestones like “first draft/second draft” or reviews that determine whether you’ve arrived. Fulfillment of your criteria is where you want to end up. But you don’t get there in one step.

Instead of measuring against completion, at each step you should be measuring whether you are on track, behind, or ahead of where you should be to get to completion. Successful completion means a proposal that reflects what it will take to win, and not just one that has “no holes” or something written for each item in the outline.



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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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