Developing a proposal process that survives in the real world

When people talk about the best practices for business and proposal development, they often forget the real world. In the real world, some companies are centralized and some are decentralized. Some companies are authoritarian and some are consensus driven. In some companies the pre-RFP pursuit and the post-RFP pursuit are organized under the same leadership and in some they are not. A lot of the so-called "best practices" fail in the real world.

So how do you design a process to survive in the real world?

In some companies, the pre-RFP pursuit is handled by different staff with different leadership than the post-RFP proposal process. This makes it hard for one to define the process followed by the other, and really difficult to integrate the two. This is a major impediment to companies being able to start their proposals before the RFP is released.

When we designed our pre-RFP process, we designed it to show companies how to prepare for RFP release. However, if in the real world you can’t get the people who track the pursuit before RFP release to follow the process, it also works as a gap analysis tool at RFP release. You can use it to assess where you should be and where you actually are in terms of being ready to win the proposal. Sometimes after you go through that a time or two and people see that if they are not prepared it will show, and the process shows them what to do to be prepared, you may be able to gain some cooperation.

When a process adds value (or simply works without breaking) even though it is not properly executed, an engineer might call it “degrading gracefully.”

That’s a concept that we also built into our process for planning the content of the proposal. Sometimes the people working on a proposal have no say when they are called in to start working on the proposal. They may not have time for niceties like “planning.” So we organized our planning into iterations and put them in priority order. If you do all the iterations, you reap tremendous benefits. But if you only do the bare minimum, you still add value. The process shows you how to get the most out of the time you have available.

Lack of time is a common theme in the deadline-driven proposal world. It’s a major reason why instead of true quality assurance, most proposals are lucky to get a single review. One consequence is that they expect that review to do everything and in many cases it ends up adding less value than if the time had been spent working on the proposal instead of waiting for review feedback.

Also, in the real world, all proposals are not the same. A proposal on a five-day schedule is different from one on a 30-day schedule. A proposal worth a billion dollars merits more attention than a proposal worth a million dollars. When we designed our process for validating the quality of proposals, we focused on what needed to be reviewed instead of how to do the review. This way you can group many things together into a single review, or have several detailed and specialized reviews, depending on the schedule and importance of your proposal.

Different companies have different pain points. Their problems might be related to the pre-RFP phase, the startup of the proposal effort, quality assurance, figuring out what to say, developing effective win strategies, getting people to work together as a team, or any number of other difficulties. Most companies have at least part of the process in place and working acceptably well. So an effective process has to work in both whole and in part. We designed our process to offer the most value when it's implemented start to finish, because that gives you the best data flow. But it can also be broken down into components and used to fill a gap in an existing process or environment.

If a process has limited scalability or if it can’t degrade gracefully, then it is liable to fail under pressure. We are in an unusual position, in that we design our process for use by a range of companies. But even within a single company, the circumstances that impact proposal development can vary widely. This is a nice way of saying that you have to be prepared for anything. And having a process that can survive the messiness of the real world is a good place to start.

More information about our MustWin process is available here. More information about the real world is available all around you.

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Carl is the Founder and President of 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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