Why an outline or compliance matrix is not enough to plan your proposal

When it’s time to begin working on a proposal, most people start by thinking about what should go into their proposal. Then they begin creating an outline and start putting it all in the outline. And that’s where they go wrong...

An outline should describe the structure of the document and not what goes into it. While you can annotate an outline, it can’t be made big enough to hold everything that needs to go into a proposal and still be manageable. When you use an outline as your sole planning tool, you inherently limit the quality of your plans.

The same is true for the compliance matrix. A compliance matrix is a table that is used to match RFP requirements with proposal outline items. A table can only hold so much.

It helps if you think about what your proposal planning needs are:

  • Figure out what needs to go where.
  • Ensure that you follow the RFP’s instructions, address all of the RFP requirements, and are optimized against the RFP’s evaluation criteria.
  • Ensure that you address what it will take to win, in every place and every way that it is applicable.
  • Figure out where and how to address your customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence.
  • Ensure that you have the right offering and can describe its features and benefits.
  • Anticipate your need for graphics.
  • Anticipate any limits, assumptions to be made, or issues in addressing the requirements.
  • Provide a means to validate what will be written before you invest the effort.
  • Provide a means to validate what was written when the draft is complete.
  • Based on the subjects that need to be addressed, identify who you need to write which parts.
  • Provide a foundation for developing the schedule.
  • Provide a means to measure progress to facilitate proposal management.
  • Avoid putting effort into documentation that won’t be part of the finished proposal.

A compliance matrix and an outline are the starting point for proposal planning. They define the structure of the document, but are not enough to plan its content. However, once you have the structure, you can implement a methodology that will enable you to fulfill all your proposal planning needs.

That is the way we set up our Proposal Content Planning methodology. Once you know the structure for your proposal, you can treat it as a container and start filling it up. To ensure that you fill it up with the right material, we created a set of eight iterations that walk you through what to consider putting into your proposal. The idea is to:

  • Create a planning document that will become the proposal, so that no effort is wasted.
  • Ensure that you address everything you should by going through the eight iterations.
  • Provide a baseline that you can validate prior to writing, and then validate the draft against.

Using a separate tool from the outline and compliance matrix enables you to do better planning. It also means that your outlining efforts need only to focus on the structure of the document.

In order to outline the document structure, you typically start with the RFP. You need to cross-reference the instructions from the RFP along with the evaluation criteria and requirements. The tool for analyzing this is the compliance matrix, and you can use it to produce the proposal outline.

The first iteration in our Content Planning Methodology is to create a compliance matrix in order to discover the structure or outline that is required to address all of the RFP requirements. Then we take an empty shell or template and begin filling it with instructions for the author. The remaining iterations ensure that you address everything that should go into your proposal.

The result is a blueprint that describes what needs to go into each section of the proposal. It provides instructions for authors and a baseline to validate against. And it becomes the proposal by replacing the instructions with responses, providing a means to measure progress along the way.

The rest of the details for implementing the Content Planning Methodology are in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase.




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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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