Why one proposal review is worse than none

If you wait until the draft is mature, it will be too late to make changes. But if you have the review early, the document won’t even be close to its final form. When you focus on having “a” review, you get caught in a trap between wanting to hold the review early enough for it to drive change, but late enough so that the document will be complete enough to review. You can’t resolve this trade-off. Your document will either be incomplete at review (potentially making the review irrelevant) or there won’t be enough time to implement significant changes. You can’t be early and late at the same time. There is no sweet spot in the middle.

You can’t possibly review everything at one time. You cannot look at strategy, compliance, what you’re offering, positioning, proofreading, your projected evaluation score, and more all at one time. Even if you could make the review long enough to accommodate all that, you probably can’t find enough staff with the skills to evaluate the full range. If you try, it becomes an exercise about what you are going to skip. Your choices are to do a poor job of evaluating everything, or to ignore whole topics. It’s no wonder that review results are so inconsistent.

People will manipulate the review process. Proposal teams quickly learn how to game the system. If you don’t want the reviewers to make major changes, you run the clock out on them and hold the review when it’s too late to make them. Or you pick what you want them to review. And by extension, what you want them to ignore. Or you don’t give them enough time to get through the whole document, let alone consider everything. Reviewers play games too, but it’s usually unintentional — like providing contradictory recommendations, or focusing on proofreading when the strategy needs to be validated. Sometimes that’s what motivates the proposal team to want to game the system. And it’s all because you’ve got one big, overly complicated, review that’s too late with too much riding on it.

You can’t prevent problems with one review. Having a single review makes it about catching defects after they are made, instead of preventing things from going in the wrong direction before they get there. No wonder people run out the clock. It’s a major reason why you end up at the end of the proposal, near the deadline, with too many changes and too little time. Everyone blames it on schedule management, but structuring the process around a single review is also a contributor. Having one review to catch defects can end up creating more defects than it prevents.

The results will be inconsistent. Every review that makes a valuable contribution will be balanced by a review that is a waste of time. And ultimately, what you need out of a review process isn’t a contribution here or there. If you don’t get validation of specific decisions and results then you’re not getting what you really need.

The damage from having a single review isn’t just from the waste of time; it’s that it gets in the way of achieving the validation you really need. Instead of one big review, have lots of little reviews that validate specific aspects of proposal quality:

  • Review your readiness periodically before the RFP comes out. Verify that you are collecting information you are going to need, that you are getting into the right position. Review this several times so that you establish whether you are trending toward being ready to win or away from being ready. This is exactly what the Readiness Review portion of the MustWin Process in PropLIBRARY was designed to do.
  • Review what you plan to put in your proposal before you write it. This review, which can take place early, should get more attention than reviewing the draft that comes later. It’s where you resolve all the issues about your strategies and offering. The reviews that come later can focus on document production and be a lot easier if you nail down what you want the proposal to be at the beginning and get everyone on board with it. This is what the Proposal Content Planning methodology in the MustWin Process was designed to do.
  • Split the draft review into two parts (early and late). You don’t need a final draft to review RFP compliance. You can confirm that you’re heading in the right direction from an early review. You can measure progress by comparing your Proposal Content Plan with what’s in (or not in) an early draft. Writing doesn’t even have to stop while you review an early draft. However, some things like completion, coverage, implementation of the Proposal Content Plan, things that span multiple sections or writer, etc., may require a mature draft.

Would two reviews be better? Not really. It’s still an exercise in what you want to give up. Do you want to give up making sure you’re ready before the RFP release? If you have a plan and a draft review, will it be an early draft or a mature draft? Are you still overloading the reviews? What about a final review at the end? What about separating strategy, offering, pricing, and draft reviews? It’s not the number of reviews that matter. It’s what you validate as a result of having your reviews that matters.

The way you figure out how many reviews you should have is to start by thinking about what you need to validate.

What you need isn’t a set number of reviews. It’s validation of specific attributes and criteria. You need a list of things to validate, that get allocated to a number of reviews. And the number of reviews might change. Some may be formal, some may be informal. But the result is that you validate your decisions and results.

So after Readiness Reviews and Proposal Content Planning, the final piece of the puzzle was to add Proposal Quality Validation to the MustWin Process. We not only built the list of all the things you need to validate into the process, but we built the process to customize that list around what it will take to win a particular bid and then provide guidance on how to allocate the criteria to specific reviews. It resolves the problems we had doing reviews the traditional way for years. You can use it in combination with the Readiness Review and Proposal Content Planning methodologies to provide a total solution, or you can use the criteria from our Proposal Quality Validation methodology to enhance your own review process.

Whatever you do, if you don’t change from having a single review you will continue to be stuck. And making the change will involve changing your vocabulary and corporate culture. As long as people expect there to be “a proposal review” they’ll tend to fall back on old habits. That’s a key reason why we started focusing on validation — we needed people to look past “the review” and focus on what they really needed to “validate.” It ends up being an effective way of getting people to actually think about what drives proposal quality and that alone makes the effort worthwhile.



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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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