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Why advanced proposal management requires leaving your comfort zone behind

It requires more than just having a proposal process

If you can articulate a repeatable proposal process and successfully implement it in the real world, congratulations! You are a proposal manager. Your education, however, is just beginning.

Proposal development is not really about the process. Or said another way, the proposal process is just one tool for accomplishing the goal of winning in writing using a team of people working against a deadline to respond to customer requirements better than your competitors. The process is only part of what needs to happen. And it isn’t even the most important part:

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Proposal Management
  • Even if you have a proposal process, the management of risk, quality, and issues are more important to success than the process itself. The proposal process mitigates some issues, but does not resolve all of them. It isn’t even designed to address many of the issues that come up in every proposal. The proposal process does not determine your success. But your ability to mitigate the risks, deliver quality, and manage the issues does determine your success. These are deep topics. Risk should be looked at inclusively and address solution, pricing, contracts, and performance, as well as proposal schedule, compliance, and completion risk. Having a proposal review, or several proposal reviews, only scratches the surface of what quality assurance really means. And issues can involve assignments, predictable problems, unpredictable problems, proposal problems, staffing problems, customer problems, technical problems, and everything and more in between. The proposal process is just one of the tools you have for addressing everything relevant to the proposal, and it is not the only one you need.
  • The development of strategy to give the tactics of the proposal process direction is also more important than the process itself. A well designed and implemented process often delivers an ordinary proposal with no hope of winning. Tactics and strategy are both required for success. Strategic development takes place at the corporate, department, and proposal levels. And only some of the strategic planning you need to do relates to the proposals themselves…
  • Then there is the perspective that comes from looking beyond one proposal and considering what it will take organizationally to win them all. How does the proposal process integrate with the enterprise that it supports? How does the proposal process integrate with the sales, capture, and technical operations? How should resources be allocated across proposals? How should the organization’s culture impact its ability to grow and how should it evolve? What should be done to maximize the return on investment of the proposal function? And how should that be calculated?

Advanced proposal management is about going beyond the process to integrate everything that impacts winning. It requires tools and a framework that go beyond the proposal process.

Step away from the steps

Proposals are not about assembly. They are about adding and communicating value. Assembly can be done by the steps. But adding and communicating the value of something created against a unique set of specifications in changing circumstances can’t be accomplished by strictly following steps. Not to mention that proposals are created by teams of people with varying backgrounds that don’t report to the proposal manager, against a tight unforgiving deadline, with a difficult to interpret set of specifications in which the only successful outcome possible is doing this better than any other company bidding. Coming in number two just makes you the first loser. Managing the people, deadline, and specifications better than any other bidder means having a perspective that goes beyond the steps. 

So don’t start by thinking about what steps everything should follow. Instead, get real clear on what your goals are. This is more challenging that you might think. It is easy to confuse goals and tasks. Your goals should be what you need to accomplish in order to successfully lay the foundation for what comes next. The tasks for accomplishing those things are secondary and somewhat more flexible.

How this plays out in the real world

As an example, the step of creating an outline is secondary to the goal of organizing the proposal to meet the customer’s expectations. There are many ways to create an outline. Most processes will spell it out well enough. But I really don’t care about the steps. I care a lot more about whether the outline puts things where the customer expects to find them. I care so much that:

  • I want to do things before we start creating the outline to make sure I understand the customer’s expectations. These may not require additional steps, but do involve working with people on the issue who are involved before the RFP is even released.
  • If I have to interpret or guess at what the customer wants, I want to mitigate the risks. In fact, I want an approach to document, assign, and address the risks. 
  • I want to build in quality assurance to make sure we’ve achieved that goal before moving on to writing based on that outline. That’s more than just a review. I want a definition for what a quality outline is so we can achieve it. And I want a rubric, self-assessment, a review, and a way to resolve outline issues. 
  • I want to track issues related to the outline so they can be dealt with in a timely manner and definitely not be ignored or forgotten. I want that tracking to be visible to everyone involved and support issue escalation for problems that aren’t resolved in a timely manner.

This is more than just basic project management

There is a difference between proposal management and the proposal process. Proposal management involves the techniques required to implement the proposal process. But what about the techniques required to go beyond the proposal process and address everything related to what it will take to win? Diving into that is what is required for advanced proposal management.

Proposal managers can steal learn a lot from the world of project management. However, proposal development has specific requirements that require significant tailoring of generic project management approaches. Proposals are a highly specialized use case and performance measurement occurs after the completion of the project. You need to predict and build a proposal around what it will take to win, when the award decision comes weeks or months after the proposal is complete. But more importantly you need an integrated, enterprise-wide approach, because proposal contributions and stakeholders cross organizational boundaries.

For some proposal managers, many of these things are outside their job descriptions. Some will be outside their own conception of the job. Those who have them might push them off to the capture manager role. Some will be too consumed by the day-to-day need to ship proposals to step back and consider the goals and context of what they do. But if you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll remain an ordinary proposal manager. If you want to be advanced, you have to leave ordinary behind.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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