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9 reasons proposal management and proposal writing should be separate roles

If you knew the risks, you might not try to get away with it...

It’s a mistake to have the same person providing proposal management and proposal writing. Not only will it increase your failure rate, but it will also decrease your company’s ability to write great proposals. 

No matter how many times people say this, you still see companies thinking they can get away with having the proposal manager write small proposal sections. 

Here are the risks:

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Proposal Management
  1. Stand-up and progress meetings. If I’m the proposal manager and I take on a writing assignment, then instead of monitoring progress, surfacing issues, checking other people’s work, and providing them input to help them do better, I’m trying to complete my writing assignment before the next status meeting, just like everyone else. That status meeting ends up becoming about issue discovery instead of resolution. And in fact, you routinely see standu-p meetings conducted as if their only purpose is to have people self-reporting issues as a safety net because the proposal manager isn’t able to talk to each person every day. 
  2. Driving win strategies into the document. If the person responsible for proposal management is writing, they are not helping the people who are not proposal specialists implement the techniques that drive win strategies into the document. If they aren’t doing that, how is it supposed to happen? How do you build a proposal around your win strategies if they haven’t been articulated before they get to the writers? Do you tell writers what win strategies apply to their sections or do you expect the writers to just figure it out?
  3. Preventing people from making it up as they go along. Who is going to put the time required into figuring out how to structure the content, how to allocate the win strategies to the document, and what points should be made throughout the document? If you say “everybody” what you will really get is “nobody.” Proposal writing is a structured process. Remove the structure and what you get is a herd of cats making it up as they go along. When this happens, the proposal review process tends to become a way of trying to define what the inconsistent proposal should be instead of a tool for double checking that nothing got missed. And when this happens, it’s often because proposal management and proposal writing were combined instead of being kept separate.
  4. Preventing the proposal manager from making up the process as they go along. What evidence is there that you actually have a proposal process? Is it written down? Is it more than a chart? What checklists, quality criteria, guidance, and tools are provided for every step? If your process definition is lacking, it’s because the proposal management function is putting its attention elsewhere. 
  5. Defining proposal quality criteria. Who is going to define proposal quality criteria and when? Will it be done before proposal writing starts so that it guides the proposal writers, or will it come after the draft review? Or not at all? If you do define proposal quality, who is going to oversee how it gets applied to the proposal? 
  6. Proposal content planning. One of the responsibilities of proposal management is to plan what the proposal should become instead of letting that happen by chance. But once you have a plan for the proposal content, who is going to make sure it gets implemented? Waiting until there is a draft to discover that a section is off-track is a great way to ruin a proposal. Once the proposal content plan is complete, do you want proposal management providing oversight, or off on their own being one of the writers?
  7. Proposal reviews. The main reason that most companies have highly subjective and ineffective proposal reviews is that there is no dedicated review management function. In the absence of having review team leadership, the role of proposal management needs to fill the void. When proposal management and writing are combined, the proposal manager tends to assign some people to the review and let them figure it out. Wouldn’t you rather have quality criteria defined, a structured process like Proposal Quality Validation for performing the review, and training provided to the review team? How are you going to get that if the proposal manager is spending their time leading up to the review writing?
  8. Subcontractors and teaming partners. It is a law of nature that subcontractors will always be late with their proposal assignments, and what they turn in will have problems. When you are bidding as a team and your teammates are contributing to the proposal, the need for oversight goes up. You might think you’ve made things easier by finding a sub who can contribute, but managing subs on a proposal is more work than managing your own staff. Don’t water your proposal management down with writing assignments when you need them providing extra oversight and coordination.
  9. Flying solo. When the entire proposal is prepared by a single person, the proposal management process tends to become a highly personal and informal thing. Maybe that’s okay. But just because someone can do a proposal on their own, doesn’t mean they rustle up a herd of cats using the same techniques. In fact, attempting to do so typically results in people making things up as they go along. To prepare proposals bigger than a single person requires guidance, coordination, oversight, and quality assurance. All of those are weakened when proposal management and proposal writing are performed by the same individual.

The real driver for what the proposal manager should take on is the number of people involved in the proposal. If the proposal effort only requires one proposal specialist and one or two subject matter experts, maybe you can get away with the proposal manager doing some writing. Quality will take a small hit, but maybe it’s survivable. Maybe it has to be on a small proposal. But once you get to three or more contributors or proposals with teammates, the risk skyrockets. But the real problem isn’t writing, it’s attention. Who is going to give attention to these things? And what will happen if these things don’t get enough attention?

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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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