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11 issues to resolve before your proposal progress grinds to a halt

Each of them eats up the schedule and nibbles away at your win probability.

Here are some reasons why work on a proposal might slow down or even grind to a halt. You need to be on guard. You need to be on the lookout, always vigilant because the sooner you catch them, the better. Don't let them hide from you. And whatever you do, don't ignore the signs when they appear.

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  1. Priority conflicts. People get pulled in multiple directions. Should they work on the proposal or do billable work first? Are people assigned to the proposal available to work on it? Sometimes priority conflicts might be possible to resolve if they are escalated. But for a variety of reasons, this might not happen. Days of proposal time can be lost to competing priorities. Days of proposal time lost are expensive. Multiply the reduction in win probability by the value of the pursuit to estimate how much not quickly resolving a priority conflict can cost your company.
  2. Lack of clarity. RFPs can be notoriously difficult to interpret. Maybe you can submit questions and get answers. But that takes time and you can’t wait. You can also lack clarity in other ways, such as what you should offer, what should go into the proposal, what reviewers expect, or the scope of an assignment. Sometimes a lack of clarity leads people to make bad assumptions. It can be as simple as someone assuming their job is to provide a solution that fulfills the requirements of the RFP instead of one that will win against your competition, simply because they thought all they needed to do to complete their assignment is respond to the RFP.
  3. Questions that people have. People working on proposals need to know all the possible variations on who, what, where, how, when, and why. For example, they might be unsure about how to make one of the hundreds of trade-off decisions that come up during proposal development. And if they don’t have a forum to ask their questions, they won’t get the answers they need and will either make assumptions, write around the issue, or just stop and wait.
  4. Failure to ask. Sometimes people don’t ask the questions they have. Sometimes they don’t report a problem. Issues are best surfaced early. But to achieve that you must overcome the failure to ask.
  5. Solution gaps. Sometimes the people involved won’t know how to fill gaps in approaches, capabilities, resumes, experience, etc. The more time that passes, the more likely you are to be unable to fill a gap. The worst gaps are the ones that look filled, but don’t actually fulfill the requirement. Discovering a solution gap may require changing proposed approaches, replacing staff, or even changing teaming partners. Sometimes an inability to fill the gap prevents further progress completely and everything grinds to a halt. Don’t wait until you have a draft of the proposal to search for, surface, and fill your solution gaps.
  6. Lack of subject matter expertise or input needed. When an RFP requires subject matter expertise that covers a range of topics, it’s not unusual for the person assigned to write a section to not be able to cover all the topics and to need help. Where is that subject expertise going to come from? If section completion requires this input, it may just wait until someone comes up with an answer.
  7. Lack of issue management. Sometimes people don’t know who to ask about a question or who to a report an issue to. Sometimes they tell someone, and it gets forgotten. Quickly surfacing issues, articulating them, prioritizing them, and tracking them to resolution is critical to prevent losing because an issue didn’t get the action it required.
  8. Lack of training or guidance. New proposal contributors do not automatically understand how to combine the RFP instructions, evaluation process and criteria, and technical and other requirements into their response in a way that will get the best score. They also won’t show up knowing the process or even how to manage their time. If they get stuck, they might not know what to do about it.
  9. Futility. It’s futile to ask for help when none is available, or for cooperation from someone who never gives it. Why put extra effort into winning a low-probability pursuit that shouldn’t even have been approved for bidding when it’s futile? When people feel things are futile, they stop reporting issues and focus on getting something on paper that looks good enough that no one notices. When people feel things are futile, they assume resolving an issue is someone else’s job. Futility is dangerous against a deadline.
  10. Heroism. Give me a proposal professional over a hero any day. Why try when you know someone who has ignored the proposal all along is going to come in at the last minute and change everything because they believe they are the only one who can save the proposal?
  11. Lack of approval. Indecision wastes too much proposal time. Are we going to bid? If that decision takes days, you’re already in trouble. The same is true of the proposal budget, assignments of people, review dates, etc. Every day lost to “waiting for approval” is a day that could make a huge difference at the end of the proposal.

One of the key goals of proposal management is to avoid having people sitting around unproductive while the deadline clock ticks away. Sometimes they are waiting. Sometimes they are fruitlessly working around a problem instead of resolving it. It is better to surface problems early and focus on resolving them than it is to limp along. 

This is so important, that when we built MustWin Now, we decided to add tools to make it easier for people to collaborate without these issues getting in the way. We’ve made the Collaboration Toolbox always visible so that people can post a question or request faster than they could pick up a phone and text it. But we do it in a way that tracks issues to resolution. One of the things that results from this is that in MustWin Now you can manage your proposal as a process of elimination. But the real payoff is that when people get stuck, it’s easy to surface the issue immediately, ensure that it gets appropriate attention, and make sure it does not get overlooked.
 

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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. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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