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How to track issues so you can better manage your proposal efforts

With detailed lists of the information you should track

It can be said that proposal management is nothing but problem solving. And if this is the case, then proposals are really about issue management.

One reason most companies don’t have a written proposal process is that they are always dealing with exceptions. Most of them are driven by the RFP. This turns proposal management into an exercise in adapting to the RFP. Every exception and adaptation can be thought of as another issue to manage.

Some RFP issues require asking questions. Some require deciding on an interpretation. Some require changes in sequence, format, or scheduling. It turns out there are many potential issues to track, figure out how to resolve, and then implement a resolution for.

And not all of them are driven by the RFP. They are also commonly related to:

See also:
  • Staffing. Do you have enough people to do the proposal well enough to win?
  • Availability. Just because someone has been assigned to work on a proposal doesn’t mean that they are sufficiently available, or that the proposal is their highest priority.
  • Capability. Do all the people assigned to the proposal know how to complete their assignments correctly and have the required skills?
  • Questions. Even people who are knowledgeable and highly skilled will have questions regarding what to offer, how to position it, and what to do about RFP issues.
  • Approvals. Sometimes permission is required or things need to be escalated. Will the desired approval be granted? Until it is resolved, every approval needed is an issue.

Issues often surface when:

  • Reading the RFP. You want to respond with diligence to all the requirements. But sometimes you just can’t quite figure out what they meant, where they want it, what they are referring to, etc.
  • Planning. While issues can be surfaced by planning, they can also be caused by defective planning. Only reviewing the draft proposal is a mistake. Review your plans prior to implementation.
  • Fulfilling an assignment. Every challenge along the way to completion is an issue that needs to be resolved. 
  • Conducting a review. One of the goals of a review is to uncover issues, especially the unrealized issues that could be hiding.
  • Randomly. By their very nature issues can surface at any time and for unpredictable reasons. Be prepared.

Add them up and you can see where proposal managers spend most of their time. This is a key reason why having a proposal manager take writing assignments increases your risk of losing. The more things competing for a proposal manager's attention, the less they will be able to do to quickly resolve the issues.

The more quickly they are surfaced, the better. But surfacing issues requires effort. It’s important to not only be vigilant, but to make it easier for issues to surface than it is for them to hide.

Every assignment is basically an issue to be tracked. Often with sub-issues. And each issue needs to consider: 

  • Severity
  • Impact
  • Deadline(s)
  • Contributors and stakeholders
  • Related items
  • Relevant tools and resources
  • History

Tracking all of this will quickly exceed your ability to keep it on paper or on a whiteboard. You can use the above to build a spreadsheet for proposal issue tracking. But you’ll quickly run into challenges:

  • Either too many people have access to make changes to the spreadsheet, or not enough people do
  • Either no one is updating their issues, or someone spends all day updating for everyone else
  • You’re constantly scrolling to find what you’re looking for, either horizontally, vertically, or both
  • It’s difficult to relate issues to the proposal outline and to other items like RFP sections and people all at the same time (spreadsheets aren’t effective for managing relational databases, although you can sometimes fake it).

Honestly, managing proposal issues in a spreadsheet sucks. It’s the wrong tool for the job. The only reason to manage issues in a spreadsheet is that everyone already has them so they’re cheap and convenient because they can be accessed online without development (although you’ll burn some hours creating and maintaining it).

You could try tracking your issues using help desk software. Help desk software is great for tracking, but requires setup and won’t be able to link directly to the proposal outline, RFP, proposal content plan, etc.

In the last major upgrade to MustWin Now, we built in issue tracking to provide a proposal management layer on top of the planning and execution tools. We converted the spreadsheet formats we had used forever into a relational database and then hid that behind a web-based interface to make it even more convenient to use. In MustWin Now

  • Issues are easily reported no matter what you are doing in the tool.
  • Issues get automatically rolled up into dashboard views that tell people what they need to know in that moment. For example, what are the issues related to capture, the proposal outline, content planning, or writing?
  • Issues can also be filtered to be specific and enable working on issues as a process of elimination. We filter by user (my issues, issues that impact me, other issues), status, severity, impact, and more.
  • Every issue can be related to anything else on the proposal that’s relevant and is just one click away. Issues related to the RFP can show the full text. Issues related to phases, assignments, people, etc., can all take you there.

The result is improved situational awareness, faster issue resolution, and elimination of issues that get worse because they weren’t tracked.

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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.

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

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