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Bringing structure to managing proposal expectations

You can improve your proposals simply by doing a better job of expectation management

Effective proposal management requires thorough expectation management. But while some expectations will be the same for every proposal, many will change. Many will need to be determined, figured out, or updated as things change during the proposal. But with a little structure, you can improve how you communicate expectations and do a better job of making sure everything is covered.


  • If you overwhelm people with too much information about expectations, they will not absorb it all and even though you think you’ve communicated it to them, your expectations will not be met in full.
  • Expectations are bi-directional. The proposal manager has expectations. So does everyone receiving their assignments. So does every other stakeholder. They all need to be communicated for expectations to be met. Not just yours.
  • How you articulate your expectations matters greatly. If you expect participation, that’s what you’ll get. But you might get better results by defining outcomes that you can objectively assess and the full scope of contributions. 

The structure for proposal expectations below can be documented in different ways, depending on your goals. For example, you can implement this structure as a:

  • Matrix in Microsoft Excel. This is great for consolidating your view across all the roles and phases, but less useful when you are trying to focus on a particular role or phase.
  • Series of slides in PowerPoint. This works well during online meetings, giving you talking points for setting expectations.
  • Series of handouts made in Microsoft Word. This gives you something to attach to assignments or pass out at the beginning of each phase that defines expectations.

The structure for proposal expectations should be tailored to fit your stakeholders. Start by focusing on the roles people play and the phases in your pursuit lifecycle.

Identify the key roles people will play

For example:

  • Business Development Manager
  • Capture Manager
  • Proposal Manager
  • Coordination
  • Proposal Writer(s)
  • Graphics
  • Production
  • Pricing and Contracts

In some circumstances, you may need to consider stakeholders who are not part of the proposal team, and issues like whether to include subcontractors.

Create a list of phases for your proposal, based on deliverables

For example:

  • Pre-proposal pursuit and preparation. What is expected of each role before the proposal starts?
  • Proposal startup. What is expected of each role immediately after RFP release?
  • Content planning. What is expected of each role during content planning?
  • Writing. What is expected of each role during proposal writing?
  • Production. What is expected of each role during production?

Every phase, or even every step within a phase, can be thought of as being wrapped in planning, execution, and quality assurance. Each of these can have their own set of expectations.

For each phase, create a list of categories for expectations

For example:

  • Deliverables. For each role, what deliverables are expected? Who is responsible for those deliverables and who makes what contributions?
  • Deadlines. When are assignments expected to be complete?
  • Formatting. What format must deliverables be in?
  • Communication. When, where, and how should notifications, updates, and other information be communicated?
  • Responsibilities. Who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed?
  • Procedures. What steps must be followed in order to perform a task?
  • Guidance. What information can you provide to help the contributors? What policies must they be made aware of?
  • Resources. What tools, facilities, equipment, staff, or other things are available or must be located?

In some organizations, during some phases contributors will be expected to submit deliverables in the required format.  In other organizations, during some phases writers will not be expected to perform formatting at all. This structure gives you the means to define expectations for that particular pursuit, in that particular phase, under the particular circumstances you find yourself in. Simply as “what do we expect?” And then document it. 

Pro tip: If you want your expectations to be met, you should make sure your expectations are feasible and those making the contributions are capable (available, sufficiently trained, etc.).

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