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An easy way to create a proposal management process and improve it over time

Where to start and where to take it after that

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3. Most proposal processes are created during proposal development. This is a bit like building the airplane while trying to fly it. But needs must. 

I’ve often been asked to help a company with a proposal only to find that there basically was no process and I’d have to make one up while doing the proposal. Having written most of what you see on PropLIBRARY makes it easier for me to do this. But it also gives the insight needed to help others in similar circumstances.

Don’t try to do everything below on the first day. Or even the first proposal. If you only do the first item that might be enough for now. But over time, proposal by proposal, you’ll want to address the rest. They get harder because they reach places that require organizational approaches instead of an individual one. Working through other people is hard. But it helps if you do it in a well-structured way that manages expectations. Here’s where to start and where to take it from there.

Where to start

See also:
Making Proposals Simple
  1. Build your proposal process around your reviews. Each stage with a deliverable, whether it’s a plan or a draft, should end with quality validation to ensure that it reflects what it will take to win the proposal at that stage. In practice, proposal assignments can be thought of as completing tasks in order to perform these reviews. A great way to quickly launch a process is to define the number of quality validation reviews and then plan what needs to happen in order to pass them. Think of everything you need to have at the completion of each stage, then plan reviews to validate that everything is appropriately accomplished so that they build on each other to result in a winning proposal.
  2. Implement a before, during, and after model. Define how to prepare for each review, how to conduct each review, and how to recover after the review. This is a quick and easy way to turn a set of targets into a plan for hitting them.
  3. Discover what it will take to win and build your proposal around it. While the structure of the process is built around the reviews, the process is driven by what it will take to win. What it will take to win defines the standard by which priorities should be set and decisions made. The challenge is that what it will take to win must be discovered for each bid and can change everything else about the proposal.

Then mature your process

  1. Plan proposal content before you write it. The guidance you give your proposal writers has a huge impact on what shows up in the draft. Thinking things through by writing draft after draft is a great way to see the level of effort explode and lose the proposal anyway. Build your process so that preparing a proposal content plan makes it easier to write the proposal and pass the reviews than it is to jump straight into writing.
  2. Implementing proposal quality validation. Achieving proposal quality requires having specific quality criteria to validate instead of subjective draft reviews. This is how you make proposal reviews more about quality than just draft cycles.
  3. Define roles functionally. Everything that needs to be done to win, needs to be done on every proposal. This remains true whether you have two people working on the proposal or 200. Define the roles that people play functionally so that you can assign more than one role to a person. Each person becomes responsible for fulfilling all the expectations for every role assigned. But at least you know what you should be trying to accomplish.

Improve stakeholder interaction and how you work through other people

  1. Defining inputs, handoffs, and collaboration. The better the job you do of defining what people need, the more likely they are to get their needs fulfilled so they can contribute to the proposal effectively.
  2. Reach back before the proposal starts. Don’t let a proposal lose before it starts. Make sure that what will be needed to close the sale with a winning proposal is delivered to the proposal.
  3. Define expectations instead of steps. Proposal development has far more to do with decisions, and interactions than steps. Expectations are what guides decisions and interactions. Each step in the process can have many expectations. If you want them fulfilled, focus more on the expectations than the steps. Keep in mind that expectations flow in both directions and both need to be fulfilled in order to achieve success. 

Go beyond the process

  1. Address culture. If everyone doesn’t share the same goals and can’t resolve their priorities based on the same goals, the proposal will encounter friction that will lower your win probability. Educate people about how growth is the primary source of opportunity within a company and that winning proposals is really how the company creates jobs, opportunities for promotion, and buys the things people need. Everyone in the company is a proposal stakeholder. A corporate culture that explicitly recognizes this helps reduce proposal friction, set expectations, and get everyone on the same page with compatible goals and priorities. 
  2. Measure and track ROI. If you want your company to stop treating proposals like an expense, you need to learn to speak the language of ROI and manage the proposal function accordingly.
  3. Embrace advanced proposal management. Advanced proposal management requires going beyond The Process. It requires that we integrate elements of organization, resourcing, the flow of information, performance, quality validation, and culture that are required to be successful. Once you think you have a mature process, advanced proposal management is how you take it even further.
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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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