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Time management for proposals

5 techniques to prevent running out of time in ways that reduce proposal quality and lower your win rate

There are two dimensions to time management. One is managing yourself. It’s not always easy, even though it’s completely in your own control. The second is working through other people, who have to manage their own time. This is much harder. The combination is extremely challenging.

The time management strategies for each are similar. But working through other people requires a variety of techniques. It is not as simple as needing discipline and authority. In fact, those are the least of the tools you need. Doing proposals with other people is its own topic.

Time management for proposals 

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  1. Do more earlier. It takes some time to ramp up a proposal. And there is much that you can’t do until you have the RFP. What you can do is think things through, determine what matters, and develop your win strategies so that when the outline based on the RFP is ready you can accelerate the time between having the outline and being ready to write.
  2. Don’t try to do more than the time available allows. This one is a little counter-intuitive. You need to scale back in a planned way to avoid having to drop quality assurance at the end. Simplifying does not have to mean that you produce a proposal that is not as good. Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applied to proposals. Focus on your message and drop the bells and whistles.
  3. Don’t try to make it up by working harder. If you plan to make up for it by just working harder, you’re setting yourself up for trying to accomplish the impossible. You’ll increase the odds that you end up scaling back quality to enable you to meet the deadline. Scale what you’re going to build to fit the time available with enough time to do a quality job. And then work harder to make up for it when you discover that unforeseen complications made things take longer than expected. 
  4. Stop moving the goal post. Don’t add revisions just because it looks like there is enough time available or you think you can make it better. Keep doing this and you’ll trip over the point where there won’t be enough time and you’ll sacrifice quality to make the submission. Cycle your proposals through planning, writing, and quality assurance, then final production. If you find yourself backing up from final production to writing, then either your planning or quality assurance is broken and that may jeopardize future proposals. For example, if you use quality assurance to discover what the proposal should be and then create rework instead of using it to validate that the proposal is what you planned it to become, you have a broken content planning process. Not only that, you risk entering into the infinite loop of reviewing and revising in the hope that the proposal will become something great until the clock runs out and you submit what you have in the last cycle. This is not a valid approach to quality assurance and can easily reduce quality instead of improving it. Define your proposal quality criteria and plan your content and then validate the plan. Validating that plan is far more important than reviewing the drafts that come later. Don’t fail at validating your content plan and whatever you do, don’t skip it.
  5. Think things through. Once. If you are constantly rethinking or trying to figure things out, you are constantly wasting time. Take the time to think things through well and then validate your approach before implementation. You can refine your plan as you move forward, but you don’t want to be moving backwards because the plan was insufficient or broken at the start. Plan to figure things out. Plan a careful reconsideration to validate your plans. Don’t move forward until it is complete. But then don’t move backwards.
  6. Efficiency. Proposal efficiency is not what you think it is. It is not making proposals take less time. Proposal efficiency is winning what you bid. But the kind of efficiency that involves making activities only take as long as they need to and not more is good for managing the time between RFP release and the deadline.
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