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How to create better checklists for managing proposals

It's about thinking faster and not about recycling content

The best way to create a checklist driven proposal is not what you think.

See also:
Making Proposals Simple

It’s not about checking off which content to include in a template.

At least not if you want to win.

A checklist driven proposal should be about what you need to write or do in order to win. 

A checklist driven proposal should help you figure out what you need to say in order to win instead of picking from a list of things said in the past to other customers in other contexts.

When you know what you need to talk about in order to win, you'll discover what you need to know before the RFP is even released. You'll also know how to measure proposal quality. 

All you have to do is turn what it takes to win into a checklist.

This sounds simple, but try it. Everyone thinks they know what it will take to win until they have to write it down in a way that provides the guidance that proposal writers need. Most attempts that I've seen talk around what it will take to win, while providing little or no guidance that proposal writers can actually follow.

What should writers accomplish in order to produce the winning proposal? How can that be turned into a checklist?

Start by identifying considerations and results. At each step, what should they consider? What should they achieve? How do they know when they've achieved it?

If you tried to create a flowchart or decision tree of all the considerations, you’d end up with a mess of conditional spaghetti, overlapping considerations, and if/then/else exclusions. And that’s before you start applying the peculiarities of a given RFP. So don’t chart them. Just list them. And keep them short, like bullets.

The person reading the checklist can decide what’s relevant and skip the ones that are not. They can very quickly size up all the considerations and figure out what they need to do. In addition, your quality reviews can double check to make sure anything important wasn’t left out. And if something on the checklist is not quite right, or it needs to be modified because of the RFP, or to take into consideration some juicy piece of intel you’ve discovered, it’s no big deal to make the change.

Proposal managers (and this includes me) tend to obsess on the proposal process. But if you think about it, the entire process is basically a bunch of considerations. Instead of trying to map it, all you need to do is create an organized list of goals for people to accomplish and the considerations that should go into achieving them.

When you approach the proposal process as a set of goals, you don't need a checklist to itemize every step in every procedure. You need a checklist that reminds people of things that can help them to fulfill the goals.

In writing this article, I realized that in creating the MustWin Process I had already done this, without intentionally trying to create a process based on checklists.

Our Readiness Review approach to the pre-RFP pursuit phase provides a list of questions, goals, and action items to guide business developers to gather the information that proposal writers will need after the RFP is released. Maybe we should have called it a Pre-RFP Checklist.

Our Proposal Content Planning methodology is really a checklist that guides you through planning the content so that proposal writers can make sure what they write includes everything it should. It enables you to turn the writing into a process of elimination. Like following a checklist. We definitely should have called it a Checklist Simple Proposal Writing Methodology or some such instead.

The Proposal Recipe Library we created that provides inspiration through questions instead of recycling narrative is exactly the kind of checklist we described above. It tells proposal writers what to consider to accelerate their ability to complete their assignments. Maybe we should have called it a Proposal Content Checklist Library instead.

The checklist we create to plan the content serves double duty as a quality validation tool. Instead of calling our criteria-based approach Proposal Quality Validation, we should have called it Checklist Simple Proposal Quality Assurance.

And the way it enables you to trace the quality criteria/checklist back to the content plan/checklist back to the pre-RFP readiness review/checklist creates traceability for your checklists all the way back to what it will take to win. The checklists don’t write the proposal for you, but they make creating a proposal based on what it will take to win checklist simple. Maybe instead of calling it the MustWin Process we should have called it the Checklist Simple Approach to Proposal Management.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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