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How to create checklist driven proposals that win

It's about thinking faster and not about recycling content

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

It’s not about what fragments of text to drop into a template.

At least not if you want to win.

The checklist driven proposal should be about what you need to do in order to win.

The checklist driven proposal should help you figure out what you need to have in a winning proposal.

Once you have that, you know what you need to achieve before the RFP is even released. You know how to measure quality. You know what the writers need to achieve, and what the reviewers should look for.

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

Sounds simple.

Try it.

Now, if you are trying to identify what you need to include in your proposal, stop it. That’s too specific. If you are trying to identify attributes, stop it. That’s too vague.

Instead, identify considerations and results. At each step, what should you consider? What do you need to achieve? How do you know when you've achieved it?

See, it really is simple.

If you tried to chart the considerations, you’d end up with a mess of conditional spaghetti, overlapping considerations, and if/then/else exclusions. And that’s before you add in the peculiarities of the next RFP in the door. So don’t chart them. Just list them. And keep them short, like bullets.

See also:
Successful process Implementation

The person reading the checklist can decide what’s relevant and skip the ones that are not. And your quality reviews can double check to make sure anything important wasn’t left out. And if something’s 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 gathered, it’s no big deal.

Being the proposal geeks that we are, we sometimes lapse into process obsession. But in thinking about this article we thought it would be cool to develop a proposal process that was nothing but checklists. Then we realized that we already had. We just used way too much process jargon to describe it. 

Do you need a proposal process checklist that reminds you of the process, or should a proposal process checklist be what the proposal contributors needs to verify that they are meeting expectations? When you approach the proposal process as a set of goals, you don't need a checklist to remind you to follow procedures. You need a checklist that enables you to assess whether you've done what is needed to fulfill the goal. Without intending to create a proposal process checklist, here is what we created while focusing on enabling people to self-assess their contributions:

Our Readiness Review approach to the pre-RFP pursuit phase is about completing a list of questions, goals, and action items. We should have called it a Pre-RFP Checklist.

Our Proposal Content Planning methodology is really a checklist for creating a checklist driven proposal. 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 somesuch 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.

While I’ve found checklists wonderfully useful, I’ve always been really negative about checklist driven proposals. That’s because everyone I’ve ever seen tried to use checklists to assemble the content of a proposal, which inevitably led to brain-dead proposals where the priority was on being a slacker and not on winning.

It’s kind of funny that in spite of being so negative about checklist driven proposals I went and created a checklist driven way to do proposals. Only while I was reengineering the proposal process, I also inadvertently reengineered what a checklist driven proposal should be. I wish I could claim that I did that on purpose, but I’m happy with the result anyway.

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

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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