15 ways to tell whether your proposal management problems are really offering design problems

Are you figuring out what to offer by writing about it?

A proposal describes your offering, but writing a proposal requires having an offering to describe. Instead of being problems with your proposal process, many of the problems that occur during proposal development are really problems with your offering design process. The two easily get tangled up. So here are some indicators that can tell you the true nature of your problems.

Indicators that the problem may be with your approach to offering design:

See also:
Offering Design
  1. You don't have enough detail in your approaches. This indicates that you have not put enough thought into your offering before writing about it.
  2. You change your approaches after you've written them. This indicates that you have not collaborated or reached consensus on what the offering should be before writing about it.
  3. You can't decide what your approaches should be until you see them in writing. This indicates that you are thinking in writing instead of thinking and then writing.
  4. Writers are responsible for figuring out what the approaches should be. This indicates that either you have no offering design before writing starts, or you are designing by writing narratives.
  5. Each new contributor changes the approaches as they re-think it from the beginning. This indicates that you have no process for collaboration, integration, decision, or consensus about what the offering design should be before you start writing.

Indicators that the problem may be with your proposal process:

  1. You can't decide on the outline. This indicates that you don’t have a process for developing, validating, and approving the outline, which results in writing against a moving target.
  2. The proposal is not optimized against the evaluation criteria or an assessment of what it will take to win. This indicates that your process for determining how to position the offering is flawed.
  3. Writers don't know what is expected of them. This indicates that you either have not defined the role, have no process for planning the content before writing it, and/or have no criteria defining proposal quality.
  4. Assignments are late. This indicates that your management processes or techniques need improvement. It could be that your initial estimates or your progress assessments were off. Or it could be that contributors failed in performance. But part of the process needs to anticipate that as a contingency.
  5. Proposal quality is not defined. This is a very common process failure. When proposal quality is not defined, individuals will definite it differently and the content will fluctuate as a result.

Indicators of problems that could have multiple sources:

  1. Non-compliance. Non-compliance can indicate an offering that was developed without consideration for the RFP in an otherwise compliant proposal, or it can indicate a compliant offering that was presented in a non-compliant proposal.
  2. Reviews lead to changes in direction. Reviews can take proposals back to the beginning to change direction because the offering is wrong or because of bad presentation.
  3. The schedule keeps slipping. Things are taking longer than expected. Is that because they can’t figure out the offering, because the proposal process did not account for everything, because resources aren’t available, or a lack of accountability?
  4. The document has holes, or portions that are incomplete. Do those holes represent an offering that is still being figured out, or a failure in assignment and resource management?
  5. The proposal is not well written. Is that because the offering design came so late that there was not enough time for editing? Or is it because the content planning or instructions to writers were insufficient? Is it a training problem or a process problem?

Problems involving offering design are generally a result of not thinking it through before you start writing. The result is designing by writing and re-writing. If you built a bridge by writing and re-writing narratives against a deadline, either it would never get built or it would collapse.

If you are proposing something like an integrated process team to build the solution for the customer, why don’t you have an integrated approach to figuring out what that solution should be? One designer after another writing a narrative in sequence, with each one changing what was previously written, is not an integrated process.

It helps to realize that the workflow for creating the proposal document and the workflow for figuring out the offering design are very different. Both involve planning before writing, but the nature of that planning is different. Designing your offering is usually an engineering process. It needs to define what the offering is and its components so they can be described in writing. The offering design should be like a blueprint and not a narrative.

How you define your offering design depends on the nature of what your company does. The combination of what your company does, how it does it, and its culture is unique. These differences make it extremely different for an outsider to tell you how you should design and define your offering. But if you have experienced any of the offering design problems described above, you need a process for designing your offering, that runs in parallel with the proposal process but is separate and is not based on writing narratives.

It is easy to assume that the problems that snowball at the end of a proposal and produce the train wrecks (to intentionally mix metaphors) are proposal problems. But often they are not. Instead, they are often the result of not having a methodology to design your offering (even though you probably have methodologies for design after the project starts). The process of writing a proposal is not a substitute for the design process you need to define your offering. If you are designing your offering by writing about it, that's a clear indicator that something is wrong.

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.

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