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18 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. Showing up with a non-compliant or merely compliant offering isn't going to maximize your win probability. Trying to figure out your offering in writing and then fix it by re-writing is a recipe for proposal disaster. 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. It is important to validate that you have the right offering before you commit to writing narrative 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.
  6. The only input is the RFP. If you figure out what to offer based solely on the RFP, it won't demonstrate any customer insight beyond the RFP. It will also tend to result in a solution that is merely RFP compliant and not competitive. It may also indicate that those designing the offering aren't trying hard enough.

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.
  6. Figuring out what to write and figuring out what to offer are done at the same time. These are best done separately because engineering by thinking in writing has a high failure rate. This is also an indicator that you are rushing into writing without thinking things through.

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?
  6. Your win rate is lower than it should be. Taking the time to think things through and produce high win rate achieving proposals is very profitable. A small change in your win rate often pays orders of magnitude more than the additional time it took to do it right cost. Trying to minimize proposal effort at the expense of win rate can happen because of bad financial advice, people being pulled in too many directions with poor guidance regarding priorities, a corporate culture that doesn't integrate growth into all aspects of the company, a lack of executive participation, or a process that focuses on the wrong things.
 

Problems involving offering design are generally a result of not thinking things through before you start writing. The result is figuring out what to offer 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.

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 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 more like a blueprint than a narrative.

How you define your offering design process 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. You need to show up for proposal writing with an offering design that is already figured out and has been validated.

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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