Objective proposal reviews might be possible if you have unlimited staffing. But nobody has unlimited staffing. And maybe striving too hard for objectivity actually gets in the way of validating the quality of a proposal. Where should we draw the line between reviewers who are part of the proposal effort and reviewers who are separate?
Do you really have enough trained reviewers to bring in a fresh team for every review to ensure objectivity? If you do, you are the exception and not the rule. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a company where this was the case. At best, you strive to have a review team that doesn’t include the same people working on the proposal. But it’s hard not to include the people who planned the proposal or participated in decisions related to the proposal. Stakeholders should be involved. But are stakeholders objective?
Effective proposal reviews should follow a sequence. By the second review, there is a context and your reviewers are no longer objective. Maybe proposal reviews shouldn’t be objective. For example, in an early review you should ask “Does our offering design reflect the right strategies?” And in a later review you should ask “Does the plan for the proposal account for and incorporate those strategies?” And when the draft is ready you should ask “Does the draft effectively implement those strategies?” After the first review, your proposal reviews need to be invested in those strategies to achieve effective proposal quality validation. After the first review you should not be approaching things freshly or objectively, but should be ensuring the integrity of the implementation. If you could bring in fresh staff for each review, you wouldn’t want to because they’d lack the background and context to provide validation for the next step. Maybe seeking objectivity can get in the way of quality as much as it can help.
Some of what we need to do when reviewing proposals doesn’t lend itself to objectivity. For example, key decisions and trade-offs should be validated. While you don’t want the program or proposal team validating their own decisions, your proposal process should make sure that key stakeholders participate in decision reviews. Where is the line between being an objective party outside of the proposal team overseeing quality, and a collaborator participating in the decisions? And once the reviewers participate in validating the decisions, they are no longer objective about those decisions. But maybe that can be a good thing.
Perhaps objectivity isn’t what we really need. Quality requires oversight. A company should provide oversight to ensure that proposals are properly planned and executed. The Powers That Be and our Corporate Overseers are rarely objective. Leaders must have goals and preferences if they are to provide direction. What we need for proposals is to ensure that the proposal reflects what it takes to win, as judged by the company submitting the proposal and not just the proposal team. The ultimate judge of proposal quality will be your customer and not your company. But you can’t wait to get the customer’s opinion to validate the quality of your proposal before you submit it.
It helps to recognize that proposals are created over time and that validation should occur over time as well. Reviews are part of proposal development. They don’t just tell you whether a proposal is any good, they tell you whether a proposal is on track to reflect what it will take to win. Proposal reviews should bring an outside perspective to assessing decisions, plans, and execution in order to make sure that everything has been appropriately considered. You need reviews to second guess, challenge, and reconsider what the proposal team has decided and done. And then bring everyone onto the same page so you can move forward together. But when you move forward together, you leave objectivity behind.
Notice that I left "critique" out of the list of things we need from a proposal review. The job of a proposal review team is not to critique. It is not to comment. It is to validate decisions and plans, validate that execution was according to the plans, and help the proposal team by noting any deviances so they can be reconciled. A proposal review team brings oversight of the decisions, plans, and execution that enables the company to ensure that the proposal team creates the proposal the company wants to submit. But it’s not their objectivity you need. It’s their validation.
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