Three reasons why your proposal reviews are failing

Very few companies achieve consistently effective proposal reviews. Most tell themselves that their reviews are better than nothing. But ineffective reviews do not somehow lead to an effective increase in quality. Still, they assume that if they just try harder next time, their ineffective approach to proposal reviews will somehow produce effective results. No matter what they try, their reviews are still a struggle producing questionable results. Here are three reasons why your proposal reviews may never get any better.

  1. Your reviews don’t reflect reality. Most proposal reviews are done at milestones. When the draft is complete, you review it. But this has nothing to do with the way information evolves over the course of a proposal. An offering design becomes your value proposition, which becomes your bid strategies, which becomes instructions for writers, which gets translated into RFP terminology, and ends up becoming positioning against the evaluation criteria using language that sounds nothing like when you started. Strategies don’t come into the world fully formed --- they evolve. What you need to validate is each step in the evolution of your strategies and not the milestones.
  2. Your reviews are improperly scoped. Most proposal reviews have no scope definition. If you just hand it to someone and ask them to review it, you’re doing something wrong. You need to define what the review should validate. If you can’t itemize it, then your reviews are purely subjective and will quite possibly do more harm than good. But even if you have defined the scope for your reviews, there’s a good chance that the scope is impossible to achieve. If there is not enough time to validate what needs to be validated, it won’t be validated. A partial review is not necessarily better than no review. It will at best give you a false sense of confidence. If a review is too big, it needs to be made into multiple smaller reviews. If you can’t do that, you need to consider what you want to validate, and what you want to skip. Skipping a review is not worse than having a review that does not validate what needs to be validated. There are dozens of things you need to validate. It may be better to have dozens of validations than have one or two big reviews.
  3. Your reviews are about defects instead of risk. Since reviews are about quality, most people make the mistake of assuming they are about inspecting for defects. This leads to reviews that do more harm than good, because proposals are created through a series of trade-off decisions. What needs to be validated are the decisions. It’s not about defects, it’s about risk. Which decision is the right risk to take? Companies should validate decisions about strategies and approaches, and not wait until some milestone, look at what ended up on paper, and make a subjective judgment about it. This leads to going back to the drawing board instead of correcting a bad decision at the time it was made.

To break the cycle of ineffective reviews, try scheduling lots of well-defined validations at key decision points to manage your risk instead of having one or two major reviews at late-stage milestones looking for defects. Doing so will not only lead to more consistently effective reviews, it will change your proposal culture. It will become a collaborative effort to make better decisions instead of an arbitrary and uninformed judgment that people just subvert anyway. Which of those do you think will be more competitive in the long run? Do you think that might just be worth overcoming a little institutional inertia in order to change?

We dropped the whole idea of reviews based on milestones or color team labels a few years back and have been glad we did. Our methodology for Proposal Quality Validation is part of the MustWin Process. PropLIBRARY Subscribers get the details on how to implement it.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant. 

Carl can be reached at

To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.


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