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Do you have a work breakdown structure or flow chart for the proposal process?

I've never seen a good WBS for the proposal process. I think the reason is that too much is conditional (sequence, duration, contents):

  • You do the steps in the specified order, most of the time, unless you need to make an exception, which in reality happens all the time.
  • Each step usually takes a certain amount of time and effort, but these vary with every proposal depending on circumstances too numerous to list.
  • Which steps you include also varies on every bid, depending on the type, value, staffing available, and other circumstances too numerous to list.


We tried automating our off-the-shelf MustWin Process using one of the most sophisticated proposal workflow platforms on the market and found the software wasn’t up to the task. In the MustWin Process we recommend doing things like:

  • Scheduling pre-RFP reviews proportionately (based on the time from lead identification to anticipated RFP release).
  • Planning with a process that lets you tweak the balance of starting quickly vs. taking the time to plan differently on each pursuit and that lets you implement it in either a centralized or decentralized management model.
  • Using criteria-based quality validation that lets proposal planners arrange any number or type of reviews so long as they cover the criteria that need to be validated.


Rendering things like these as a sequential workflow becomes really complicated. But if you don't make it complicated, the process won't reflect or survive reality. That's what you see with just about any proposal process flow chart. It gives people a conceptual framework, but in reality, no one actually can actually follow it.

One of the things I learned when I created a workbook for our process was that it helps to skip the idea of flow charting the process, and instead focus on topics. This lets people go to a topic when it's relevant. When you define all the conditions needed to render the workflow, the resulting diagram resembles spaghetti and ends up being too complex to be helpful. You see this happen with processes that end up with 90+ steps and diagrams that few people understand and even fewer follow.

At best you might define phases like pre-RFP release and post-RFP release. But when you try to break the phases down you run into trouble. Does proposal planning happen before, during, or after the kickoff meeting (or all of the above)? Does quality validation come after the writing, or in a loop with writing, or in parallel, or what? The truth is that every proposal has variations based on staffing availability, the importance of the pursuit to the company, and other factors.

In our original hard copy workbook we got around this by using tabs. We have tabs for things like:

  • Pre-RFP Pursuit
  • Readiness Reviews
  • RFP Release/Kickoff Meeting
  • Proposal Planning
  • Proposal Management
  • Proposal Writing
  • Proposal Quality Validation
  • Proposal Production


Readers can switch between proposal planning, management, writing, and quality validation as needed. We put them in the book in the general order in which they happen, but in truth they are not sequential.

One of the tasks sitting on my “to do” list is to define some graphics that better illustrate the MustWin Process. I have some ideas, but haven't yet solved how to illustrate it end-to-end. I may just illustrate units and not tie them together sequentially. That seems to reinforce the utility of topics over steps.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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