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How to write about quality in a proposal

A proposal that emphasizes what matters to the customer will always win over a proposal for the exact same thing that does not.

Quality is an abstract concept and what matters to customers about it can vary greatly. In a proposal, quality is really about trust. The customer has to trust that you will deliver as promised. And like trust, claiming to be of top quality or being committed to it is not enough. Customers look at quality in different ways:

  • Sometimes it’s just a check box.  Do you have a Quality Control Plan?  Are you ISO 9001:2000 certified? Are you CMM Level 5? When this is the case, the customer may have learned that what companies say about quality often does not matter and instead look for third-party validation through a certification process.
  • Sometimes they want to know what you are going to do about it. What procedures do you follow? What kind of inspections do you conduct? Who is responsible for quality? Customers with this focus are really concerned about credibility of results.
  • Sometimes they want you to quantify it. How will you measure quality? What performance specifications will you meet? In this case they are attempting to move past abstract notions of quality and get to something concrete.
  • Sometimes they want you to tell them what your approach to it is. They leave it up to you to define it and explain what you do about it. You may have no idea what they think is important, and they probably will not be able to compare apples to apples. This is by far the most difficult circumstance to deal with. You may have to guess at what matters about quality to the customer.

What you write about quality in a proposal for each of these is very different. Being certified itself does not tell a customer what you actually do to achieve quality. But following the same procedures does not make you certified, either.

In general, the more detail you share regarding what you will do in your proposal and how well you quantify it is better. If you receive proposals from two firms with the same quality certifications, but one says what they will do and one doesn’t (even though their certification requires them to do the same things), the one that explains it will appear to offer more.

But it’s not the mechanics of quality control or the validation of quality assurance that ultimately matters, it’s about trust. What the customer gets out of you discussing quality is confidence in whether they can trust that you will deliver as promised. When you present the mechanics of your approach to quality, you should make sure that they reinforce the customer’s need for trust.

Terminology

There are many different quality methodologies and standards. In proposal writing, you have to be prepared to respond to any methodologies required by the RFP.

Formal quality methodologies use specific terminology (ISO, CMM, PIRP, QC/QA, etc.) that can sound like a foreign language. The customer may speak that language, or they may not. In general, it is better to use the terms, but explain things functionally in plain language. But it really depends on what quality language the customer speaks.

For example, should you use Issue Resolution Process (IRP), Problem Identification and Resolution Process (PIRP), Problem Identification and Resolution (PI&R), any of the dozens of other variations we’ve seen (like the ones with the extra “P” for “Preventing” problems), or just refer functionally to preventing, identifying, and resolving problems?  The answer should not be based on your preference or preferred quality methodology, but on the language that the customer uses.

When in doubt, we usually use functional language and avoid jargon. We make it about what needs to be accomplished and not about the terminology.
Techniques

You don’t have to be certified to use a quality methodology to use the terminology and incorporate the methods into your proposed approaches. Quality methodologies provide a great way to increase the sophistication of the services that you offer. Some of the techniques to be found in various quality methodologies include:

  • Escalation. Usually depicted as a table, with events/triggers for when an issue is taken to the next level and receives more attention and resources.
  • Sampling and inspection. When every item can’t be checked, a certain sample can be inspected and catch when defects are increasing.
  • Procedural verification. You can build things into your procedures that prevent, detect, and resolve defects. They don’t have to be costly or time consuming. Think in terms of checklists, approvals, and reviews.
  • Auditing. How do you know that a company is following its quality procedures? Bring in an outside auditor to verify that your procedures are being followed.
  • Audit trail. An audit trail is like a chain of custody for your processes. It consists of the records that demonstrate who did what and how. With an audit trail, you can know, after the fact, where a defect occurred. Even if you don’t have auditors, there is value in having an audit trail.
  • Repeatability. Ensuring that processes are repeatable, and not just made up as you go along, is a key attribute of many quality methodologies.
  • Quantification. Being able to measure things is critical for being able to manage them. Categorizing, classifying, and quantifying all go together. Statistical analysis may or may not be part of it.
  • Tracking and Monitoring. Tracking on its own is nearly meaningless.  But combine it with quantification and escalation, just as examples, and you get a monitoring system that is capable of preventing issues from reaching the customer’s attention.
  • Surveys. Typically used for assessing customer satisfaction.
  • Continuous improvement. Often claimed, rarely substantiated. However, for certain projects, especially repetitive ones, being able to credibly reduce defects, raise efficiencies, etc. over time can enable the customer to select you for your current value and realize a greater ROI over time.

If you are already doing any of these things and you just haven’t put it in writing, it gives you an opportunity to add value to your proposal without adding cost. The language used by quality methodologies can help you recognize what you are already doing and explain why it matters. If you learn to use quality language to describe it, you can end up with a much more meaningful proposal, without adding anything to the cost.
 


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