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Why an outline or a compliance matrix is not enough to plan your proposal

Just because you have a proposal outline, you are still not ready to start writing

When it’s time to begin working on a proposal, most people start by thinking about what they should write in their proposal. Then they begin creating an outline and start putting it all in the outline. And that’s where they go wrong...

An outline tells you the structure of the document and not what goes into it or how it should be presented. While you can annotate an outline, that approach can't hold everything that needs to go into a proposal and still be manageable. When you use an outline as your sole planning tool, you inherently limit the quality of your plans. A menu is not the same as a recipe.

The same is true for the compliance matrix. A compliance matrix is a table that is used to match RFP requirements with proposal outline items. A table can only hold so much data. You can put the outline, the RFP requirements, and a handful of other things into columns. But you won't be able to address everything that should go into a proposal you want to win. A list of ingredients is not the same as a recipe.

It helps if you think about what your proposal planning needs really are to:

See also:
Proposal Outlines
  • Figure out what should go where.
  • Ensure that you follow the RFP’s instructions, address all of the RFP requirements, and are optimized against the RFP’s evaluation criteria.
  • Ensure that you address what it will take to win, in every place and every way that it is applicable.
  • Figure out where and how to address your customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence.
  • Ensure that you have the right offering and can describe its features and benefits.
  • Account for the key points, differentiators, strengths, and things you need to prove.
  • Provide information and key details proposal writers will need.
  • Anticipate your need for graphics.
  • Anticipate any limits, assumptions to be made, or issues in addressing the requirements.
  • Provide a means to validate what will be written before you invest the effort.
  • Provide a means to validate what was written when the draft is complete.
  • Based on the subjects that need to be addressed, identify who you need to write which parts.
  • Provide a foundation for developing the schedule.
  • Provide a means to measure progress to facilitate proposal management.
  • Avoid putting effort into documentation that won’t be part of the finished proposal.

You need these things to successfully write a proposal. An outline, no matter how annotated, and a compliance matrix, no matter how many columns it has, won't give this to you. You need to transition from the compliance matrix and outline into something that meets the needs of your proposal writers.

A compliance matrix and an outline are the starting point for proposal planning. They define the structure of the document, but are not enough to plan its content. However, once you have the structure, you can implement a methodology that will enable you to fulfill all your proposal planning needs.

That is the way we set up our Proposal Content Planning methodology. Once you know the structure for your proposal, you can treat it as a container and start filling it up. To ensure that you fill it up with the right material, we created a set of eight iterations that walk you through what to consider putting into your proposal. The idea is to:

  • Create a planning document that will become the proposal, so that no effort is wasted.
  • Ensure that you address everything you should by going through the eight iterations.
  • Provide a baseline that you can validate prior to writing, and then validate the draft against.

Using a separate tool from the outline and compliance matrix enables you to do better planning. It also means that your outlining efforts need only to focus on the structure of the document.

In order to outline the document structure, you typically start with the RFP. You need to cross-reference the instructions from the RFP along with the evaluation criteria and requirements. The tool for analyzing this is the compliance matrix, and you can use it to produce the proposal outline.

The first iteration in our Content Planning Methodology is to create a compliance matrix in order to discover the structure or outline that is required to address all of the RFP requirements. Then we take an empty shell or template and begin filling it with instructions for the author. The remaining iterations ensure that you address everything that should go into your proposal.

The result is a blueprint that describes what needs to go into each section of the proposal. It provides instructions for authors and a baseline to validate against. And it becomes the proposal by replacing the instructions with responses, providing a means to measure progress along the way.

Going beyond what you can do on paper

One of the things we've learned from creating MustWin Now is that there is a lot of benefit to leaving paper behind when it comes to planning a proposal. MustWin Now moves creating your outline, compliance matrix, and content plan online. But it does them in ways that can't be done on paper. It changes cross-referencing from something spreadsheet-centric, to something where the RFP, the document, your win strategies, and what should go into the content plan just show up in your proposal writers' assigned sections. They never have to deal with issues related to having an annotated outline or a compliance matrix. They just plan and do. Which is exactly what you want.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

More information about "Carl Dickson"

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.

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

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