Most companies perform their proposal reviews at level two. They recognize the need and are serious about reviewing their proposals. And yet, the results are not always effective and many ask themselves if it's worth it. Some have made it to the third level and they understand that reviews are needed across all phases of the pursuit. But they too suffer from inconsistent results. Few, if any, companies ever reach the higher levels. I wonder why that is. It's especially perplexing when you realize that your competitiveness depends on the level of sophistication of your proposal reviews...
Levels of proposal reviews:
- We review most of our proposals. We don’t have enough staff/time to review all of our proposals. If you have reviews and no written quality criteria, then you do not have a quality process. You have a review process. A review process is a good first step, but you will be more competitive if you evolve it into a quality process.
- We do a major review of every proposal before it goes out the door. This seems like an accomplishment, but unless you push to the next level, you are vulnerable to discovering that systemizing one proposal review can be worse than having none. You have achieved improvement but not quality.
- We have several proposal reviews over the course of each proposal. This is a huge advance over only having a single review. It narrows the scope considerably, but can still leave the scope for a given review undefined or too wide. You still have a problem with subjectivity, writers and reviewers not being on the same page, and getting contradictory or irrelevant advice from reviewers, because you are still effectively asking reviewers to give their opinions. You have well organized improvement over the life of the pursuit, but not quality.
- We have multiple reviews of each proposal, and we train our reviewers. Ten-minutes of discussion about what to look for before starting the review does not count as “training.” Do you train them in procedures, or in what to look for? Training reviewers in what proposal quality is, what the standards should be, and what to look for is necessary for raising the bar on the competitiveness of your proposals. The most experienced and capable proposal specialists may not agree on how to define proposal quality and what the criteria should be. You have no quality standards for your proposal unless you create them, and your reviewers consistently enforce them. The process of debating, standardizing, articulating and implementing your proposal quality criteria is one of the most important things you can do to increase your competitiveness. It’s how you set the bar. It’s how you raise the bar. It’s a necessary step toward making sure things are done correctly. Reviews without this may sometimes be very effective, but they will also be inconsistent.
- Our proposal reviews are based on criteria and not on milestones. At this level, you realize that what matters most is to validate the fulfillment of your quality criteria. The number of reviews or how they are conducted is a lesser concern. But to maximize your competitiveness, some of these criteria will be pursuit-specific. This means you need a process for defining your quality criteria on every pursuit, and reviewers trained to enforce pursuit-specific quality criteria. This is the level where you switch from having a review-oriented process to having a quality-oriented process. It is as big a step as when you first implemented reviews, and it requires organizational commitment to change how you perform proposal reviews.
- We have a written definition of proposal quality based on what it will take to win that we use to inform our quality criteria, we customize our criteria for each opportunity, and our proposal writers and reviewers both use the same criteria. This is the level you should be trying to get to. This is where you take your quality criteria driven reviews and integrate them into the function of closing the sale. When you create your quality criteria before the writing even starts, so that writers and reviewers both have the same expectations and the same standards, you integrate quality into your entire process. This results in better proposals that are far more competitive than proposals that have been reviewed, no matter how many times.
Which level is your company at?
What we find at the companies that have engaged us as consultants is that they are willing but struggle with time management and getting everyone on the same page. The senior staff who often participate in proposal reviews often only have a limited amount of time to give. Making the shift from milestone-based reviews to criteria-based reviews can mitigate the time management issues. But it requires an organization that is willing to change how they perform their reviews, and it often requires a strong mandate to get everyone to leave their review process behind and embrace a quality-oriented process instead. Companies that embrace quality methodologies everywhere else, often fail to apply them to their proposals.
If you'd like to discuss how to successfully make that transition, just let me know...
Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY
Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.