Unless your company sells a commodity, there can be great variations in the proposal process for every pursuit. It can be better to think of your proposal process as a series of goals than as a series of steps. It is not a procedure to be followed, it is a series of things to be achieved, with flexibility regarding how they are accomplished. Achieving the goals matters far more than the procedures used. Here are the six goals we use to drive everything we do, with links to the relevant portions of the MustWin Process that help people achieve them.
1. Discover what it will take to win
You can't build a proposal around what it will take to win if you do not know what that is. Discovering what it will take to win informs what you should offer and what quality criteria you should use to guide and assess your proposal. Within the MustWin Process, we use Readiness Reviews to reliably ensure all bids are pursued with an information advantage. Your understanding of what it will take to win is necessary to achieve the next two goals.
2. Design the offering based on what it will take to win
Engineering by writing about it is a mistake. Before it becomes tangled up with writing, you should figure out at a high level what to offer in your proposal and do it with enough detail that you will not change your mind about what you are offering later. This means, for example, being confident that you can price it competitively, but not necessarily knowing all of your costs in detail. Your high-level offering design will become an input that is vitally needed for the next goal to succeed.
3. Prepare a plan for the proposal content that defines quality and integrates everything related to what it will take to win
There are too many ingredients that go into great proposal writing for you to be able to write a winning proposal just with what you have in your head when you sit down at the keyboard. This is exponentially true for proposals with multiple subject matter experts and writers involved. Proposal writing should start by figuring out what should go into the proposal in the form of a Proposal Content Plan that does double duty as a definition for proposal quality and a tool proposal reviewers can use to validate the quality of the proposal. Proposal success depends on achieving this goal.
4. Write to fulfill the instructions and quality criteria in the Proposal Content Plan
Proposal writing is not a creative act without structure. It is not about discovering the magic words that will hypnotize the customer into accepting your proposal. Proposal writing is about fulfilling what it will take to win. If you discovered it in the first goal, prepared an offering based on it in the second goal, and used it to plan the writing of every section in the third goal, then proposal writing becomes about fulfilling your Proposal Content Plan and not just conceptualizing the proposal. Proposal writing becomes a process of elimination by incorporating all of the instructions and ingredients identified in your Proposal Content Plan and writing to fulfill your quality criteria. Instead of thinking about it as purely creative, try thinking about proposal writing as being like cooking.
5. Validate that the draft reflects the quality criteria
Proposal reviews should be more than just a meeting where wise people share their opinions. Proposal quality should be validated for proposal reviews to be consistently effective. All four prior goals must be successful for proposal quality validation to be achieved.
6. Produce a final copy without any defects for an on-time submission
Completing the proposal is always more difficult than it appears like it should be. This is because it comes at the end, and is impacted by the cumulative effect of schedule delays and issues that arise. This can turn the simple acts of not introducing any defects in the final formatting, production, and assembly and not running out of time into monumental challenges.