6 topics to help you define your proposal quality criteria

You know you are supposed to have quality criteria, but how do you write them?

When I want to sound like a process guru, I refer to proposal “quality criteria.” When I want users to go along with my recommendations, I call them “checklists.” Either way, you have to figure out what they should be. This list can help you make sure your proposal quality criteria actually deliver the quality you are seeking.

  1. What it will take to win. This is the standard that defines proposal quality. You should never decide to bid a pursuit if you can’t define what it will take to win. Once you have done that, you should create quality criteria to assess whether your proposal fulfills it. Ideally it will be based on customer, opportunity, and competitive insight. And the RFP evaluation criteria. And your win strategies. And anything else that impacts whether you win or lose. But it has to be based on something or you have no direction for how to win your proposal and no means to measure whether you are successful in fulfilling that direction.
  2. What went wrong last time. Or what went right that you want to keep doing. Either way, lessons learned should factor into your quality criteria. What do you want to achieve, and how do you want to measure or assess performance to ensure it happens? You can use your proposal quality criteria to replicate success and avoid failures. Just make sure you are focusing on the right lessons learned.
  3. How do you want behavior to change? Creating proposals with other people is often like herding cats. But it's important to get good at it if you want to win proposals that are bigger than yourself. If you give people quality criteria and they use them to assess their own efforts, it can increase the effectiveness of the team, help keep them from wandering off on tangents, and keep everyone on the same page regarding what they should be trying to accomplish. So what behaviors need to change? How will people know if they are doing the right thing in the right way? Be very careful here. You might think that the behavior that needs to change is that people should start meeting their deadlines, when in reality the problem might be that they aren’t planning their content before they start writing. To successfully change behavior, you have to properly understand it.
  4. What defines success or completion of a deliverable or a step? If you want them do it right, then tell them what that looks like. Create the criteria that defines it. And make sure you not only give the criteria to the reviewers, but also to the writers. Your review process should be driven by your quality criteria, since a review process without quality criteria is like wandering aimlessly trying to stumble over quality.
  5. What do you want to double check? What do you want to trust people to get right, and what do you need to verify? Don’t think of proposal reviews as reading a draft. Think of them as double checking everything that’s an important part of winning. This can be decisions and actions, as well as drafts or deliverables. 
  6. Make it checklist simple. Some of your criteria will apply to all proposals. Some will apply to this specific pursuit. Separate the two. Those that apply to all proposals can take the form of checklists. Those that apply to a specific pursuit can also become checklists, but a new one must be created for every pursuit. You can build that into your process so that it becomes checklist simple.

Assessing your quality criteria

If you simply have three criteria for each one of these, you’ll have almost 20 quality criteria. And you’ll just be getting started. For each item on your list, ask yourself “Does it matter?” Will a given criterion impact whether you win or lose? You could have quite a long list of criteria if you give space to ones that only have a remote indirect chance of impacting the award, in addition to the ones that make a material difference. How important is whether the proposal “is written like it has one voice” compared to “is it optimized to achieve the highest evaluation score?” Think of this as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs applied to proposals. Do you think you’ll have a more effective review with 100 quality criteria or with a dozen? The goal is not to identify every little thing that might improve the proposal and then check for it. The goal is to have an effective review that contributes to winning. Pick your criteria carefully.
 



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Carl Dickson

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

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant. 

Carl 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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