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What are proposal quality criteria and how do you create them?

If you want your proposal reviews to be more than subjective opinion-fests and contribute to winning, you need written proposal quality criteria

Proposal quality criteria give you the means to measure the quality of your proposal. Before you can create quality criteria for your proposals, you must define proposal quality. Your proposal quality criteria tell you what you must accomplish in order to create a proposal based on what it will take to win. Defining proposal quality and creating quality criteria are critical parts of achieving Proposal Quality Validation.

While this is easy to understand, creating your proposal quality criteria is a bit more challenging. Consider:

The quality of your proposal and the odds of winning depend on getting this right.

The quality of your proposal and the odds of winning depend on getting this right.

How should you articulate your proposal quality criteria?

The best way to phrase proposal quality criteria is to make them testable questions. This prompts people to consider whether the proposal fulfills the criteria. For example, you might ask if the proposal or section is RFP compliant. But is that testable? Will people consistently recognize RFP compliance? Perhaps it might be better to ask whether it:

  • Fulfills the RFP requirements?
  • Follows the instructions in the RFP?
  • Contains all the important key words from the RFP necessary for the evaluators to find what they are looking for?
  • Is optimized to score highly against the evaluation criteria?

You will get far more consistent results asking testable questions than you will by asking open-ended questions or by asking questions with undefined terms like “compliance.”

Here are some other ways to formulate your testable questions:

  • Does it include/address/reflect/incorporate ... ?
  • Are the [bid strategies] correct for this pursuit and [clearly presented]?
  • Is what we are offering [the most competitive approach]?

You can also use the “Who, what, when, how, where, and why” technique for inspiration to help you conceive of testable questions regarding the quality of the proposal.

Also, don’t forget to address how you want things written in addition to what you want written. For example, you might ask:

If you are high enough on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applied to proposals for style to matter, you could ask:

  • Is the proposal written with a single voice?
  • Is the writing clear and simple?
  • Does the presentation style match the customer’s expectations?

And finally, here are some ways of wording your quality criteria that are too subjective and will lead to inconsistent results:

  • Does it have a high probability of winning?
  • Is it compelling?
  • Is it a great proposal?

Your writers have no way to know how to respond to such subjectivity, will likely be surprised by negative findings during the review, will still probably not know what to do about them, and may even ignore the feedback. It is much better to put the effort into understanding proposal quality well enough to form testable questions so that your writers can get it right on the first draft. That is why we recommend creating your quality criteria as part of performing Proposal Content Planning before the writing even starts.

Qualitative assessment vs defect surveillance

See also:
Goal: validate that the draft reflects your quality criteria

Are you trying to catch mistakes, or are you trying to win? You should be trying to do both, but how you word your quality criteria will prompt people what to focus on. 

Quality criteria phrased as testable questions can prompt inspections. Your quality criteria can:

  • Ask whether something was done 
  • Check on whether a requirement, specification, or preference was fulfilled
  • Look for particular problems that you’ve seen before
  • Remind reviewers to look for and flag unsubstantiated claims
  • Prompt people when to perform proofreading

Quality criteria can also look for the positive and encourage improvement. They can prompt the reviewer to look for the attributes that you think drive quality proposals. 

  • Does every key feature cited have a benefit?
  • Does every section make a point about our differentiators and add up to the reasons why the customer should select us?
  • Does every paragraph address something that matters to the customer?

It is a good idea to have multiple proposal reviews so that you can target some quality criteria at early stages and others at later stages.

Before and after

When you create your list of quality criteria using testable questions, and refine it down to an appropriate number of things that are really important, you’ll see that it is not just a tool to use at the back end to check for defects. It’s a writing tool. The writers need the quality criteria to guide their efforts. A list of quality criteria is like a cheat sheet for proposal writing. The quality criteria inform the writers of exactly what they need to accomplish.

But you have to create your quality criteria before the writing starts in order to accomplish this. And the quality criteria themselves must be reviewed in order to ensure they are valid. The last thing you want is to build your proposal around flawed quality criteria. You also need to make sure that your reviewers actually follow the quality criteria. But this brings us back to the need to get away from open-ended subjective reviews and enter a world where proposal quality is intentionally and specifically validated. This requires training for your reviewers, since many will be expecting just to show up, read, and render their opinions, just like they have in the past. Involving the reviewers in defining and validating the quality criteria themselves can also help.

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