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How detailed should your proposal quality criteria be?

What will it take to achieve a proposal that reflects what it will take to win?

Should your quality criteria be few and broad or numerous and detailed? Should they specify exactly what to write, or should they verify that things were considered? The depth of your quality criteria depends on a number of factors, including the consistency of your proposals and the level and variety of subject matter expertise required to figure out what to write.

Are you trying to identify criteria based on areas of potential issues, or the issues themselves? Is your goal to verify that the proposal writers have considered things or to verify that they have written things in a certain way? Each topic or even individual criterion might be at a different level of depth, depending on your need for quality validation of that item.

If every proposal is a unique and highly technical solution to a unique set of RFP requirements, then you may not be able to specify exactly what to write. But you can use quality criteria to verify that everything that should have been considered or at least mentioned is present. On the other hand, if you are offering a commodity, then you may be able to predict exactly what will need to be presented and how to present it, so your instructions may be very specific.

Depending on your circumstances, your quality criteria may verify that the proposal writers have:

  • Considered a topic
  • Addressed a topic
  • Addressed a topic sufficiently
  • Addressed a topic in a particular way

You can also make your quality criteria conditional or provide multiple options.

What will it take to achieve acceptable quality? What will the proposal your company wants to submit look like or contain? If you do not know the answers to these questions, you should not start writing in the hope of somehow discovering it. 

Do you know what you need to know to be detailed?

Do you have the subject matter expertise to create quality criteria based on the details of what you are proposing? Or are you confirming that topics have been addressed? Do you need the proposal to have a plan, or is it enough to have a plan for delivering a plan? The right level of detail in your proposal quality criteria should be based on the level of detail you want to drive into the proposal, but sometimes you may have to word your criteria around what you know and what you don’t.

Achieving the right quality balance

How many proposal quality criteria become too many? When do you have so many that reviewers start skipping them or glossing over them? This is somewhat dependent on how many reviews and how many reviewers you have available, as well as the length and complexity of your proposals.

How you word your quality criteria has a major impact on how the reviewers assess them, and whether they do it consistently when there are multiple people involved. Ideally, quality criteria should be objective. It helps to formulate them as questions, to guide the reviewers to consider the answers.

This is especially true when you have to ask difficult to answer questions like "Is this section RFP compliant?" Even if there is no obvious gap in compliance, the answer may depend on a subjective assessment of the level of detail. The standard in these cases should be “What will the customer consider compliant?” But that is also subjective. If you can't make a criterion perfectly objective, then use your criteria to surface the issue. For difficult decisions or assessments, you want to drive discussion that leads to a corporate decision regarding what the right approach for your proposal is.

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