Introducing Proposal Quality Validation
Proposal quality validation is a methodology for formally assessing proposal quality instead of simply reading drafts and providing subjective comments. It is for companies that are serious about increasing their win rates by increasing the quality of their proposals. Unfortunately, the way most companies do their proposal reviews is broken. Proposal Quality Validation can help you increase your competitiveness and win what you submit, by improving the way you assess proposal quality.
The benefits of using Proposal Quality Validation:
- Writers don't have to guess at what reviewers want.
- Reviews are not subjective opinion-fests that do more harm than good.
- You can consider all the different things you need to consider when reviewing a proposal, without overloading your reviewers and asking them to look at more issues in one sitting than is humanly possible.
- Everyone gets on the same page regarding what a quality proposal is.
How to achieve this goal
The foundation of a consistently effective review process is something that almost every company lacks: a written definition of proposal quality that can be turned into criteria to be used during proposal reviews. It is such a simple and obvious thing, but almost every company we encounter still uses outdated, subjective, unscoped review practices.
Proposal Quality Validation separates what you review from how you review it. What you review matters more than how you review it. Your proposal process should surface the criteria you need to define quality based on what it will take to win. Then you have as many reviews, conducted in whatever ways make sense, at whatever times make sense, to validate that the proposal fulfills the criteria.
Proposal Quality Validation requires you to:
- Define proposal quality in writing. If you can't define it, you can't validate it. If it isn't written down, you can't get everyone on the same page regarding what proposal quality is.
- Create quality criteria to use during proposal reviews. This is usually done during Proposal Content Planning. But the quality criteria are what you use to determine whether you've fulfilled your definition of proposal quality.
- Use the quality criteria during writing as well as during reviews. Give the quality criteria to the proposal writers when they receive their assignments so they can self-review their work.
- Plan your validation reviews and validate the plan itself. Think through and document the number of proposal reviews you need to validate all your quality criteria and how many proposal reviewers should participate. Then hold a review of the plan prior to implementation to ensure that it will meet standards and expectations for this pursuit.
- Train reviewers to validate against quality criteria instead of rendering opinions. They can still make comments, but that should come after the quality criteria have been validated.
Achieving consistently effective proposal reviews requires that proposal writers and reviewers work from the same expectations regarding proposal quality. Achieving this in turn requires defining the criteria your reviewers will use to assess proposal quality before the writing starts, so that the writers know what they need to deliver. Those criteria should reflect what it takes to win. When you put all that together, it not only defines your proposal process, it enables you to make achieving consistently effective proposal reviews checklist simple. Having a review team leader to implement Proposal Quality Validation can be a big help.
Options for implementing Proposal Quality Validation:
The best approach for you will depend on your circumstances and the nature of your bids.
- Completely customize your validation approach. Define all criteria specifically for a given pursuit. Complete a form for each review to allocate criteria to phases and reviewers. Best for unique solutions bids or situations where you need Proposal Quality Validation, but there it has never been tried before in that organization. This is a high level of effort for the maximum possible improvement approach to proposal quality.
- Checklist-driven. You can accelerate Proposal Quality Validation without watering down your quality criteria. But it takes some investment ahead of time to make your reviews go quicker and easier.
- Collaborative validation. It's not always possible to have an objective review by people not involved in the proposal. Maybe that's not what you really need. Maybe instead of draft reviews what you really need is to validate the decisions you make about what you are proposing. Maybe instead of open-ended editing and comments looking for defects, reviewers should provide instructions to the proposal team. Instead of finding fault, maybe reviews should be a teaching moment.
- Focus on self-assessment instead of reviews. Rely on proposal contributors to meet the quality criteria. While there is no "validation" of successful criteria fulfillment, in small organizations, there might not be any people not working on the proposal to provide a separate review. Self-assessment may be the only option. So do it right by providing quality criteria.
- Proposal risks and issue tracking. If you lose, the odds are extremely high that it will be because of a risk or issue that you knew about but did not sufficiently mitigate.
- Hybrids. You can mix and match the various options for implementing Proposal Quality Validation. You can have checklist-driven collaborative validation. Or you can use a completely customized approach, but supplement and accelerate it using checklists. How you implement the procedures is less important than that you achieve the level of validation you need.
Contract these approaches with the one approach that most companies use. We call it proposal sight reading. While sight reading a proposal can provide quick feedback when needed, it does not maximize your chances of winning as much as Proposal Quality Validation. Sight reading can be improved by introducing simple criteria and learning how to tell if a proposal is well-written to form a watered down version of Proposal Quality Validation for when you haven't properly defined your proposal quality criteria.
Alternatives approaches to reviewing your proposals
The break/fix model for quality control doesn’t work that well for proposal development. Having experienced people show up and look for problems is not the best way to achieve a great proposal. The comments are inconsistent and either come too little too late, or too many too late. And this type of review often requires a highly disruptive production effort. The idea that you need a team of people outside the proposal team to be objective is useful, but not always possible. And not as useful as you might think. You need input, guidance, and validation from your experienced staff all along the way and not just their help finding defects late in the game.
One alternative is to make them part of the collaborative process and build your quality process around collaboration instead of proofreading. Another alternative is to cancel the reviews and focus on designing quality in from the beginning instead. You can use the quality criteria guidance from our Proposal Quality Validation methodology to help with this.
If you are going to persist in having open-ended read the proposal and comment on it style reviews, at least get good at it. Call it what it is: sight reading. You can improve the results you get from sight reading by training your reviewers in what to look for. Take all of your quality criteria, and condense them into the 5 or so most important things or root causes of problems and turn it into a review checklist. Essentially it's a form of minimal preparation, watered down Proposal Quality Validation for when you just can't get people to define and focus on quality instead of reading. Also, we’ve found that when you make reviews about guidance instead of detecting defects you get better results. Proposal Reviews are a teaching moment. Take advantage of all the experience participating in your reviews and enlist them as teachers instead of critics. Of course that only reinforces the importance of doing the teaching, in the form of defining quality and quality criteria, before the writing even starts. But you have to start somewhere.
Another alternative is the customer-emulation review. This is when you score the proposal against the evaluation criteria, doing so as closely to the way the customer will do it as possible. It is surprising how rarely this provides useful improvement. It is better to apply this line of thought to designing quality in at the beginning. Customer emulation reviews do not conflict with Proposal Quality Validation. If one (or more) of your quality criteria relate to achieving the highest possible evaluation score (and they probably should), then validating the fulfillment of that criteria by emulating the customer can be a very good thing. But you probably should validate more than just how it reads. You should validate whether the outline reflects the customer's expectations, whether the copy includes all of the relevant RFP keywords, how easy it is to find where to score each evaluation criteria, etc. A customer-emulation review is good, but quality validation is more reliable. The combination may be the best approach.
Frequently Asked Questions about implementing Proposal Quality Validation
After reviewing all of the material we've published, you might still have some of these questions and the answers might help guide your implementation.
How do you know when you've achieved this goal?
Here is a checklist you can use to assess whether your Proposal Quality Validation plan is sufficient to achieve your goals.
One of the most important quality reviews you will perform on this proposal is the one that validates that this content plan will produce the desired proposal. If you start writing without performing this review, you put the entire proposal at risk. Proposal Content Planning is a necessary part of Proposal Quality Validation.