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Focusing on self-assessment for proposal quality instead of reviews

To create a top-quality first draft, the people preparing it need to know exactly what is expected of them

The higher the quality of the draft, the less important your proposal reviews become. The disruption they can cause also decreases. This makes investing in getting the first draft right worth the effort. They need some way to compare what they have written to what is required. If you haven’t defined quality for them, they can only guess at it.

1st-draft.pngIn addition to defining proposal quality, you need quality criteria that can be used to measure whether the definition has been fulfilled. Quality criteria are a critical part of proposal quality validation, but they can also be used as a self-assessment tool before you even get to the review stage.

Self-assessment is especially important in organizations that lack resources. If the only people who have the right experience and subject matter expertise are working on the proposal, who do you get to perform quality validation? If you develop your quality criteria, then subject matter experts and writers can assess their own work.

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

The problem with people reviewing their own work is that they overlook things — sometimes on purpose. With self-assessed quality validation the goal is to keep honest people honest. You provide quality criteria so they don’t overlook anything. But unless you have someone else perform quality validation, it is possible for them to ignore the criteria. There is a trade-off here between reliability and convenience. Your circumstances, such as whether you can trust your own staff, will determine the best way to make that trade-off decision.

Also, it can be really hard to break organizations of the idea that quality comes from having someone read the proposal. If you have self-assessment and then someone reads the proposal for “quality assurance,” it’s very easy for that to degrade into subjective reviews that don’t actually deliver quality. They may deliver some improvement, but then again, they may cause more disruption than improvement. Simply reading the proposal and rendering opinions, no matter how experienced the staff offering those opinions, does not validate that quality has been fulfilled. And yet, there always seems to be at least one stakeholder who wants to ignore the quality criteria and simply read the proposal.

Performing quality criteria-based proposal self-assessment makes it easier to implement a more traditional quality control/quality assurance approach. The primary review is the self-assessment. But you also have secondary reviews, even if they are just of a sample, to catch when your primary self-assessment quality control is failing.

There are a few challenges you have to overcome to implement proposal quality self-assessment:

  • You must create and validate your quality criteria before the writing starts. This is easier if you standardize a portion of your quality criteria.
  • You must successfully shift from treating back-end reviews as the primary review, to treating them as a secondary review of lesser importance.
  • You must train or retrain everybody regarding how proposal reviews should be performed.
  • You must address accountability. Do you require people to actually complete and submit the checklists? How do you know that the self-assessments occurred?

The best part about building your proposal process around self-assessment is that it minimizes the need for back-end reviews. But that’s only true if people are diligent about performing their self-assessments. You have to be able to trust your writers. But trust runs both ways. Your writers have to be able to trust your reviewers as well.

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