How to solve vexing problems by applying the proposal review process to the process itself

What makes a proposal process effective and appropriate?

Many proposal problems have more to do with the people involved than the document. Creating a document is easy. Creating a document against a deadline with a bunch of other people all with their own ideas about creating a document is hard.

How do you get everyone to agree:

  • On how to do things during proposal development?
  • Regarding who does what?
  • What criteria define proposal quality?
  • What to do about the risks?
  • On how decisions should be made?

What if you took the approach used for Proposal Quality Validation and applied it to answering these questions?

In Proposal Quality Validation, the first thing we review is our plan for reviewing the proposal. Maybe before we start creating our proposal we should hold a review to validate our approach for creating it.

Instead of getting everyone together, typically at the kickoff meeting, to tell them what the process is and what they will be tasked to do, maybe you should get people together and decide how decisions will be made. Who makes which decisions? Don’t leave that up in the air. Put specific examples on the table. This needs to be done before you start or at the very beginning of your proposal effort. It doesn’t make much sense to start working on the proposal and then have a review that might change how you going to go about working on the proposal.

Some decisions will be made by a person. Some will require multiple stakeholders. Some will require consensus. Who decides what the review plan should be? Who decides whether the quality criteria are good enough? Who decides who will work on the proposal? Who decides when to replace someone who’s not working out? Who decides what to do about missed deadlines? You can’t assume that the corporate hierarchy will automatically sort out these issues if they aren’t explicitly addressed. Indecision is one of the problems proposal teams face when trying to meet their deadlines.

The most challenging problems during proposal development tend to be personal.  They revolve around who will do things and who will decide what needs to get done. If you want quick decisions that lead to things getting done, you need clarity regarding who makes which decisions and how. The rest is just follow-through.

To achieve clarity, you need to put something in front of the stakeholders, not just to get their buy-in, but to intentionally surface the issues, disagreements, and potential problems with how the proposal will be created. To solve the problem of creating a proposal by working through other people, you need to start by reviewing how you intend to work through other people.

And just like with Proposal Quality Validation, the place to start isn’t with your own opinion about how to best accomplish this. The place to start is by defining your quality criteria. What criteria define quality for an approach to working through other people on a proposal? Instead of forming opinions and debating them ad nauseam, ask yourself what criteria can be used to assess whether a process is effective and appropriate. Discuss that and agree on the criteria before you move on to the techniques you think will fulfill those criteria. Otherwise your review is nothing but a subjective opinion-fest, including your own opinions. When you are done, people will understand not only what must be done, but why things must be done that way.

Just remember, this is a review. That means that the reviewers decide what needs to be fixed or changed. One of the reasons this solves problems is that instead of asking for their buy in, you get it without asking. You surface their concerns so you can resolve them. With their concerns resolved, the only thing left to do is create a great proposal, with everyone aware of how that will be accomplished. 



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Carl Dickson

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

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