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Making the proposal process disappear so people will follow it better

Getting people to do what it will take to win

Proposal specialists talk a lot about the importance of planning before you write your proposal. Then reality sets in:

See also:
MustWin Now
  • If the RFP forces you into it, you complete a compliance matrix in a complicated spreadsheet so that you can create the proposal outline that the customer expects.
  • You make judgment calls to create the outline because RFPs are inconsistent, ambiguous, and contradictory.
  • Once you have the outline and assignments, writing starts.
  • The compliance matrix and outline never get validated.
  • Because there are judgment calls, other people start taking exception to the outline and making changes to it.
  • Unanticipated re-writing cycles begin to remap things to the outline changes. The more struggles there are over the outline, the more delays and re-writing.
  • When the draft is produced, ready or not, it gets reviewed. Nobody reviews it against the compliance matrix. They review it to see whether it sounds good. Whatever that means.
  • They make more changes to the outline because it no longer matches the RFP.
  • Instead of a great proposal, they submit whatever they have when they run out of time rewriting the proposal.

In 2004 I created the MustWin Process and published it as a workbook. It provided innovations that addressed these issues. It was a huge improvement over the way things were being done. But it was still a document-based approach to the proposal process. Documenting a proposal content plan seems like work and people conclude they might as well be writing. They also incorrectly conclude that recycling proposal text would be a faster way of planning and writing the proposal.

Over the last year, my primary focus has been on what amounts to a huge research and development project. It started out as experimental tools that move parts of the MustWin Process online. It became MustWin Now. The biggest thing I have learned from all this R&D is that an online process is very different from a document-based process. It’s like the difference between having a big complicated spreadsheet to maintain, and having a relational database with linked forms to fill in. Only instead of building the proposal text, it helps you do what you need to do to win.

And then something surprising happened...

The R&D we did started with seeing if we could build a web-based drag and drop compliance matrix. We did. But as cool as that is, what blew me away was the impact on the content plan. It just happened. Click a button after you build your compliance matrix and the shell for your content plan magically appears. And it's pre-loaded with the RFP requirements. That's several steps that just disappear. But not only that, dropping instructions into your content plan just requires a click and some typing. All the resistance that goes along with creating a plan as document evaporates. 

Here's what it looks like when you move your process online:

  • You create a compliance matrix using drag and drop. As you step through the RFP, you create a matching outline. It may not be faster, but it is more intuitive.
  • You flag your judgment calls with a click.
  • Before you publish your outline, you validate it. This is checklist-driven and very much accelerated. You can resolve your judgment calls before you publish the outline.
  • Publishing the outline automagically gets up your proposal content plan. You click on proposal sections and simply drop in everything you want to talk about and how you want things to be addressed. The RFP requirements are linked back to the full text. You’ve got one super-convenient place to go to figure out what to write and plan your proposal.
  • All of your stakeholders can contribute to your content plan and review it to make sure it reflects what you want your proposal to end up being. It’s not like asking them to create a plan. It’s more like asking for ideas and comments. It goes as quickly as you can think through what it will take to win. There is no paper to produce or formatting to be done.
  • At the same time you’re adding to your content plan, you’re dropping in quality criteria that reviews will use to assess what gets written.
  • When writing starts, it’s with MS Word open in one window and MustWin Now open in another. Writers see the instructions and quality criteria in MustWin Now, and write something to fulfill them in the other window. The instructions give guidance so they know not only what to write about, but how it should be presented.
  • While you can still have people sit around a table and render subjective opinions about the draft proposal, you can also have people quickly scan what was in the content plan to validate that it all made it into the draft. You can validate against quality criteria and skip subjective reviews altogether. Arguments go from being about what people like to what the proposal quality criteria should be and whether they’ve been fulfilled. Reviews are much more effective.
  • You get to the review with a draft that mostly fulfills the quality criteria everyone agreed to. You spend the time remaining making improvements to get the maximum score.
  • Process isn’t really a thing. The tool is the thing. People follow the process without realizing it. They still complain. Only it’s about improvements they’d like made to the user interface. 
  • Winning proposals result.

The point here isn’t that MustWin Now is great and you should subscribe to PropLIBRARY so you can use it. The point is that when you move the process online, the process disappears. People start doing what they need to do to win without thinking about it. You just have to avoid recreating a document-based process or proposal assembly tool. It’s something that I don’t think I could have created on purpose. It took a lot of experimenting to see what could be done and how things might work.

And the R&D may never end. Because once we’re done with the whole compliance matrix, outline, content plan, and quality validation workflow, we’ll add pursuit capture information collection, customizable recipes and content options, and expanded and more granular training options. Just about every new article I write triggers new experiments for how to implement the recommendations in the article as part of MustWin Now.

If you want to try your next proposal using MustWin Now, let me know.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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