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Tips for proposal management

How to make the most out of your resources

People are not interchangeable parts. You should use people where you can get the most out of them. Some people are better than others at tracking and record keeping, following instructions, document formatting, proof reading, sticking to the schedule, following the RFP, etc. These skills do not always correspond to experience or pay-grade.

It will help if you understand what you really need. For example, some people have knowledge, but are lousy writers. They can contribute information, but the best way to get it might not be to ask them to write a section. Instead, pair them up with someone who has good interviewing and writing skills. If you have a good writer, instead of giving them a specific section, you might want to task them with re-writing instead. Then you can feed them the input from all of your subject matter experts. There is always more than one way to divide up the work that needs to be done. Pick the approach that best fits the resources you have available.

How to deal with subcontractors

Your subcontracts will always be late with their submissions, and when you get them they will not be what you asked for. Plan accordingly:

  • Put your subcontractors on a different schedule from everybody else. Get their stuff early.
  • Make sure you have multiple contacts at the subcontractor, including the boss of your primary point of contact.
  • Make expectations absolutely clear. People will agree and then be late anyway, but at least it won’t be because they didn’t know what you wanted.
  • Get your subcontractors to commit to being present and working out of your office at key times. If key writing will take place over a few days or a week, ask them to be there. Do this early, when they are still excited about the opportunity to team. Better yet, make it part of the teaming agreement.

A version control process is vital

You must have a simple to follow, preferably documented, process for version control. It should include your file naming conventions, and address back-ups and roll-backs in case of a problem. But most of all, it should provide a complete and thorough audit trail. You may need to know who made what change when. You may not be able to simply rely on file date stamps, and may need to use tracking sheets.

How to use compliance tables

One of the major reasons that people are forced to do proposals The Wrong Way™ is that they are out of time. This is almost always caused by starting too late. You probably even know why and who’s to blame, but can’t do anything about it and have to figure out a way to submit anyway.

When you create your proposal outline, you can create extra work for yourself, or you can save yourself effort by combining requirements. A good proposal will track to the RFP perfectly and will address all requirements in detail and with examples. But you don’t have time for that. Instead, consider combining similar requirements and addressing them as a group. If you have time, you can provide a list of RFP paragraph numbers that a given section addresses.

RFPs often say that you should not simply respond by saying that you will comply with the requirement. So you have to do it without anyone catching on to what you are doing.

One way is to combine requirements in a table or exhibit. Then introduce the topic with high-level language talking about what will be done, the benefits it will provide, or your experience with it. Then refer to the table for a list of steps or components of your solution. You can improve on this by providing a column in the table for your approach (where you provide a single sentence’s worth of detail), the benefits of your approach, or how your approach mitigates risk.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Process is whatever you call it. The purpose of a proposal process is to ensure that information flows in an orderly and reliable way into the document. The goal is the orderly and reliable flow of information into a winning document – not process. Therefore, when in doubt: cheat. Do the proposal The Wrong Way™. Achieve the goal if not the process.
  • Avoid having to show authors that their changes were made. While verifying that changes were made correctly is a good idea for quality assurance, that does not mean that you have to include the original author. For one thing, you might decide not to include all of the edits! Especially near final production, if an edit won’t affect the evaluation score of the proposal, you might decide to ignore the edit. You won’t have time to discuss the finer nuances of every edit you ignore.
  • Start a Text book library. Text books are filled with wonderful high-level lists that can be used to invent an approach out of thin air. And since most text books don’t deal with real-world applications, a lot of what you will find sounds really good and technical, but doesn’t actually commit you to much.
  • Feed people. Have food available so that you don’t even have to take time away from the proposal to order it. Wasted food is better (and cheaper!) than wasted time. And the cost of the food is miniscule compared to the investment in the proposal.

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By Carl Dickson,
Founder of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY



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