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Do You Have a Proposal Process, Or Just Think You Do?

If you ask a proposal specialist whether they have a process, they will almost always answer "yes." It would be embarrassing to do otherwise. Yet, if you examine how things actually get done, you'll find most of them are not actually following a process.

A process is more than a series of milestones. Having a kickoff meeting and a red team for every proposal does not mean you have a process. Having a bid/no-bid review does not mean you have a business development process. Generating reports does not mean that you have a business development process.

If it is not implemented and being used, you do not have a process. A document sitting on the shelf that is not followed is not a process.

A process followed by only one person that is not documented is called a habit. It might be a good habit, but it is not a process.

If it is documented, but you are the only one following it, or the only one who knows how to follow it, you do not have a process. What you have is your own way of doing things. Your way of doing things might be effective, but it is not a process.

If it is not documented, it is not a process. And even if you think it is, you can't prove it. Your process should not only be documented to demonstrate its existence, but it should also generate evidence of its completion. Otherwise, how do you know it is being followed.

If you can execute your process without using the process documentation, you don't have a process. And if you do, it's not adding any value. For a process to add value, it must do more for you than what you can do on your own.

Keep in mind that having a process does not mean you are doing things in the most effective way. Having standards to measure success can be more valuable than the process used to get there. Even if you do have a process, you should be able to explain why you need one. Addressing those needs may be more important than having a documented process. For example, among other things, you need to manage expectations, track progress, validate results, provide quality assurance, prevent issues, mitigate risks, and implement best practices. If you are achieving these things, you are probably working effectively, with or without process. Process will help make it consistent and verifiable, but you might be able to live without that if you are getting results. If you have a process and are not achieving these things through it, you might want to re-invent your process.

This gets us to, "what should your process do?" Your process should guide your actions and make sure you don't forget anything. It should be documented in such a way that it enables you to prepare deliverables more quickly than you could without it. It should be something that is useful and followed during execution so that it doesn't grow stale sitting on a shelf. It should enable everyone to understand their role and what will be expected of them. It should provide feedback mechanisms that help avoid defects and missed deadlines before they occur. It should embrace continuous change, because otherwise "continuous improvement" never actually occurs.

Having good work practices and having a process are not the same thing. Unfortunately, having a good process does not necessarily mean that you have good work practices. And having good work practices does not mean that you have a good process (or any process at all). So if you think you should have a process, make sure that you one you have is real. And above all else, make sure that you can explain why you need it.

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By Carl Dickson,
Founder of and PropLIBRARY

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