Most RFPs give you a few weeks to respond; 30 days is pretty typical. However, task orders, commercial RFPs, and various circumstances may leave you with only a week or even less to prepare a proposal. Formal proposals processes require a certain amount of time to execute. Some people think that quick turnaround proposals are simply a matter of following the same proposal process, only doing things faster. Some people are also wrong. You might make incremental improvements by speeding up a traditional process, but you can't take a process built for a 30-day schedule and make it into a 5-day schedule just by doing things a little faster.
The way to make a change that radical is to take your process and identify the goals at every step. Then keep the goals, but throw away the process. It usually doesn't matter how you do it, so long as you achieve the goals.
The goal is not simply to submit a proposal:
- The goal of a kickoff meeting might be coordination and facilitation
- The goal of proposal planning is efficiency and accuracy
- The goal of a formal review is validation
The proposal process must produce a document that is compliant with the RFP, accurate, competitive, well-presented, with winning bid strategies, and do it under deadline pressure.
There are ways to achieve these goals that make sense when you have 30 days. Some of them do not make sense when you only have 5 days. However, you can still achieve the goals of compliance, accuracy, competitiveness, presentation, and winning bid strategies, you just have to do things differently.
One of the key practices of proposal management is to "plan before you write and write to the plan." But what is the goal? It's not to create a separate document called a "plan." The goal is to get the proposal right the first time --- to avoid endless re-writing cycles to get the document where it should be. On quick turnaround proposals, it may be necessary for writing to start immediately --- for those sections that map easily to the RFP and you know what should go into them. For others, writing can begin as soon as you decide what should go into them. You don't want to start writing before you've validated the approaches and win strategies. But you also don't want a lowest common denominator solution that has the entire document waiting for a review of the plan. You may be able to write to approaches and win strategies as soon as you've held discussions and reached decisions. Your goal should be to work in a methodical manner, being able to trace what is written back to your requirements and win strategies --- you may just lack the luxury of time to hold everybody up while you put it in writing.
Traditional proposal processes also put a lot of emphasis on formal reviews or Red Teams. The way most Red Teams are implemented, work comes to a halt as a fully formatted draft is produced, distributed, read, and then a sit-down meeting scheduled. A Red Team can easily eat two days of your schedule.
But what are the goals of the red team?
- To validate that the proposal is fully compliant with the RFP
- To validate that the proposed approaches are the correct approaches to bid
- To ensure that all corporate qualifications are included
- To validate that the bid strategies are correct and well presented
- To ensure the best score according to the evaluation criteria
- To identify any possible means to improve the proposal
You may be able to achieve these goals with procedures that take much less time.
During any draft cycle, you might pick someone to verify compliance and report only on compliance problems. Or you might arrange for an engineer-type to validate the proposed approaches. You can validate the bid strategies through discussion and then all you have to do is make sure the messages come across in writing. You might still choose to do a formal review, but now you need less people and are less subject to major structural changes resulting from the review. If you get the review down to just a couple of people, it is far easier to schedule without disrupting the whole effort. You might be able to eliminate the sit-around-a-table and talk disruption completely.
Here is a hypothetical example of a proposal that demonstrates quick turnaround techniques as opposed to best practices.
Day One. You receive a task order RFP that is a likely bid. So you start work on it. You can always stop if some decides not to bid later. You know who the project manager will be, but you're not sure how staff will be allocated.
You find you can write to the high level task management approach, you just can't write to how staff will be organized until that gets decided. Because the RFP specifies labor categories, you have sufficient descriptions of staffing to draft a roles and responsibilities write-up. As soon as you know whether you will use incumbent, existing, or recruited staff, you can also complete the staffing approach.
Day Two. You schedule a meeting with the proposed Project Manager to discuss the organization and staffing issues. The meeting ends with a hand drawn org chart that shows you which staff will go where.
Because the Statement of Work is well organized, you can approach it as a point-by-point response. Once the first draft is complete, it will be easy to establish compliance, and you can highlight any keywords that are missing.
Day Three. You schedule another meeting with the Project Manager to discuss approaches to doing the work as well as win strategies and the features/benefits of your approaches. These you turn into a two page executive summary that lists your corporate qualifications and describes why the client should select you. You take this summary to the executive sponsor of the bid to validate the win strategies.
You schedule a review for the following day with the executive sponsor and a senior business developer who knows the customer participating. RFP compliance and your approaches have all been validated, but you still want the quality assurance, advice from experienced staff, and buy-in of key stakeholders. You pass out a review copy that is not in its final format, and put it into production in parallel with the review.
Day Four. You get feedback from your reviews. Most of it is resolved by tweaking the presentation of your message in the Executive Summary. You also add some project references and flow-down the changes to the Executive Summary to a couple of applicable sections. The most difficult issue involves changes to how some of the staff are allocated. Some of the comments are already obsolete due to editing in final production. You mark-up the formatted draft from production with your final changes and send it back.
Day Five. You get the final document back from production. You give it a final look over for quality assurance and give a copy to the project manager and executive sponsor for final approval. You get it back and with a couple of minor changes submit the proposal.