Formalizing your proposal process is necessary to achieve consistent quality over time. Having a proposal process can help to ensure that:
- People understand their roles and responsibilities
- Expectations are properly set
- Time is used efficiently
- Outcomes are validated
- Best practices that contribute to winning are followed
A fully mature process is difficult to achieve. Even if you can get all the details right, getting everybody up to speed, able, and willing to execute them can be a nearly impossible challenge. The secret is not to jump straight to a detailed process.
A proposal process can be rolled out to an organization in phases. This has a number of advantages:
- Because people are not overwhelmed by the details, they are better able to understand and execute the process.
- Every proposal process must be adapted to the particular needs of an organization and its customers. It is not rational to expect to introduce a complex new proposal process and have it be properly optimized on its first use. It is better to plan a rollout that enables you to work towards a fully optimized process.
- When you introduce change, the amount of training required will be directly proportional to the amount of detail involved.
- Proposal processes follow the 80/20 rule. You get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the process. If you focus on putting the right foundation in place, you start getting most of the benefit right away.
- Your needs will change over time. Implementing a process is not a one-time event. It needs to grow and change as you do.
Instead of thinking of your process implementation as a one-time event, think of it as laying a foundation and a set of procedures for continuous improvement. We like to think of it as proposal evolution.
Once your foundation is in place, you will be able to build on it in phases. For your proposal process, this means start simple and add details over time. Unfortunately, most continuous improvement programs are wishful thinking that never actually produce anything. Your process will only evolve if you make specific plans to add and refine details at planned intervals. Most proposal processes stay the same until a major proposal loses. You must overcome this aspect of human nature by defining where you want to end up and put in place a schedule to implement the steps you will take to get there.
During the initial implementation, it may be sufficient to simply name the process deliverables. For example, you might require certain plans to be created. The format and contents of the process deliverables can be formalized in the future, once you are used to how things work.
Each time through the process, you should target where you want to add detail and improve. Once you are comfortable executing the process, it's time to add detail regarding what should be in each process deliverable. Continuing with the example of proposal plans, once people have adjusted to the requirement that proposals be planned, it becomes easier to implement checklists or other guidance that define what should be in those plans.
Once you have sufficient detail in your process deliverables, then you can standardize the formats. At first, you just want people to have a written plan and you don't care what it looks like. But as soon as that is working, you will want to standardize the format so there is consistency from one proposal to the next. If you handle this right, having a format to follow will make it easier for people to prepare their documents, helping you to achieve acceptance for the process.
Once the format is standardized, you should turn the process deliverables into templates. This will make it much less burdensome to create them, which should be a major goal. It is easiest to achieve compliance with a process when you make it easier to follow.