People tend to look at their business development and proposal process as a series of steps. Another way to look at it is whether the process answers questions that people have so that they can complete the task. Rather than asking yourself whether your process accounts for all the activity that will occur, instead ask yourself whether your process answers the most important questions. Here is a list:
What do you need to do to be ready to bid? Most bids are lost before they even start. Even people who know that often start unprepared. The reason is that the process doesn't tell them exactly what they should do before the bid actually starts.
- How should you go about planning? You need to plan your proposal, but what constitutes an acceptable proposal plan?
- Who should do what? It takes more than an assignment list for people to know what to do. It takes more than a roles and responsibilities table at the beginning of the process. At all times it should be clear what tasks need to be done and who is responsible for doing them.
- How will expectations be set? Most of the problems that proposals get into can be avoided if expectations are properly set.
- What guidance should people get in performing tasks? It's not enough to assign a task. You have to make sure people are capable of fulfilling it. A big part of this is making sure they understand what is required to fulfill the task. Since most of the people working on proposals are not specialists, they often need guidance. A little bit of ad hoc training or a manual is not sufficient. If you want them to be successful, you must make sure they get the guidance they need. If you want to make sure that happens, it must be built into the process.
- How do you measure and track progress? Feedback to the proposal team is critical in order to know when what you are doing is successful and when it is not. How do you know if things are on track? You need a way to measure progress. And if you want things to stay that way, you need a way to track your progress.
- How do you estimate and track resources? How many people do you need to prepare the proposal? Where will the work locations be? What equipment and access requirements do you have? Most people just guess at their resources requirements. A major cause of proposal failure is insufficient resources. If you want a systemic approach to solving that problem you must build resource estimation and tracking into your process.
- What are the deliverables and how should they be prepared? A proposal process requires a number of deliverables such as planning documents, review comments, forms, templates, and checklists. To prevent people from inventing these as they go along, your process should define the deliverables, including content and format.
- Are people getting what they need, when they need it, and is it in the right format? People have needs. Some of these include food, lodging, recognition, feedback, and information. Does your process address what people need in order to perform their tasks and be successful? With regards to information, you may need to address the format that information is stored in to ensure that it is accessible at the moment of need.
- What criteria should be used in reviews? If you want reviews to be conducted effectively, you must specify the criteria to be used in performing the review. In order to ensure that reviews have criteria that are specific to the opportunity, the process must address the definition of the criteria and their use.
- How do you validate that things were done correctly? People often issue assignments and then are surprised when things don't get done correctly. To avoid this, you need to build validation into your process. All work needs to be checked to make sure that it was done correctly. Instead of building your process around one or more milestone reviews, you may need to build it around your need to validate work as it is performed instead.
- How do you know if you've created the right proposal? If you can't define something, you can't measure it. If you can't measure it, you don't know when it is complete. If you can't define what the right proposal is in terms that are measurable and can be validated, you won't know whether the proposal you have written is the right proposal. "I'll know it when I see it" is not a reliable approach. Your proposal must begin and end with how you define the right proposal.