Developing a Content Plan for a proposal typically starts with creating an outline. For proposals that are based on complex RFPs, the outline is based on an RFP compliance matrix. A compliance matrix is a table that shows where the various RFP requirements are addressed across the outline for the proposal. The first column of the matrix is the heading for the proposal. Each section of the RFP also gets a column. Each row in the matrix links each proposal section with one or more RFP requirements. RFP requirements can be entered into the matrix cells either as full text or just the RFP paragraph numbers (depending on the length of the RFP). A compliance matrix serves three purposes:
- It shows you what requirements must be addressed in a given section.
- It enables you to validate that all requirements have been responded to.
- It makes it easier for you (and potentially your customer) to understand the RFP and how to navigate your response to it.
Creating the outline and the compliance matrix go hand-in-hand. If the RFP contains instructions regarding how to organize the proposal, you should start there. Next, add items to the outline until you have a place for everything you need to address. Because any given requirement or topic may impact the outline in multiple places, creating a compliance matrix can get complex. For example, if the customer asks you to address risk, but doesn't provide a specific place to do it, you may need to address risk throughout the proposal in a variety of contexts (technical, management, staffing, etc.). Parsing the RFP for individual requirements and then using the matrix to allocate every single requirement to one or more specific proposal sections can be a daunting task --- analogous to untangling spaghetti. Because of the vagaries of language, judgment calls may be necessary regarding where some items are relevant. As you complete the compliance matrix, you will modify your outline, probably many times, until you have the right balance of:
- Following the customer's instructions regarding organization
- A rational organization of information that will answer all of the customer's questions
- A clear, easy to navigate structure for the proposal document
- Complete compliance with all requirements
- An organization that is optimized against the customer's anticipated evaluation criteria and approach
- A presentation that best reflects your offering
Your outline is not complete until it accommodates all of the requirements and other topics you need to address in your proposal.