Depending on the type of work and how the RFP defines the requirements, you may need to conceptualize your approach as well as your content. This is typically true of proposals to provide solutions or to perform research. If the RFP does not tell you what to propose or how to do the work then you have to determine how you will achieve the goals in addition to what you will say about it.
Conceptualizing and validating your approach is basically an engineering problem. If you already have an engineering methodology, then we encourage you to use it. If you do not, then you need to:
- Define the solution. What are you going to do in order to achieve the goals? What is your approach?
- Specify the solution. You need to document it so that others can collaborate. But you do not have to do this in a full narrative. We recommend using illustrations. They enable you to identify the components and annotate them where necessary. Simple hand sketches should suffice. Storyboards are a traditional approach to proposal planning that work better for planning solutions than they do for planning content. If your solution is too complex to render with a series of illustrations, then storyboards can be used to document it. If you use storyboards, then take care not to entangle solution planning with content planning.
- Validate the solution. Are you prepared to commit to this approach? Have all stakeholders provided input? Will it achieve the goals? Is it realistic, feasible, and efficient? Is it compliant? Is it within budget? Does it offer competitive advantages? Your validation plan for the proposal should address validating the solution separately from validating the content.
- Write the solution into your proposal. This can be as simple as transcribing the illustrations or storyboards into the Content Plan and then following through with the narrative. Regardless of the approach you take to planning the solution, you still need to plan how the content will be developed before you start writing. When both the solution plan and content plan have been validated, then you are ready to start writing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a proposal thrown into chaos because during a late-stage review someone decided the solution was wrong. When this happens, it’s a double-hit — in addition to the time you spent on the original solution, you also lose the time it took to write about it. That is why it’s critically important to validate the solution before you start writing it.
This is why storyboards were invented. Unfortunately, while storyboards work for brainstorming and validating a solution, they don’t work so well for content planning. And since many RFPs tell you the solution, people were trying to plan their content using the wrong tool. Ultimately most gave up, and that is why you hear people talking about storyboards but rarely actually using them.
In order to move forward, you must recognize that solution planning is different from content planning, and that not all proposals require solutions. When you do this, you can start using the right tool for the right job and avoid entangling the solution with the writing until after the solution has been validated.