This article is the first in a series offering solutions to the "unsolvable" problems of proposal development.
The nature of the problem. Everyone has an opinion. And the more that is at stake, the more they stick to their opinion. It doesn’t help that proposal quality is notoriously difficult to objectively define, let alone measure. It’s so hard that most people don’t even try. The result is that they end up arguing over whether the proposal is any good or which is the better approach to something. You can even catch them saying totally unproductive things like “I don’t know how to define it, but I’ll know when I see it.”
This also is an impediment to effective proposal reviews. Without a definition of proposal quality, reviewers are free to identify anything about the document that they don’t personally like. This not only leads to reviews that are not consistently effective, but also to reviews that contradict themselves or are even ignored as irrelevant.
What should you do about it? First, you need a definition for proposal quality. We recommend this one:
The degree to which the proposal reflects the things you have identified as being necessary to win.
One reason we like this definition is that it forces you to identify what is necessary to win. When asked what it will take to win, technical staff tend to think in terms of solution features. But if you are submitting in response to a written RFP with a formal evaluation process, then you can start with what it will take to obtain the highest evaluation score. Add in anything that might disqualify you. Keep going until you have a decent list. Then start looking at what you have to do to achieve the things on your list.
You can build your entire process around your list of what it will take to win. Think about how it impacts the planning of your proposal content. You can no longer simply pass out an outline. There are items on your list that the authors need to address.
Once you have a draft, you can validate whether you have achieved the items on your list. You can build your entire review process around your list, and make it much more effective. Instead of having open-ended reviews, you have a scope definition for each review. Reviewers get guidance and accountability.
When you use this definition, you can measure your progress by tracking how many items you have achieved on your list of what it will take to win. This is a big improvement over simply crossing off items on the outline and counting the number of days until the deadline.
Defining quality makes a big difference because it is less subjective. It also helps by forcing people to define the standard at the beginning of the proposal instead of waiting until the end. It brings the planning of your content, the execution of reviews, the measuring of progress, and the goals you are trying to achieve all into alignment. By focusing your attention on what really matters, it leads to the desired outcome — winning.
The best part is, instead of arguing over what “good” means and what a “quality” proposal looks like, you can instead argue over what it will take to win. And that will be a far more productive argument.