As quickly as possible, proposal managers try to turn the chaos in which most proposals start into a finite process, with all the parts known and tracked. The goal is to move from total chaos to an itemized “to do” list that you can work through, item by item, to completion. Some people are more organized than others, and as a result, some are more formal in their approach than others. The problem with this approach isn’t that people manage by making lists, it’s that this approach is totally dependent on the subjective decisions and skills of the list maker. If you want to improve the management of your proposals, a good place to start is by formalizing the way you go about making your lists.
Most people manage the content by using the outline as their list. They check off each item as it’s written. At this stage, they don’t know whether what was written is useful or not. That’s why they have proposal reviews. They set up another list of action items for implementing reviews, and then another list of action items to correct any issues the reviews discover.
From the very first list, they are on the wrong track.
Or maybe it’s that they are tracking the wrong things. If you are tracking section by section you are not tracking what you want. What you want is to win. In order to win you need to achieve certain things in writing. Those are the things that you need to track on your list.
Instead of asking people to complete a draft of the sections assigned to them, the first thing you should do is identify the items you need the authors to achieve in each section in order to win. In the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process, we call this creating a Content Plan. A Content Plan acts like a recipe for the proposal. It facilitates the review process by providing a baseline to measure the proposal against. It enables you to verify whether the proposal achieves the goals it was supposed to. It also provides a list that both the authors and the proposal manager can use during writing to measure progress. No more waiting for a draft from the author, then waiting for it to be reviewed, only to find out that it totally missed the mark. With a Content Plan you can check off each goal as it is achieved. In fact, you can validate the fulfillment of each goal in real time, rather than waiting until all the sections are complete and sent off for review.
Instead of thinking in terms of proposal reviews that occur at certain milestones, it is better to think in terms of identifying the things you need to validate. When you do this, in addition to providing better scope definitions for the reviews, you can approach your reviews as a list of items to be completed. You have a list of specific proposal attributes to check. Some may happen at sit-around-a-table reviews, and some may not. Instead of trying to orchestrate meetings with unreliable results, your reviews target the items on your list to validate. When you’ve worked through your list, you have a fully validated proposal that you know is ready for submission.
The key to using lists to manage a proposal lies in making your lists relate to your goals rather than being simply a random collection of action items. The first step is to identify what it will take to win. Next turn them into instructions for writers, and then validate that that they where carried out in the document. The proposal effort then becomes finite, measurable and, most importantly, focused on achieving everything needed for you to win.