We have written about the reasons why nobody uses storyboards to plan their proposals. The first step in developing a better alternative to storyboards is to be clear about what we need from our proposal planning efforts. Here is a list of things you need in order to successfully plan your proposal content.
- It should be in a format that will save people time. Section planning should be done in a similar format to that of the draft document to facilitate going from planning to writing. The format of the planning tool should not increase the amount of work required to generate a document. Instead, it should be a simple step to convert the plan into a draft document.
- It should provide instructions for the authors to follow. Instead of collecting information, we need to collect instructions for the authors to implement.
- It should provide a container to hold the ingredients for the section.It should hold everything that will go into the proposal section, such as topics to address, requirements to comply with, reminders, points of emphasis, conclusions you want the evaluator to reach, terms to use, placeholders for graphics, etc.
- It should work like a recipe. Reviewers should be able to look at it and ask “if all of these instructions are followed, will it result in the proposal we want to submit?” In other words, if you follow the recipe, will the dish be what you want to eat?
- It should provide a baseline to compare the draft against. You should be able to compare the draft against the plans to see if the draft addresses everything it should. In fact, you should be able to use the plan like a checklist to review the draft.
- It should provide a means to plan the solution as well as the content. Planning how you are going to do the work for the customer or how you are going to complete the project is very different from planning what you are going to write. You need to do both, and one planning tool may not address the needs of both. However, once you have determined what your approach or solution is going to be, you should be able to incorporate it into your plans for writing the proposal.
What would something like this look like? It would start off as a shell proposal with all of the headings in place from the outline. Into this shell would go all of the instructions for the authors. These would start with the RFP requirements. These could be direct quotes or referenced by paragraph number. Then you would include everything else: things you need to do to implement your win strategies, things you have learned from intelligence gathering, things that will need to be addressed even though not required by the RFP, points of emphasis based on the evaluation criteria, placeholders for graphics, etc. The result is a document containing instructions (at the bullet level) that works like a “to-do” list or recipe. It is, in effect, a heavily annotated outline. Writing becomes a process of elimination, replacing each instruction with the writing that you incorporate into your text.
When your Content Plan is complete, you can review and validate that it has addressed everything it should. We have taken these ideas and incorporated them into the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process. We use checklists to make sure that everything has been considered and that the Content Plan is complete. After the Content Plan is validated and turned into a draft of the proposal, we bring it back to review the draft. It is really helpful to compare the draft against the requirements put into the Content Plan.
The real test is whether the approach to planning enables you to plan before you write and whether it enables you to validate the draft. Storyboards aren’t used because people find that they take a lot of work to provide a mediocre plan that generally isn’t suitable for validating the draft against. The real reason to use a more efficient format isn’t simply to lower the effort; it’s to make it feasible to plan before you write. For the process to be successful, it must be clear to the participants (don’t expect them to take it on faith) that the effort saved during writing and getting through the review process is greater than the effort that goes into planning. Storyboards won’t get you there, but a Content Plan that puts everything into the document that they need just might.