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A Conversation with Proposal Professional: Neal Levene

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Cheryl Smith



4 min

At this year’s APMP BPC in Dallas, Xait’s client panel talked about how innovative technology is increasing productivity, reducing stress, and helping deliver more with the same staff.
Recently, we caught up with one of our panelists, Mr. Neal Levene, Proposal Director, CPP APMP, PMP, for a deeper dive into how innovative technology helps him adopt agile processes and increase team focus on content.

What proposal challenges were you trying to address?

One big challenge comes to mind: How can we increase the team’s focus on content? Formatting is important, and in the government space, it’s tied to compliance. But allowing our experts to focus on the “look” while writing was a time-consuming distraction. By separating the writing layer from the formatting layer, XaitPorter focuses the experts on the content. While the proposal team focuses on the formatting, the headers and footers, numbering and bullet styles.

The proposal team used to have to touch every word, sentence, paragraph and page before reviews and then again for submission. Now the centralized formatting layer enforces formatting no matter what you copy and paste into it. So the proposal is always formatted. A few tweaks and it’s out the door. Need to change the bidding entity? Two minutes later and the cover, footers, etc. are changed. As far as time-savings, it’s like having another full time person on the proposal team.

How has overcoming these challenges changed your process?

XaitPorter enables the agile processes I’ve been pushing, like multi-authoring, on demand frequent iterative reviews, and a natural iterative process. For example, we don’t have pens down anymore. It was such an old-school way of thinking. Now, the team writes right up to the review. And the proposal team doesn’t waste a full day writing, reviewing, and preparing the proposal for review.

Another challenge is that people are extremely comfortable with Microsoft Word, even with its limitations for proposals and the long document. Think of it this way, every time we set up a Word template or “shell” and share it with the team, we’re taking a risk. That numbering will get messed up, that we’ll have eight different Heading 1 styles, that graphics will float off the page or that the file will crash and we’ll have to take time away from the schedule to fix it. With XaitPorter, that just doesn’t happen.

How have reviews become more productive?

For one, we write and review in parallel. Instead of dates on a calendar for reviewers to remember, reviews are every Friday and reviewers can come and go when it’s convenient for them. When we finish a section on day 2, we review it and mark it done - and focus our time on sections that require a more prolonged review process to complete. That buys more time for writing and reviewing.

When it comes to configuration management, especially when experts edit during reviews, you can backtrack to any place in time, without losing a keystroke. If Bob makes a not so smart edit, I can look at the beginning and the end of Bob’s edits and take out that change. If I want a snapshot of the document at any given time, I have that - without accepting/rejecting hundreds of comments at a time.

How does roll-out and user adoption go?

What I love about XaitPorter is its simplicity. Sure you can do a lot of configurations, but you don’t have to. It’s suitable for everything you need out of the box, quick to install and easy to adopt. You can train a contributor in like 10 minutes. It has that kind of design precept in mind. Its simplicity is one of its strengths. And that’s an agile precept.

I’d like to add, Xait has some of the best customer support I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in and around this industry for a long time.

What advice do you have for someone looking at innovative technology for the proposal team?

XaitPorter solves a lot of high-level challenges. So you have to ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to win proposals? Or to have track changes like in Word? I mean, you can keep driving a horse and buggy to work, but out there on I-495 you’re going to get yourself run over.

With Word, people are too tied to formatting. But quality content remains the key. Build a good layout template and let one person worry about the formatting, and let the experts analyze, think and write.
As you move forward and explore, consider and weigh your high and low level objectives.

What advice do you have for young people looking at the proposal profession?

My daughter recently finished a BA and MA in American History, and chose this profession. She loved writing and researching. She wanted to find a place where she could practically use her skills. After doing about half a dozen information interviews, she realized that Proposal Coordination would be a great first entry into the field. She was able to secure a position that is going quite well.

As for advice, my best advice is to join APMP. APMP is an incredible organization, and it’s an amazing opportunity for people coming up in the field. Pick a topic you’re interested in, get involved, volunteer, join a committee. Rub shoulders with everyone in our industry. That’s where you’ll make the most connections and get the most value.

Be a person of action. When I learn something new, I ask myself, how am I going to implement this? When I come away from an event, I commit to taking action. Action is the greatest way to grow as a proposal professional. Throughout my career, at the end of each week, my actions are my to-do list.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Great work takes great effort, and failures are our greatest lessons. I wouldn’t trade my failures, without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Remember proposals are a noble profession. We create jobs for people and we’re lucky to be working in this field.

Thank you for joining us today Neal – and for sharing your experiences with XaitPorter - we always learn something new when we talk with you, and we promise to turn our learning into action!

Related articles: A Conversation with Proposal Professional: Jeremy Steward

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Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith is our Senior Content Writer. She has additionally been writing and managing proposals since 1998. Shipley trained, she has helped establish proposal centers and advised on capture strategy, coached orals teams and lead marketing, communications and knowledge management programs. Cheryl is a graduate of The George Washington University with degrees in Theatre, Communications and Literature. When she’s not sharing her passion for work, she loves drawing, writing, cooking and exploring the Virginia woodlands with her husband, their dog Chase and the fuzzy guests they host for Rover.

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