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Best Practices for Managing the Proposal Process

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Cheryl Smith

16.02.2022

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4 min

In the words of Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks.”

Create a Flexible Game Plan

From the moment an opportunity is under serious consideration, it’s imperative to define the proposal process you’ll employ from kick-off to submittal. This may sound elementary, but taking time to choose the appropriate process approach now, and selecting and tailoring which variants work best for this bid, will save a lot of time and stress, especially if work comes down to the deadline wire.

  • Consider your typical timeline. How many review cycles do you typically schedule? How many team status meetings? How many will this proposal require to ensure compliance and quality? If the proposal is large and complex, touching base with your team, and your reviewers, more often will help address questions or concerns that can derail your timeline.

  • Consider the requirements. Are they the typical requirements you see all of the time? Or are there new requirements your team hasn’t responded to yet? If there are new or unusual requirements, you might want to allocate more time for research in the schedule before the team can start writing.

  • Consider a book boss or volume lead. Large, complex proposals have many, many moving parts. Assign a book boss or volume lead now, before coordinating the team, the content and the compliance becomes unwieldy and impacts the schedule.

  • Consider shadowing experts. The majority of your team has full time jobs and conflicting priorities. Any delays or missed steps can easily derail the schedule. If you anticipate issues, assign a team member to shadow an expert and help shepherd their section along.

Once you’ve flexed your process to fit this proposal, document it. Documenting the process prior to launch will provide the big picture, keep the team on the same page each step of the way and eliminate any confusion that might derail the schedule. The more accessible you make the process, including specific assignments and deadlines; the quicker questions will surface and the faster they can be resolved.

Gather Your Team

The team may look to business development for the capture details, but they look to you, the proposal manager, for how to write the proposal. This doesn’t mean you have to become an overnight expert on every aspect of the solution. It does mean you know how to best leverage knowledge and expertise from across your organization in an effective way. Consider annotating your proposal outline with strategy details and proofs or links to boilerplate or reusable content writers can use to get started.

If you find yourself using the same few people on every proposal, you may be putting your schedule at risk as their full-time job priorities shift. Plus, when only a few people take on a mountain of work that extends beyond their expertise, it can quickly lead to burnout. Consider assigning a shadow writer to an important expert, one who can either interview or draft for review or edit the expert’s draft for readability and clarity. While achieving your milestones, you’ll create a new resource for future proposals.

Determine how you’ll facilitate collaboration among your team. If you’re relying on email, set up some rules and standards. For example, a date and time for a recurring team meeting to discuss issues and provide status updates. Follow-up with an email that confirms status and provides next step details. If you’re struggling with confusing threads and volume, consider a centralized, online space where your team can congregate and collaborate beyond email.

Control Content

When you're managing a large, complex proposal, it’s easy for content to get away from you. There are a lot of people writing, adding and subtracting content, within large documents, making it harder and harder to maintain version control. If someone doesn’t follow structural guidelines, there goes your formatting. If someone adds outdated content, it can cloud your narrative during review.

To ensure content control at every level, construct a responsibility matrix that cascades throughout the proposal outline. Assign each section its own content manager — a book boss or volume lead responsible for maintaining the structural and factual integrity of all the content.

When it comes to version control, it’s much easier to maintain when you’re using a digital platform that does the saving for you. Rather than circulating multiple versions of the same document for the team to write in, centralize in a single version. This allows everyone to view the document, and those assigned to edit and review the document, without worrying about merging multiple versions and losing content.

Focus on Compliance

In the proposal world, compliance refers to your ability to meet all of the requirements and to do so correctly and succinctly. Begin with a compliance matrix — or a list of required items and how and where they will be addressed in the proposal — and use it to guide your writing and reviewing process.

If a section of content exists in a proposal for compliance reasons, it's important that the passage isn't accidentally removed by another team member. Following a compliance matrix and having a designated person in charge of content control will help ensure that no piece of the puzzle is missing that might disqualify you from consideration.

Leveraging an online editing tool that lets you control who can makes changes to a document can also help from a compliance standpoint. If editing access is restricted to just specific individuals, it's easier to make sure that no essential compliance elements are accidentally deleted from the proposal.

Reviews

The more eyes you have (other than the writers) checking for compliance and content quality, the better off you'll be. Whether you conduct a red team and a gold team review or follow another model, reviewing with independent reviewers is the best way to ensure that you're fully compliant and ready for submission.

Beyond compliance, a thorough, independent review will also help smooth the narrative, especially if the proposal has been pieced together from different writers. Things like redundancies can have an impact on the clarity of your message to evaluators.

No matter how large or complicated a proposal is following these best practices will help you manage your time and resources more effectively. That means laying out a clear process and leveraging the right tools to make implementation and collaboration easy.

Ultimate Proposal Checklist

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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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