A well-planned, well thought out proposal process equates to less stress, greater organizational efficiency, improved clarity, greater collaboration and ultimately, better end results. Whether you're managing a billion dollar proposal with hundreds of subsections (and likely many volumes) or executing a smaller bid, the key to delivering a top quality proposal is following these guidelines.
Create a game plan
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, and then starting on the first one.”
From the point when an opportunity becomes a proposal effort, it's imperative to delineate your process from beginning to end. Although it may sound elementary, choosing the appropriate proposal model, selecting tailored variants of that model, assigning roles and responsibilities and determining the timeline for each individual component will save you a lot of time and stress in the long run.
Furthermore, if you lay out your process when you launch a project, it's easier to anticipate areas that will demand more time and resources and to assign them accordingly. Proposals have strict timelines and completion guidelines — any delays or missed steps can result in your proposal being disqualified from consideration altogether (and all your efforts being rendered fruitless). It's exceptionally important that your process account for all the requirements of a specific bid and that you allocate adequate time to researching, completing, editing and reviewing each section. That means taking your organization's own process requirements into consideration when drafting your timeline. Does your company require internal reviews at different junctures in the proposal process? This will alter your lead time and may compress the time you have available to deliver the completed proposal.
Documenting this process prior to your project launch is essential to eliminate confusion and keep everyone on the same page moving forward. When communicating details like timelines and assignments, it's vital to make these guidelines readily accessible in written form, so everyone can reference the same documentation to see when things are due and who's responsible for what tasks. If you do a good job of assigning roles and responsibilities at the get-go, then throughout the process you will only need to manage and monitor, rather than scramble to fill gaps or enlist new participants.
Gather your A team
Often times, the individual or individuals championing a proposal aren't authorities on all the information that must be included therein. It's not up to you as project leader to become an overnight expert in every aspect of the proposal — but it is your responsibility to leverage the knowledge and expertise of your organization in an effective way. Using only a few people from a single office to complete a proposal is inherently limiting and can lead to burnout (if a few people take on a mountain of work that extends beyond their area of expertise).
When delegating roles and responsibilities, however, it's important to determine how you will facilitate collaboration between team members that aren't local or perhaps even located in the same time zone. Using a proposal management tool can give you a central platform and virtual space to congregate, making it easier for people to collaborate and communicate without tying up valuable time and resources traveling to meetings.
When you're managing a large proposal, it can be easy for content to get away from you. If there's a lot of people adding and subtracting content from a larger document, it becomes harder to maintain version and configuration control, not to mention clarity. If someone does not follow structural guidelines or adds a piece of content that is extraneous or outdated, it can dampen the delivery of the entire proposal and cloud your overarching message. To ensure content control at every level, it's important to construct a responsibility matrix that cascades throughout the proposal's many sections. Each section of content should have it's own content manager — someone who's responsible for maintaining the structural and factual integrity of all the content that is submitted into their section.
Version control is easier if you're using a digital platform to host content. It's important to choose a tool that offer admins the ability to restrict and custom tailor each user's editing abilities based on their role and involvement in the project. Digital platforms can also help with version control by autosaving previous iterations of a draft and maintaining a single and central point of truth (rather than circulating various copies of a draft through email). This allows everyone on a given project to view what content has been added or replaced and evaluate where the document stands in it's completion.
Focus on compliance
In the proposal world, compliance refers to your ability to meet all the requirements in a given proposal 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 — and use it to guide your writing and creation plan. Content control can factor into compliance concerns; if a section of content exist in a proposal for compliance reasons, it's important that the passage isn't accidentally omitted 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 a few individuals, it's easier to make sure that no essential compliance elements are accidentally deleted from the proposal.
The more eyes you have (other than the writers) checking for compliance and quality of content, the better off you'll be. It's important to schedule regular reviews into your proposal process — whether you conduct red team and gold team reviews or follow another model, reviewing with a larger team is a good way to ensure that you're fully compliant and ready for submission. Furthermore, a thorough review can help solidify the quality and flow of a document after it's pieced together, to check for minor redundancies as well as ensuring the overall structural integrity and clarity of your message.
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.