Tim Birdsell

Over the last 15 years I’ve been in a position to see the kinds of errors companies make in developing proposal response centers. I am writing this article in hopes I can help you avoid these costly and unnecessary mistakes.


As an employee, I’ve been a Task Order (TO) proposal team member and leader at both large and small businesses. At Raytheon, I organized a TO Proposal Shop, and I’ve also worked as the sole proposal manager in small companies. As a consultant, I’ve helped create standard operating procedures for proposal centers and conducted training for proposal support elements.

The size of the company has no relationship with whether a company developing a proposal center will be successful or not. I’ve seen failures and successes across the spectrum.

Here are some of the issues I’ve witnessed.

1. Existing Staff

When a company decides to develop a proposal center, they often start with their existing staff. “Bobby ran our re-compete and we won; let’s have him lead the new center.” What experience does Bobby have in managing a diverse range of proposals? Does Bobby even want the new position, or are you setting him and the company up for failure? Hiring an experienced manager, or getting a consultant to guide the development of the proposal center is crucial for success.

2. Dual-Hatted Managers

Smaller companies often use their capture manager also as their proposal manager. “Sally has done a great job as our capture manager, let’s have her lead our proposals.” The skill sets needed for both positions are drastically different; however, there are people who can do well performing in both roles. The problem is that, while Sally is performing great as a capture manager or proposal manager, she can’t be effectively supporting the other role.

3. Organization Mirroring

When a company decides to create a proposal center, someone in the organization may decide to mirror a center they are familiar with at another company. So they proceed to organize the center based on a model that may not fit the needs of the current company. Using a consultant who has helped organize many centers can help you avoid such errors.

4. Freedom to Criticize

The proposal development process is a business development function, not operations. Some companies want to align the proposal center under the operations branch. If George is reporting to the director of operations, he may hold back his opposition to bad ideas in fear of reprisal. The proposal lead must be aligned under a business development function that reports up the chain equally with the operations organization. Proposal personnel must have freedom from reprisal when they provide constructive input on proposal development issues.

5. Individual Strengths

Not all proposal managers are created equal. Lucy is a great proposal manager on large programs where there is a 30-45 day bid period. However, when working a TO with a 7-10 day response, she is out of her element. There are proposal managers who can function in either environment, but most tend to be more effective in one or the other. When building your proposal center, you need to look for staff experienced in the type of responses you will be handling.

6. Using your SMEs

One issue I have seen at small to mid-sized companies is that the leadership does not want to use their personnel who are working on customer sites to develop the proposal. This one I really don’t understand. The people working directly for the customer are the ones who know how the work is being done, what the customers concerns are, and so much more than any staff sitting back at the main office. I’ve heard the argument that they are already working full days; we don’t want to burden them. If I were on a customer site and people were working on a proposal to keep me employed, or expand my company’s footprint with my customer, I would certainly want to be involved.

7. Effective Ops Personnel

Probably the most frequent problem across all business sizes is having to use ops personnel with no training. When a proposal center is created, you need to establish processes, get buy-in from leadership, and then train the ops people on the processes. Without providing this training, you have a guaranteed recipe for failure.

Creating a successful proposal center is a significant milestone for a company and there are many things to consider. Bringing in an outside advisor to help develop the plan can save a company a lot of damage, loss, and grief.