7 Principles That Should Guide Your Federal Proposal Process

  |  October 22, 2019

These 7 principles come close to saying it all.  Guidelines as to how a large or small business can visualize and improve the activities needed to win:  Customer focus, streamlined process, planning and measurement, author guidance, resource allocation, Red Team direction, and much more.

Proposal Process Goals:
1. It’s all about the customer. Your process needs to result in a proposal that is built from the ground up around your customer. Each proposal will be targeted to directly address your customer’s wants, needs, and preferences. Proposals need not over-rely on re-using pre-written content. Often, the time it takes to properly customize pre-written content takes as long, if not longer, than it would to write it properly from scratch. The process must reinforce the importance of seeing things from your customer’s perspective. That way, it’s harder to make the mistake of delivering a proposal that simply describes your company/offering or is a collection of brochures and boilerplate stitched together.

2. Opportunity pursuit must be planned and measured. Your process must provide a structure to collect the intelligence needed to win an opportunity during the critical period before the RFP is released. Without specific guidance, this critical time is likely to pass without much being achieved. Without a means to measure progress, you will have no way of knowing how far along you are towards achieving your goals during this period. If you don’t know whether you are behind where you should be, you probably are behind. Conversely, if your process defines the goals for intelligence gathering and provides a means to measure progress, you are far more likely to achieve those goals and start your proposal prepared with a competitive advantage.

3. You won’t get it if you don’t ask for it. Your process needs to guide participants at every step. In particular, your process needs to focus on providing detailed instructions for proposal authors to ensure that everything necessary for a quality proposal makes it into the document. At a higher level, your process should provide a structure to ensure that expectations are properly set before, during, and after every activity. If you don’t tell people what you need and how to deliver it, you are far less likely to actually get it. Good proposal managers may do this instinctively, but it will be more reliable if you build guidance and expectation management directly into your process.

4. Proposal quality must be defined and validated. Your process needs to identify what is required for a proposal to be successful and validate every aspect of the proposal to ensure that those requirements are met. A “Red Team” without direction to reviewers regarding what to validate just won’t cut it. Your process should incorporate making a list of what needs to be validated to ensure success, and then provide some means to perform the validation of each and every item. If you don’t define what needs to be validated to ensure success, you cannot consciously arrive at a proposal that includes everything necessary to be successful. If it’s necessary to the success of the proposal, it’s worth the effort to validate it.

5. Plans must be validated. Results need to be validated against the plans. Plans will be used to establish a baseline against which to measure performance. Assessing results against the plan brings continuity, accountability, and objectivity to your review process. Doing this makes the validation of your plans as important, if not more so, than the validation of the draft proposal. Not doing this increases the likelihood of your writers ignoring the plans during the execution of the process. In which case, why bother with the plans? Or better yet, why bother with the process? Organizations that have trouble implementing a proposal process are often caught in this trap. If the process validates the results against the plans, then you will improve the quality of your plans as well as your results.

6. Effort should go into the document, and not into the process. The process needs to make extensive use of templates and checklists. It also needs to be highly streamlined and efficient. Data accumulated during the process should be stored in formats that make it easy to carry forward. Content plans need tp evolve into the proposal and not be separate documents. Whenever writers have to put something on paper or type something into their computer, the process needs to be doing something to make it easier.

7. The resources assigned to a proposal demonstrate your company’s desire to win. While profitability may be achieved by stretching your resources, doing so on a proposal lowers your chances of winning. If your company wants to win, it will staff the proposal with a sufficient number of experienced and capable personnel. Period. This needs to be recognized, since at all levels of the company it will be claimed that resources are not available. But the truth is that the company will make resources available in proportion to its desire to win the bid, as compared to its desire to manage conflicting priorities. The shorter and easier way to say this is that, if the company wants to win, it makes the necessary resources available. Failure to assign those reasons is prima facie evidence that winning is not the dominant priority.

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