Managing a proposal team

In this third publication of our Winning Proposal Series, we delve into the most important tactics for successfully managing a proposal writing team, including three editing tips from a seasoned pro.

The proposal leader has the job of overseeing a winning proposal writing team. With some teams numbering in the dozens, and proposals ranging between 30-200+ pages long, this is no easy task. We’ve asked Julie Hendricks, Proposal and Capture Manager at Trident Proposals, to give us some insider tips about how to successfully lead the team through the proposal writing process.

Managing a proposal team

Leading Your Proposal Team

Throughout the project, the proposal manager gives the team all of the guidance and support they need to perform. A typical team consists of carefully vetted expert leads (usually 6-12 people) with a highly-trained writing staff working under them (upwards of 40 writers). The leads oversee the section of the project relevant to their expertise. Even with a project management tool, it’s important for the manager to maintain voice contact with the team regularly. Julie Hendricks schedules daily check-in calls with the leads to assign tasks, check their progress and see if they need help with anything. Hendricks advises, “Keep each call short and to the point—about 15 minutes. If you don’t hear from a lead for a few days, you know you’d better call that person and find out what’s going on.”

Building Upon the Proposal Outline

A detailed outline becomes the foundation for the entire proposal. It sets the tone and dictates the schedule. The outline is crucial to achieving what Hendricks calls one voice. One voice means that the proposal, though written by multiple contributors, reads as a unified message. If the leads contribute to the outline process and buy-into the final draft, the project will be cohesive and stay on track. Once the leads have reviewed and approved the outline, the manager-assigned writers get to work, keeping on the schedule that the manager has set.

Setting your Proposal Writing and Editing Schedule

As Hendricks advises, in managing any proposal schedule: “The key to success is to be flexible and fluid.” This certainly doesn’t mean that managers can miss a deadline, but it does mean that they have to mitigate risk. By padding the schedule to accommodate changes in the RFP or other mishaps, managers allow time for damage control. Hendricks adds, “Keep one step ahead and don’t let these things cause you stress. Instead, determine the next step and keep the team moving forward.”

Editing the proposal after the first draft is standard, as is a final review by a fresh pair of eyes. Proposal Managers should also review the work every day to make sure writers are sticking to the outline and staying on schedule. Hendricks schedules a review cycle during the writing process. She calls this the middle edit, which, while adding time to the schedule, is the best way to save time in the end. As Hendricks explains, “I often have to argue for the middle edit, because it takes time away from the writers (who always want more). Even though it adds time to the schedule, it’s better to catch major errors halfway through rather than at the end, when you have to take more time rewriting the entire document.”

One Final Thought About Editing a Proposal

The final review is extremely critical. An expert pair of eyes confirms that the team met all of the technical requirements, but little things can still go wrong. Hendricks recommends what she calls a wall walk. In a wall walk, the manager and leads tack each section to the wall in page order. Together, they walk down the length of the wall, looking carefully at every page to be sure they haven’t missed a single detail. This is an excellent visual way to do a final edit. As Hendricks says, “The wall walk is key to catching everything. That’s where you can see if the pages are numbered correctly, or maybe if a paragraph was pasted into one section but still exists somewhere else as a duplicate.”

A skilled proposal manager maintains open communication with the team, creates a detailed outline, maintains cohesion, sets a realistic schedule, and quadruple checks the work during and after the process. By using techniques like One Voice, Middle Edit and Wall Walk, the proposal lead helps the team craft a winning proposal.

For our next post in our Winning Proposals Series, we’re going to take a broad approach and talk about the [fundamentals of capture and shaping the RFP.]

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