Practice Makes Proposal Writing (almost) Perfect

Writing a winning proposal is a team effort that requires a well-honed proposal management approach. The release of that long-awaited Government RFP should not be cause for anxiety. Instead, it should be the start of a well-planned project. If you are running a project, you need a good project plan. It should include schedules, lines of communication, a budget, and a project team, to name a few things. Proposal Management is no different.

The vast majority of successful Project Managers will say that their team is the key to their success. Proposal Management is in many ways the same. However, Proposal Team Management has one important dynamic that differs from project management – conflicting priorities. Often, proposal team members have full-time jobs and responsibilities that they must tend to. This is true even in companies with a well-staffed proposal department. One of the key elements of a winning proposal is the effective use of your subject matter experts (SMEs). The SME’s input can make your proposal resonate in the hands of the Technical Evaluation Board (TEB), or it can leave them disappointed. if it lacks a clear approach  The following are some proposal management techniques that will ensure you get the most out of your SMEs.

A top-down look at the very cluttered desk.

Teamwork (and coffee)- essential to Proposal Management.

First, identify the subject matter expertise that will be required to write the proposal. This requires integration of the capture and proposal process. The Capture Manager generally performs a gap analysis early in the capture management process. This is done by evaluating your company’s capabilities against the statement of work (SOW) with either a previous or a current draft of the Government RFP. This gap analysis is done early in the capture management process to identify areas where you, as the prime, have a weakness. The Capture Manager then manages Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to talk to potential subcontractors that have the capabilities your company lacks. Once you identify teammates, then she or he manages the Teaming Agreements (TAs) to assign workshare and get them onto the team.

Next, it is time to identify SMEs that can help you put together a dazzling technical and management approach. You may also need their input to massage the past performance so that it highlights your team’s experience in fulfilling the Government RFP requirements. This is a critical, but often, under-emphasized element in the proposal management process. Commonly, two mistakes are made that hinder the effectiveness of SMEs:

  • They are not identified early enough in the proposal management process, but instead addressed when the Government RFP is released, and
  • Careful thought is not put into choosing the right SME

Why start identifying SMEs early? There can be conflicts between an SME’s “day job” and his/her proposal writing responsibilities. The odds are good that the manager for whom the SME works is a stakeholder in the proposal. It’s also possible that the SME’s manager is the Capture Manager, which can simplify things. Regardless, it is imperative that the Proposal Manager convey her or his need for SMEs early. This will provide an opportunity to light load the SME’s work schedule and to make sure that she or he is not scheduled to be on vacation in the Bahamas during the time that the proposal is scheduled to be worked. There are some things to consider when attempting to schedule an SME’s time in advance:

  • Most Government RFPs allow 30 days to respond to the proposal. Even though there is a likelihood of extensions, you can most likely get the majority of SME writing done during the initial 30-day period.
  • Very few Government RFPs are released on schedule. If possible, try to arrange for the SME’s availability for several months following the scheduled release date. Don’t worry about a Government RFP release early; this rarely occurs and when it does, it’s generally just by a few days.
  • If this is a recompete, consider having the SME start writing prior to the Government RFP release if you’re reasonably sure the requirements will be the same. However, do not waste an SME’s time with a shot in the dark. Treat SMEs as a scarce commodity; they usually are.

Everything just discussed is also applicable to your teammates’ SMEs. The proposal management tools in Capture2Proposal (C2P) provide an effective means of proposal team management. C2P’s Contacts feature allows you to identify teammates and internal SMEs and easily add them to the opportunity and assign them a role for the proposal’s development. It’s equally effective for both internal and external proposal team members, and with C2P you don’t pay extra for these unlicensed users. Here is a screenshot of using the Contacts feature to add someone from another company to help with the proposal:

A screenshot of Contracts feature in the C2P App.

A C2P App Screenshot of the Contacts feature.

Once added as a Contact, C2P’s proposal management tools allow you to easily establish a virtual proposal center. Using C2P’s virtual proposal center, all documents are exchanged and stored in a DFARS/NIST compliant secure document collaboration environment. This simplifies the proposal management process by letting you keep track of who your SMEs are, manage their role and access as a proposal team member, and track completion of assignments and reviews using C2P’s Task Management dashboard.

Effective Proposal Management Starts with Early Proposal Team Management

In summary, start thinking about your team of proposal writers as far to the left as practical. A TEB member must be convinced that your company has a solid approach to do the work. Only a fully engaged SME will be able to provide that level of Technical Approach. Achieving this is not always possible, but it is always possible to try. When you do achieve it, you will find that your entire proposal will have a more clean, concise story about how your company is head and shoulders above your competition.