This is the second part of my 2-part series on some advice to developing better proposals. The first five steps were presented in Part 1. Here are steps 6 through 10:
#6: Conduct meaningful reviews. Veterans of proposals are familiar with the multiple “color reviews”, where teams are brought into review the proposal at different stages of preparation. There is a balance to be achieved between too many and too few reviews. I am against having reviews of the full proposal until the end. I think that, if you have used your proposal teams and workshops properly, you can review portions of the proposal at different stages. This has the advantage of more focused and consistent reviews. Keep in mind that not all the pieces of the proposal progress at the same pace. Give sufficient time for the final proposal review, generally called the Red Team, to allow incorporation of comments. Select a review team who understands the problem, has read the entire solicitation package, and can provide constructive suggestions – brief them before the review so they understand the requirements. Document review suggestions in a manner that they can be tracked – I have seen too many good reviews fail when the proposal team does not understand the suggestions. Comments like “need stronger language” are not helpful. Keep in mind that the proposal team will burn out and they need specific guidance, especially at the end of the proposal.
#7: Reward people for their proposal efforts. All too often, I hear the comment that contributors to the proposal should be willing to work extra hours to “save their jobs”. Let’s be honest with ourselves. No one wants to work extra hours after putting in a long day. Most of the time, the staff knows they will have a job with the new company. Take the time to understand your contributors. Consider using an interview technique to gather information, rather than expecting the source of the information to write a polished product. You will find that this approach not only yields better material, but will generally be more complete since the interviewer will query the interviewees when something is unclear. In the end, win or lose, reward your proposal team, especially those who are not part of the normal proposal process and have put in the extra effort.
#8: Always do a lessons learned – AND incorporate what you learned. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. I have conducted literally hundreds of post-proposal lessons learned sessions. I remember cleaning out some boxes while moving and finding a lessons learned summary that was nearly ten years old. After reading it, I realized that I could still use all the lessons. Why conduct a lessons learned unless you are willing to fix the problems? We get into the proposal writing rut and continue to develop proposals the way we always have. We also do not establish concrete actions from the lessons learned or make the actions too difficult (every lessons learned seems to state that the company needs a better proposal library for templates and standard sections – easy to say, hard to carry out and maintain). Some lessons learned are easy to implement, yet we generally do not implement since the next proposal is on us before we get a chance to follow through.
#9: Win or lose: Get a debrief! I can cite many instances where the information provided in a debrief has helped improve future proposals. Use the debrief process to learn. Ask the Government what you could have done better to improve your proposal so that you can win in the future. Do not go into a debrief with the attitude that you were shortchanged and should have received a better evaluation – you will not exit with any useful information and will jeopardize future bids with that agency. Always get a debrief, even when you win. You will be amazed how cooperative the Feds can be when you go in with the right frame of mind – they will even point you to other opportunities that might be better suited. I know because this has happened to me many times.
#10: Plain writing. The Federal Government has a Plain Language initiative and has published extensive guidelines on how to achieve their goal of writing documents that are easier to read by their constituents. I have mixed feeling on some of the guidelines, but, in general, they are good. I do suggest visiting the Plain Language web site. If nothing else, you will see what your audience feels a comfortable writing style is like.
Another source of great proposal resource is the Shipley Proposal Guide. Whether or not you subscribe to the Shipley process, this guide is well written and provide an extensive list of topics with short and to the point assistance. I think it should be in every proposal room and referenced frequently.
I will be writing more on each of these topics in future posts and in my book. If you have a specific topic you would like addresses sooner or have suggestions on anything I have said, please let me know through a comment below or by sending me feedback.