Sunday, January 4, 2009

Review your proposal...then review it again

I thought I would return to no. 8 on my list of 10 laws for bid writers - "Sturgeon's Revelation" that "90 percent of everything is crap".

OK - so Sturgeon was a science fiction writer and was referring to science fiction but as this currently applies to the world economy maybe it does apply to some proposals too. Thinking back (a long time ago now) to my first proposal I'll admit that it probably wasn't too far off the mark - but how times change!!

But what if your proposal isn't up to scratch? What can you do about it?

Well the first thing you can do is to anticipate that it isn't going to be perfect first time. Which means planning your proposal so that you have a first draft ready at least four days before the final submission - more if you can - take note of England's law on my list:

"The chances of winning a proposal are directly in proportion to the number of hours between finishing it and the time it has to be submitted."

You won't win it if you are rushing to finish it so that you can print it out in time for the courier who is coming to pick it up. Honestly.

Allowing yourself time allows you to complete a re-iterative review of your proposal, each time lowering that 90% (and let's hope it wasn't that bad to begin with). What you are doing is ensuring that each refinement goes a little way to persuading your client to choose your proposal.

So how should it be reviewed? There are many things that you can do. On a large proposal it is worth getting a Red Team together - an independent panel (use colleagues not involved with the bid production) to evaluate your proposal against the RFP and provide structured and constructive feedback on how to improve the proposal. Some bids will use this team throughout each draft cycle of the bid providing a great deal of valuable feedback.

Red teams are good, because sometimes you can be too close to the bid. But a Red Team can be expensive and overkill on a smaller bid. So get peer review from one or two people in your team. Get someone from the technical team to check the geeky stuff. Maybe you need the CEO or a Director to read it and sign off on it. And always get high level review and authorisation to sign off on the financials - this is one part of the proposal that can't be checked too many times, especially if during the proposal review changes are made - don't forget that these can impact the project costs.

And there are things that you can do on your own. Use the Proposal Quality Checklist. And arrange for the proposal to be proofread - use a style guide to ensure consistency or at the minimum have a checklist of unusual or technical spellings.

Projects go through re-iterative quality review stages before acceptance and sign-off because those projects have errors in them, beta phases and alpha phases prior to release. We explain this in our proposal documents, so treat your proposal in the same manner - aim for, but don't expect perfection first time. Just allow enough time to remove as much of the 90% as possible.