NAVIGATING A SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL PROCESS: PART 3 OF 3
THE PROPOSAL TEAM KICK-OFF
You’ve chosen your team, and you’ve scheduled its first meeting.
In order for your team to produce a solid proposal in the required timeframe, your next task is to ready yourself for the kick-off meeting.
Your team must get started with solid direction, clarity, and some best practices.
What’s the best way to clarify your process? How do you manage such a short timeline?
In the face of tight deadlines, there’s a fine line between starting early enough and jumping the gun.
But your proposal’s success depends on finding your middle ground.
BEFORE THE KICK-OFF
In “Bid Proposals: Kick-off Meeting Tips” on complex2clear, Paul Heron states, “A common mistake is holding what’s called a kick-off meeting as soon as management decides to bid. These premature kick-off meetings often feature lots of items that are to be determined (TBD) and leave team members confused. Instead, hold off and invest the time in preparing thoroughly.”
You want your team to be organized.
That means, you’ll need to be organized first.
Remember, the goal of the kick-off meeting is for everyone to leave with a clear timeline and a specific knowledge of what they are supposed to do next. Tweet this
You won’t get there if you wait until two hours before the kick-off to prepare.
So, give yourself two to three working days.
During that time, we suggest you:
1. Distribute the RFP. Before your team meets, distribute the RFP to all members. Instruct them to read it from cover to cover and come to the meeting with questions. After all, you’re not the only one who should be preparing.
2. Choose the proposal management software. If the proposal is extensive and/or requires many different hands, you’ll want to consider software to help you manage the process.
Your company may already use a certain project management program.
But be aware that there are software applications designed specifically for answering RFPs.
Capterra, a website with the byline “The Smart Way to Find Business Software” has compiled a list called Top Proposal Management Software Products. It includes the names, reviews (when available), and links to the websites for 95 web-based and installed applications.
The list offers the capability filter your choices and select and compare products.
You will likely not have the time to weigh all these choices before your kickoff, but keep in mind that there are many tools available to help you.
It would be well worth your time to research these options before an RFP crosses your desk if your company is considering bidding on any proposals in the future
3. Decide how the various sections and related documents will be reviewed.
Will you simply email drafts and versions to your team?
If the proposal is small enough, this might be sufficient.
But for complex projects, consider document management software such as SharePoint® or a repository such as Google Docs where contributors can add and review content.
Of the 95 proposal management software products listed on Capterra, 42 include a content repository and document management.
4. Go through the RFP again.
Make a list of every project deliverable.
Outline the terms used in the RFP that may need clarification with your team.
The RFP may have a glossary of terms, but there may be other jargon in the RFP that is unique to its issuer.
5. Create a spreadsheet that lists every deliverable in the RFP.
Even if you have RFP project management software, the experts we consulted still recommend a good old-fashioned master spreadsheet.
A spreadsheet offers an at-a-glance overview of what you’ll need to produce and shows team members the status of each action item.
Plus, even the most tech-averse on your team will usually be comfortable with spreadsheets.
“Include columns where a name or names will be placed beside every deliverable,” says Carey Miller, a professional writer who has project managed dozens of RFPs. “Add column heads for project milestones, due dates, and reviewers for the initial drafts as well as reviewers for the final package.”
Please feel free to use our spreadsheet template to get you started.
CONDUCTING THE KICK-OFF MEETING
Your team members must be absolutely clear about their roles, deliverables, and deadlines when they leave the first meeting.
It’s also critical that you cover certain rules of the game, so they’ll understand the company’s RFP process and some best practices in proposal writing.
Cover the topics that follow for a successful meeting.
1. Address team members’ questions about the RFP.
When you circulated the RFP, you asked that team members come prepared with their questions about the RFP.
Address those questions up front so that they’re not interfering with people’s concentration during the other meeting topics.
2. Assign team members their roles.
As each team member is assigned a role, clarify the responsibilities associated with that role.
3. Place a name or names in the column beside each deliverable.
Go over the spreadsheet, one deliverable at a time. Determine whether the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will write it or if someone else will write the section using information provided by the SME.
Miller notes that the writer should be clear about the point person for information: “With an unusually complex proposal, there may be several point persons for various sections.”
4. Establish the reviewer for each section.
The reviewer’s name may appear in multiple rows, depending on how many deliverables are in a section and how many sections that reviewer is qualified to review.
Hewitt stresses, “Designate reviewer(s) for the various sections and the reviewers for the packaged proposal.
The drafts can be reviewed by multiple SMEs; the finished package should be reviewed by only a small set of key players.”
5. Establish a timeline.
In Winning Library Grants, A Game Plan, Herbert B. Landau writes, “To ensure that the deadline will be met, I start with the proposal delivery date and work backwards to the present.” \
Build in a pad in case something unexpected results in a project slowdown.
Landau also suggests, “To allow for all contingencies, set the date to have the complete proposal, including all forms, the narrative, the budget, and all attachments, at least four days before the day the proposal must be submitted.”
Include each of the following milestones in your timeline:
- The completion date for the initial draft of each section or part thereof (according to the list of deliverables)
- The completion date for the initial review by one or more SMEs
- The completion date for incorporating the requested changes into the initial draft
- The completion dates for any additional review cycles
- The required submission date for the budget numbers and any attachments
- The completion date of the draft of the packaged proposal
- The completion date of the package review
- The completion date for incorporating review revisions
- The completion date of the final proofreading (ideally set at four or more days before proposal delivery)
Tip: Build in as much time as possible for the proposal writer to organize and format the information, write the executive summary and conclusion, ensure that everything in the RFP has been addressed, incorporate the required dollar amounts, and ensure that the proposal reads as though one person wrote it. If there is a particularly tight deadline for proposal submission, consider insisting on very tight deadlines for reviews.
6. Distribute and discuss your list of terms in the RFP and their definitions as they apply to the contract.
This will ensure that, in echoing the lingo of the RFP, the terms will be accurately and consistently applied by your team.
7. Explain how documents will be reviewed and progress tracked.
As the leader of this meeting you should have a clear idea from your pre-meeting planning as to how these processes will flow.
8. Discuss lessons learned.
Consider including a brief review of lessons learned by previous proposal teams.
You may have conducted lessons-learned reviews following other proposals, but, depending on how long it’s been or whether there are members who didn’t participate on those teams, it may be helpful to review a few of them now.
You have successfully put the proposal process in motion.
You have scrutinized and absorbed the RFP, captured the requirements, consulted various key players, anticipated and worked through potential roadblocks, made critical project management decisions, initiated a team, and put the team in motion.