In any market, on-time proposal delivery is a key objective of the proposal management process. Effectively allocating time and resources across multiple tasks—and communicating and enforcing milestones—are essential parts of proposal management. Contingency planning, based on the specifics of the organization, the proposal, and the team, is an essential component of schedule management.
Schedule backward, starting with the proposal due date and time.
Start with the due date and time. Estimate the total proposal development effort, then schedule delivery and production before scheduling tasks that occur earlier. When you have built in enough time for delivery and production, make a list of the other tasks and subtasks, using as many levels as necessary to describe the work in detail. Be sure to identify the dependencies for each task, such as supplies, approvals, or completion of other tasks.
Sample schedules for 10-, 30-, and 60-day proposals are available among tools and templates for this chapter. When the list of tasks is complete, determine the start and end dates for each task. Use whatever scheduling tool or software makes sense given the size and complexity of your organization and the proposal involved. Develop realistic time estimates for specific tasks and record these in a proposal resource schedule.
Allocate time for proposal planning and for establishing the proposal infrastructure.
Setting up a proposal infrastructure and creating realistic plans are critical to a smooth proposal process. The planning process, including preparing for the kickoff meeting, setting up a collaborative workspace or tool, establishing a contact list, defining roles and responsibilities, and developing a schedule, usually requires 10 percent to 20 percent of the total time available for response to an RFP.
In addition, keep 10 percent of the available time in reserve to manage unforeseen events, such as a proposal writer with writer’s block, a family emergency, or a client crisis that requires immediate attention.
Minimize sequential tasks and maximize parallel tasks.
Think through all dependencies carefully when determining start and end dates for proposal tasks and subtasks. To the extent possible, create a task list that includes activities that can be conducted simultaneously, such as writing proposal text and making plans for proposal reviews. Many proposal activities, such as forms that require information from finance/operations/human resources departments or legal reviews of contract terms and conditions, have long lead times. Start these activities early and conduct them in parallel to make the best use of your time.
Make sure that the same people are not assigned to tasks that have to be completed in parallel, unless it is clear that they can actually execute them simultaneously. For items that have dependencies, check progress on the activities on which they are dependent on a daily basis. For complex proposals, use critical path scheduling to highlight sequential and parallel activities and allocate and track proposal team resources. Schedule-building tools such as Gantt charts can also help you visualize tasks.
Clearly explain the start and end date for each task as well as the expectations associated with completion of the task.
The proposal schedule must be clear and visible to the entire team, preferably on a collaborative platform that enables easy access and updates when necessary. Define a start and completion date for each individual team member. Use the proposal schedule to make formal proposal assignments to each individual for the time required to complete proposal sections or perform proposal functions.
When explaining assignments, be clear about the start date and the end date or, if the person is fulfilling an ongoing function, the level of effort for that function. Establish and clearly explain performance expectations. Take time to spell out details involved in completing a task.
Only one person should have accountability for a task or subtask. That person can, and often must, reach out to others for help, but accountability and ownership must remain with one person. If task ownership has to be transferred, make the handoff to the new owner clear and explicit. Above all, be transparent, reasonable, and honest about the schedule with all members of the team. Respecting team members’ time will help gain their trust
Break large assignments into short, manageable pieces.
Proposal Managers can make authors and other contributors more effective by breaking large tasks up into smaller pieces, assigning interim deadlines, and providing immediate feedback. This is a more labor-intensive approach than relying on contributors to complete longer assignments, but it allows the Proposal Manager to check progress early and identify and escalate problems rather than waiting until a section is overdue. In the case of short-turnaround proposals, identify the key messages that need to be delivered and focus assignments on communicating those key points.
Make sure the schedule drives the priorities for daily activities.
A well-planned schedule is an excellent tool for ensuring that proposal activity constitutes the best use of time and resources. If people are working on tasks not in the schedule, either the schedule needs to be revisited, or work assignments need to be clarified. Use near-term, interim deadlines to drive priorities when there are multiple ongoing tasks. For tasks that have long lead times, establish interim milestones that you can use to make sure that the objectives of these tasks are met.
Avoid scheduling weekends and holidays.
More work is not always better work. Even when deadlines are tight, proposal team members need most evenings, weekends, and holidays “off the clock” to be productive. For proposal writers in particular, having a break, a chance to exercise, and a good night’s sleep produces much better results than continuous work. However, there are times when proposal team members may need to (or prefer to) use weekend or holiday time to complete their activities. By not assuming weekend work, the team can use this time at their discretion if unforeseen events occur.
Allow sufficient time for proposal reviews.
Proposal contributors are too close to their work to be able to review it for quality, compliance, consistency, and impact. A fresh look at a proposal by experts who have not been involved in writing or solution development is essential. Reviews can consume considerable time in the schedule. After each review, it takes time to read, understand, and absorb feedback about the proposal. It also takes time to determine how best to respond to reviewer comments. Determine the appropriate number of reviews at the beginning of the proposal, and do not add review cycles unless there is a significant change in the RFP or an extension of the due date.
Plan for production time conservatively.
Proposal production includes final document formatting, printing, assembly of proposal volumes, and a final check to ensure that everything is in the package or on the disk and is compliant with any stated client requirements. It is important to be prepared, to be conservative when scheduling, and to carefully protect the time allotted to this activity. When allocating time for production, plan for all worst-case contingencies, such as computer viruses, power outages, and equipment malfunction. It is important to keep metrics from previous proposals and use them to allocate a sufficient time not just for production, but also for final quality control. Adhering to the production schedule without sacrificing quality means establishing a firm cutoff time after which no changes can be made to the graphics or text.
It is the job of the Proposal Manager to weigh the benefit of additional changes with the risk of faulty production or late delivery and resist editorial changes beyond a pre-established date and time. A production checklist can help with these efforts.
Change the schedule only if it absolutely has to be changed, and be sure to communicate changes clearly to all involved.
Changing the schedule to accommodate events other than an alteration of the RFP or an extension of the deadline carries risks. Proposal contributors need to know that they can plan their time to accomplish the tasks assigned to them. Schedule changes affect the balancing act they have to perform between the proposal and other obligations. When interim deadlines change frequently without a clear reason, participants start to discount them entirely and assign a higher priority to activities outside the proposal. It is advisable to change the schedule only when there are customer driven events such as an extension of the due date or a significant change in the RFP.
Even if everything else is functioning, scheduling mistakes can threaten quality, compliance, and on-time delivery of a proposal. Base the schedule on metrics collected from previous proposals and make a single person accountable for completion of each task. Use interim deadlines to keep tasks on track and provide feedback early. Look for tasks that are independent of one another that can be completed in parallel. Carefully plan tasks that have multiple dependencies. Leave enough leeway in schedules for time off on weekends and holidays, multiple review cycles, and potential RFP changes, as well as for unexpected setbacks
The article briefly details key examinable syllabus area from the APMP Practitioner certification.
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