How Do I Avoid Reinventing the Wheel on Every Proposal?
By Gregory W. Pease, Managing Partner, Tenzing Consulting


Introduction:

Wow, what a question! I’m sure that each of us reading this question automatically relives flashbacks of proposals gone badly. We’ve all faced the frustrations of “Haven’t we seen this requirement before?” or “I’ve already provided this past performance citation twice this quarter!” or “Why isn’t there better definition to this review process so we can get what we need?” The scope of the question can be all encompassing, requiring a very detailed set of answers that might fill a book. I’m going to highlight five areas here (people, process, technology, culture of improvement, and commitment to investment) and provide ideas that can result in immediate improvement to your proposal environment.

Leveraging Your People:
Good, winning proposals begin and end with the people developing, managing, and reviewing them. Most of the frustrations associated with people working on a proposal center around a couple of key conflicts: people not knowing what to do and how to do it right, not knowing what is required and when it’s required, and having too much on their plates to do a good job. Too many times people crash into a proposal or proposal review without being properly prepared to succeed.

We’ve seen great success in companies that provide a small investment in just-in-time training/coaching for proposal contributors and reviewers—at every proposal! Tailored, just-in-time events that go beyond the basics for both developers and reviewers provides great immersion into the requirement, your process, your expectations, schedules, as well as provides your contributors and reviewers an opportunity to form as a team and ask questions, request clarifications, etc.

When you combine this training with development of an achievable schedule, your contributors will know exactly what’s required of them and will more likely succeed in providing you with what you want. As an example, when I’m managing development of parts of a proposal and I’m working with contributors who may be geographically dispersed and busy on other projects, I’ll talk with them frequently to see if they have questions, understand the deadlines, discuss their progress, provide “coachable moments,” etc. The frequency of communications might vary based on the individuals involved, but by staying in touch with contributors you’ll see improvements in their products and you’ll get what you want. Training/coaching and communications are cornerstones to leveraging your people and reducing “reinventing the wheel.”

Maturing Your Processes:
Every company we know has a proposal process…or do they? Having a good process, documenting that process, then using and improving that process as the company grows is another thing entirely. So many times we see companies blindly going “open-loop” from proposal to proposal with no collaborative planning to set expectations or after-action lessons learned to understand what went right and what needs improvement. Simple process improvement techniques can help here immensely, and don’t require a huge investment of time or money.

To set a baseline, I recommend a small team of frequent proposal managers and contributors assemble in a conference room and document the as-is state of your proposal process. Using a facilitator to allow those managers and contributors to focus on pure thought and analysis, a company can understand its process in just a day or two. From that modeling (easily done using flip charts and Post It notes), this same team (maybe with the help of an outside consultant) can identify baseline improvements to be made. Once you understand the gaps between the as-is and improved state, you can then target investment resources (be they training, infrastructure, additional people, etc.) to close the gaps.

The result of this session should be a documented closed-loop process baseline. Applied to subsequent proposals, this process can be further improved using Lean techniques to review and eliminate process waste by deleting non-value added steps. By then publishing and maintaining your documented process, you’ll see improvements in proposals developed, reviewed, and delivered.

Moments after delivery of a proposal to a customer using your new documented process, and while fresh in everyone’s minds, your team should meet to briefly analyze any successes and target needed improvements to the process. These improvements will also fold into subsequent just-in-time training sessions for your managers, contributors, and reviewers prior to your next proposal. Take a step back here and you’ll stop “reinventing the wheel.”

Using Your Technology:
So many times, we see similar requirements flow from request for proposal (RFP) to RFP. Many companies are now starting to leverage very sophisticated networking and collaboration capabilities to support proposal development. One of the very easy techniques used by one of our customers to reduce “reinventing the wheel” is technology related. Following delivery of a proposal to a customer, the responsible proposal manager shreds the proposal into its many topical/sectional elements and posts those elements to a program/customer neutral collaborative-networked environment like Microsoft’s SharePoint.

These topics might include Management Approaches, Risk Management Approaches, Quality Assurance and Control, Service Oriented Architecture, Technical Approaches, etc. It takes little time to set up these collaborative repositories, and by gathering like topics and their associated graphics into sections on the repository, your contributors will greatly reduce their time searching for source information and ideas—and you’ll quickly get them past that first blank sheet of paper.

The key is making these repositories available to the contributors—don’t hide them! You can even label the customer/program name into the title and add “Winner” to the title that will make it easy for the contributors to draw good, quality source material. Adding previous contributors’ names and phone numbers will also add value. Subsequent contributors can reach back to that successful author to answer questions and possibly review/comment on new products.

Developing a Culture of Improvement:
Everything we’ve talked about to this point is about setting a culture of continuous improvement within your proposal environment. I recommend you use Deming’s closed-loop Plan-Do-Check-Act quality management approach to help you reduce “reinventing the wheel.” Within a closed loop proposal process, your company must plan each proposal activity, articulating cost, schedule, performance requirements, necessary resources, and train contributing teams.

During performance, your documented proposal process takes over as you manage contributors’ efforts in development and review. During and following proposal development, you will monitor progress, adherence to the process and schedule, contributor accomplishments, and proposal quality. Following delivery, you’ll meet with your teams to review successes and improvements needed and implement those to improve quality of the environment.

By recognizing your team and rewarding them for ideas and improvements to the environment, your teams will quickly “get on board” with the documented process, use the collaborative technologies and quality source material, and be more willing to contribute to subsequent proposal efforts.

Maintaining the Commitment:
The old saying “You have to spend money to make money” fits quite well here. Time and time again, we see companies struggling with “reinventing the wheel” because they won’t invest wisely in their proposal environment, be they people, process, technology, or continuous improvement investments. The commitment to improvement and investment must be held at the executive level of the company. The typical issue behind the lack of investment is the inability to clearly articulate to the executive team the list of investment priorities and expected benefits.

I recommend you maintain a very short list of three to five investment requirements and associated benefits. By updating this short list semiannually and keeping it in front of your executives, they will be able to better allocate company investment resources when available. Once the company makes the investment, take the time to provide feedback regarding the results and benefits of the investment in terms of proposal quality, wins, etc., to enable the executive team to continue the commitment to investment.

Eliminating “reinventing the wheel” is about committing to change. You can start now by thinking about how you change the way you apply people, process, technology, and investment within a culture of improvement to your proposal environment. Follow these ideas and work with your executive team and you’ll begin to see results very soon!


About the Author
Gregory W. Pease is a proposal professional, oral presentation coach, and is the Managing Partner of Tenzing Consulting, specializing in strategies, proposals, presentations and coaching. Contact Greg at mycoach@verizon.net or 301-237-3727. Visit www.tenzing-consulting.com.


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