In the project management world, there is nothing quite so rewarding—or quite so exhausting—as the opportunity to submit a bid as part of a competitive procurement. It’s a weirdly fun exercise to envision how your team could help solve a challenging problem. If not well prepared (or well managed), however, working a proposal can also translate to a series of stressful, sleepless nights (and weekends). How do you apply project management principles to run a proposal well?
Get strategic buy-in. Before you even contemplate preparing a response, make sure your leadership agrees that you should pursue this opportunity. To help answer this question, highlight the strength of the relationship with the client; the team’s domain expertise; the financial risks and rewards; the resources required to compile the response and, more importantly, to execute the work; alignment with organizational objectives; and potential risks.
Identify the proposal team and roles and confirm availability. Once the decision is made to move forward, consider who will be part of your proposal team. Balance the need for domain expertise with the opportunity to engage staff that are interested in gaining business development experience. Before the procurement is issued, verify with the team that they are available for the projected dates. If not, ask them to recommend other staff that you can engage and then arrange this backup support.
Set a proposal budget. Informally request a proposal budget in advance of the procurement being issued. That way, when it drops, you’ll know what amount of money you have to work with. You can estimate this budget based on the projected size of the opportunity. I also like to project how much I anticipate spending against this budget in advance of the procurement. I can refine once the procurement is issued, but projecting the proposal spend in advance saves you one more step once it comes out.
Schedule reviews upfront and set realistic timeframes. Once the procurement is issued, the first thing I’ll do is create a schedule for the response. This includes time for leadership review. Make sure you give the proposal team enough time to prepare drafts so that leadership can provide meaningful commentary. Why rush to submit a shoddy product that will only end up wasting leadership’s time?
Prepare for incidentals. Recognize that, no matter how much you prepare, it is almost inevitable that unanticipated issues will arise. After 11 years in the business, I have a list of horror stories a mile long. Don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t go according to plan. Adopt a flexible attitude, and be willing to roll with the punches. The goal is to prepare in advance as much as possible and put a framework in place that makes you better prepared to address unforeseen challenges when they arise.