Proposal development in the Government contracting arena requires a variety of resources: time, people, information, tools, and processes, among others. Most of these resources can be scaled as needed: You can hire more people, gather more information, build or buy new tools, develop new processes. That’s not the case with time, though: You have only a certain amount of time (as specified in the RFP), and each day has only 24 hours. Nothing you do can change that—but you can make the most efficient use of the time you do have.
Making the most effective use of your time begins with a detailed, defined, and feasible schedule. Why is this important?
- A well-constructed schedule provides a roadmap to the entire proposal team that describes timelines for proposal activities, identifies key milestones, and sets appropriate deadlines. It provides everyone on the team with a common framework and clear guidance regarding what they have to do and—most important—WHEN.
- If your schedule is poorly constructed, team members won’t have a clear sense of when key activities are happening or when they have to complete their assignments. People are likely to go off in different directions, working on different timelines. The result? Chaos, high stress, long hours, and reduced productivity—not to mention a real risk of failure to deliver on time!
Two Approaches to Building a Schedule
So, how can you develop a proposal schedule that keeps everyone on track and facilitates timely achievement of milestones? One way is to “begin at the beginning” (i.e., RFP release date) and then work forward. Seems natural enough, doesn’t it? Another way is to “begin with the end in mind” (i.e., proposal submittal date) and then work backward. This approach also has its proponents. Both of these approaches have drawbacks, however.
What happens if you simply begin at the beginning and work forward?
- Almost inevitably you will run out of available time before you run out of things you need to accomplish.
- As a result, you will be tempted to compress activities at the end of the process—such as editing, quality checks, and proposal production—to fit the remaining time.
- This compression often is unrealistic, leading to chaos, stress, and the need to work crazy long hours to get everything done on time.
Okay, what if you begin with the end in mind?
- Again, you probably will run out of available time before you run out of required activities.
- In this scenario, you’ll probably be inclined to compress the activities at the beginning of the process—such as strategy development, solutioning, and storyboarding.
- This compression can lead to poor planning and preparation, which can lead to chaos and stress throughout the process.
Clearly, neither of these approaches is ideal. There must be a better way!
A Better Way: Work Toward the Middle
Allowing sufficient time for the planning and preparation steps at the beginning of the process (e.g., strategy development, solutioning, storyboarding) will pay huge dividends in preparing a successful proposal. Similarly, allowing sufficient time for the steps at the end of the process (e.g., quality checks, editing, production) will enable you to avoid the chaotic, stressful, long hours required to get the proposal “out the door” that are typical of many proposal efforts.
The “dirty little secret” of proposal development is that the activities in the middle of the process (i.e., writing, reviews, and rewriting)—which most people consider most “essential” to the process—paradoxically are the most amenable to compression. A good writer typically can produce a couple of pages an hour, but if pressed can probably double that rate. Likewise, reviews can be compressed—for example, starting one afternoon and concluding in the middle of the next day allows reviewers to work at their own pace and in the hours of their own choosing. Worst case, writers and reviewers may, in fact, need to work longer hours in that middle period. But that’s much less problematic than trying to compress either the early activities or the “end game” activities.
So: In building your schedule, start at the beginning *and* the end, and work toward the middle. Sure, it’s a new way of thinking; you may find that it’s about time for a change!