When Being a Control Freak Is a Good Thing

Writing a proposal is relatively simple (which is not the same as easy!) if you’re the only one involved. You don’t have to keep track of anyone else; you just need to keep track of yourself.

On most proposals, though, you won’t be the only one involved. Typically there will be multiple writers contributing to the final product. On large proposals, there can be dozens of different contributors working on the document simultaneously.

When that happens, it introduces a special kind of risk to the proposal effort: There may be multiple versions of the document in existence at the same time. Which one is the “right” one? Which one is the most current?

This is where version control is essential. If you lose control, you run the risk of having one or more contributors working on the wrong version–which can cost lost time or effort to correct or, in the worst case, result in submitting a proposal that is less than your best effort.

You can attempt to maintain version control “manually,” of course–only allowing one person to work on the document at a time, for example, or implementing a file naming convention that incorporates dates, times, and authors’ names. However, the more contributors are involved, the more challenging this will become. Technology can help. There are many document management tools available to address this critical need. Some, such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint, are more generic products that can be adapted for use on proposals. Others–such as Privia or Virtual Proposal Center–are designed specifically for the proposal environment.

Whatever method or tool you use, make version control a central element of every proposal. Lose control, and you just might lose the contract.

Panic and Freak Out!

Proposals are inherently stressful. We work under tight deadlines, with millions (or even billions) of dollars at stake. We often work long hours–well into the night, as well as on weekends and holidays. It’s enough to make us crazy–if we’re not already crazy for being in this business in the first place!

No wonder, then, that almost invariably, during every proposal effort, members of the proposal team may experience a “PANIC AND FREAK OUT” moment–a feeling that nothing is going right, that “we’re never going to make the deadline,” that the proposal is dangerously off track. It just makes us want to scream, or cry, or give up and walk out.

Of course, we can’t do that. This is our job, our responsibility. So how do we handle those moments?

Most RFPs contain a requirement–implicit or explicit–to address risk management. When we talk about risk management, we typically identify three ways of handling risk: Avoid, Mitigate, Accept. We can use those same three strategies to deal with those “Panic and Freak Out” moments during the proposal effort.

Avoid. Obviously, the best way to deal with “panic” (as with risk) is to avoid it entirely, if possible. You can do this by starting with a robust, well-designed proposal plan that identifies the most likely and impactful problems and puts the pieces in place to prevent them. Establishing a schedule with clearly defined milestones can help you avoid missed deadlines. Creating a proposal outline that is fully compliant with the RFP requirements can help avoid a last-second rush to fill gaps. Developing a clear, well-articulated strategy can help avoid “what am I supposed to write?” syndrome. Supporting writers with  the resources, tools, and data they need can help avoid a constant stream of calls for “Help!”  If you have these elements in place from the beginning, you have a much better chance of avoiding moments of panic later on.

Mitigate. Even if you have a solid proposal plan, and you follow it meticulously, you may still encounter roadblocks or potholes that can take things off track. RFP amendments, personnel issues, or technology challenges (among other things) can throw a monkey wrench into even the most well-prepared and smoothly functioning proposal team. One way to mitigate those issues is to anticipate them and incorporate appropriate response approaches into the proposal plan. For example, backing up proposal files on a frequent, regular basis can mitigate the impact of a computer crash.

Accept. When you can’t avoid the problem, and you can’t mitigate it, then you just have to accept the situation and make the best of it. Of course, in these situations you may feel angry, frustrated, afraid, confused–or some combination. What can you do then? First, take a deep breath, and a step back. Give yourself some perspective. Remind yourself that you have a plan, tools, and resources to draw on. Remember that you are not alone–you are part of a team, and your teammates can help you when you feel stuck. Finally, if you do just need a good cry or scream, don’t do it in the proposal room, where it may throw everyone else on the team into panic themselves. Hold on to that feeling of panic until you can find an appropriate place to let it go. Take another deep breath, and get back to business. Once you do, you may find that things aren’t as bad as they had seemed.

Moments of panic are nearly inevitable in proposal work. If you adopt the strategies described above, you will be more confident, and more able to “keep calm and carry on.”