Proposals are all about interdependence. Responding to a government RFP is a process with many moving parts:

  • Subject matter experts (SMEs) develop solutions and proposal text, and review text.
  • Graphic artists prepare illustrations.
  • Accounting and pricing experts populate spreadsheets and other tables and create a cost narrative.
  • A contracts expert prepares forms, distributes amendments, interprets RFP language, communicates with the government’s contracting officer and delivers the proposal.
  • Executives must sign certain pages, forms and approve the final proposal documents.
  • A capture manager ensures that content reflects the customer’s concerns and issues.
  • The business development manager provides competitive intelligence, customer information, and engages with subcontractors to get the necessary agreements documented.
  • The proposal manager creates a schedule and keeps everything on track so that a compliant and compelling proposal is delivered on time.

In previous blogs, we have discussed the role of some of these individuals. In this post, we are going to focus on the interdependencies, because no one person can fulfill a role without input from other people. For example, a proposal manager cannot make sure that the proposal is going to be compelling to a particular customer without good information and insights about that customer. Since proposal managers do not typically participate in customer calls, they depend entirely on what business development and capture mangers tell them. This is not a simple matter of communicating data points. Often, the difference between winning and losing a proposal is the incorporation of subtle insights about the customer’s problem. Yet business development managers often cannot convey these insights in the way that is required by the RFP (hence the need for a proposal manager). Other examples of this kind of mutual dependence exists between the pricing team and the people developing the solution. Also, between the subject matter experts and the proposal manager. Everyone depends on someone, and sometimes on more than one person.

These dependencies create challenges for several reasons. First, proposals take place during a defined period. The rest of the time, these individuals don’t necessarily work together. They might not be in the same location or division. They often don’t know each other. They might not use the same systems or vocabulary. They might work different hours. They come together for a short time, for a defined purpose. When people join the team late, the problems are compounded.

Second, the people on the proposal team come from different professional backgrounds and often don’t speak the same language. They use different acronyms, expressions, and jargon. Their cultures often differ. They have different expectations about, for example, how long it should take to respond to voicemail and email messages. Aligning everyone for a short period of time is not simple, especially if the proposal manager is unaware of where the differences are. Time spent on education and team building cuts into a tight proposal schedule, which is why managers tend to skip this step.

No simple solution exists to resolve these challenges. However, in the pre-RFP stage, the capture and proposal manager can anticipate the most important issues to address. These almost always include 1) early identification of proposal team members and communication with them about the anticipated schedule; 2) documentation of plans, schedules, and definitions in a way that everyone will understand; 3) establishment of a collaborative platform so that people don’t waste time data mining in their inboxes; 4) agreement on escalation channels if two individuals do not agree (for example, if a capture manger wants to decrease the fee to remain competitive and the pricing manager wants a higher fee to protect against risk during contract execution).

Furthermore, there are two groups of professionals for whom proposals are not a “sometimes” thing. Proposal managers and capture managers are involved in proposals frequently, sometimes continuously. They can address the challenges posed by interdependence by investing time in aligning their vocabulary and expectations before the RFP is released and the pressure cooker is turned on. This will be the subject of the final blog on this topic. Stay tuned.