Proposal Production

The final frontier — Bring on the finishers!

Photo by 4motions Werbeagentur on Unsplash

I have witnessed two and a half months’ effort of a bid and proposal team of 25 people almost flushed down the drain because nobody had planned properly for the production of a proposal.

Whether your proposal is in hard-copy, soft-copy, or a mix of the two, it is much harder than you think to produce a professional proposal that won’t cause an assessor to believe that amateurs produced it.

Especially if, as is the norm with these things, you end up finalising production in the early hours of the morning that the proposal is due to be delivered — to meet a hard bid deadline.

I have learned over years of business capture management that, in the final stages of the proposal period, an experienced production specialist will corral a team of enthusiastic amateurs to bring together the whole proposal document suite; formatted exactly to the customer requirements, and uploaded or dispatched - as required by the invitation to tender documents.

Did you know that bids are routinely eliminated for having the wrong point size?

Detail matters!

Final proposal production is not a job for an enthusiastic sales department administrative assistant. Too much is resting on success. Will they know what to do at 2 a.m. when Microsoft Word says the document is corrupt, or when headers and footers start flashing?

This is the most stressful part of the proposal period. Everything rests on the ability to deliver.

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, what is needed is someone who will “keep their head when all around are losing theirs”.

An experienced proposal production specialist.

To make things even more complicated for the capture manager, many government departments and major Tier 1 companies now use evaluation tools such as Award(TM) or front-end tools such as Concurrence(TM). these tools often dictate how proposal documents are formatted correctly and place unexpected limitations, such as word count or page size.

The capture manager has two choices here; either:

  • Assemble the production team in the early stages so that they can be involved in fully understanding the opportunity and win themes, and can then work alongside authors to polish and format text versions, develop and refine graphics, edit content etc.

or

  • Bring in the production team perhaps two-thirds of the way through the writing process when content is coming together, the technical solution has been frozen, some authors have already made their contribution and left, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

With option one there is a small and expert group of people on the team from day one — people for whom the perfect submission is a matter of professional pride.

They will routinely check facts, highlight inconsistencies, resolve problems and eradicate waffle, insert the latest versions of graphics and think ahead about difficulties that may be encountered in the electronic submission, such as the hard-copy printing, DVD writing, indexing, uploading to customer evaluation tools, and much more.

They know what it takes to complete activities like hyperlinking, printing hard copies and dealing with printer problems. They will order binders, the right type of paper and DVDs. They facilitate backups of the latest version of the bid at least every day.

With a keen eye for ‘single point failures’ they will arrange back up production and delivery facilities so that while competitors may be defeated by earthquake, flood and fire, you will not.

This sounds great and it is.

The downside of having a production team working from the beginning is that it will require more precious space in, or close to, your war room, and their continuous presence (especially if they are freelance staff) will eat into the proposal budget.

By the time the final production push takes place, production staff will also be beginning to tire. Importantly, the authoring team will become used to seeing them around and will cease to take much notice of their activities.

This is where option two offers benefits, some psychological: nothing will galvanise flagging proposal authors more than the noisy arrival of a horde of production staff.

It’s still true that in most technical sectors the majority of authors are male and production staff largely female. Production work is consequently undervalued. So the bustling arrival of a group of cheerful women setting up machines, crawling under desks to identify cables, looking meaningfully at the status or requirements table that is charting progress, and poring over win themes, graphics and text will often have a miraculous effect on the psychology of the war room.

A good production team brings with it a positive ‘we’ll get there’ vibe, and a cheerful hand-holding approach — maybe even chocolate or cake to alleviate the desert wastes of a day spent writing about risk mitigation.

Their arrival also signifies that the capture manager, means business, that the final frontier is approaching and that authors had better get themselves in gear, bring the writing to a close and get a peer review of the content.

Of course, option two does have a downside: the production team will be somewhat less conversant with the back story and development of the bid. However, experienced production staff who have worked together before and know their business will soon get their feet under the table. It is part of their job to make sure they quickly get to know the bid and bid authors and who’s doing what.

Whatever option is chosen, the production roles, be it graphics, formatting, editing or coordinating, are central to success. It will take the load off the capture manager’s shoulders.

It is not overstating the case to say that, provided the proposal price is right, a good production team makes the difference between success and failure.

Many ITTs/RFQs now require soft copies of the proposal on DVD as well as the hard-copies. They have to accurately mirror the hard copy (which is usually the legal offer).

They can take 2–6 hours to produce: collating the files, ensuring they are those that have been printed, separating the priced proposal elements from non-priced elements; ensuring that all graphics and appendices and other additional information have been collated.

If the customer has requested a hyperlinked document, this has to be completed by someone who has helped author the document and understands the proposal well.

It also has to be the final item in the proposal production activity as all the files need to be in the same location in order for hyperlinking to work once the files have been translated to DVD disks.

Hyperlinking takes a long time on even a small proposal. If the customer requests hyperlinking, the bid and capture manager must plan to finish the proposal production at least one day prior to the date of dispatch.

In a previous capture management role, I witnessed the physical hyperlinking of a proposal almost cause the proposal to be lost as it took far longer to complete than first envisaged.

The proposal was uploaded with minutes to spare.

That stress, watching my career walk out of the door as months of effort and huge cost was on the verge of being wasted, persuaded me once and for all time of the benefit of using an experienced proposal production specialist.

Proposal production specialists are finishers that are fielded when the rest of the team are tired and worn out from 3 months’ intensive proposal activity.

They win the day.

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There’s more

If you liked this article, please follow me for more hard-learned insights from 18 years’ experience on what makes for successful business development.

You might like this article on executive summary writing or this one on proposal writing effectiveness.

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Things I am… a business development practitioner, fiction author, poetry and article writer; interested in health, well-being and personal development.

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Steve Price

Things I am… a business development practitioner, fiction author, poetry and article writer; interested in health, well-being and personal development.