Production Management

Production management is the process of getting a proposal formatted, published, and delivered to a customer. Although it occurs at the end of a proposal process, teams should begin planning for production as soon as preliminary production needs are known.

Introduction

Commercial or government proposals alike, once you complete all required proposal content planning and reviews, you must produce your proposal for submission—electronic, hardcopy, or both.

Although production activities require significant time, effort, and attention to detail, their ultimate success depends on the planning activities initiated long before proposal writing and functional reviews begin.

Figure 1 outlines all of the elements, processes, and considerations that make up a proposal production plan. All must be included in the plan with more or less detail, depending on the magnitude of the production effort; for example, a seven-volume proposal that requires submission of 15 copies of each volume—plus multiple subcontractor submissions, electronic media, and video or demonstration system production—generally requires more time, coordination, equipment, facilities, and funds than does a three-volume, one-company electronic submission.

Figure 1. Major Elements of a Proposal Production Plan.

Figure 1. Major Elements of a Proposal Production Plan. Review and include all elements shown to varying degrees in each proposal production plan.

Best Practices

1. Begin planning for production during the pre-RFP stage.

As early as possible in the proposal development lifecycle—preferably in the pre-RFP release phase, begin planning for production. Not planning all elements of your proposal production and or not reserving production resources in advance can endanger your ability to produce and deliver a compliant proposal on time.

Be sure to:

  • Identify the people, tools, and facilities you plan to use for production
  • Complete your draft proposal-production plan
  • Get your draft production schedule on the team’s calendar
  • Reserve the equipment and facilities needed to complete production

Use the production, editing, and printing checklists included as tools and templates for this section, and others you develop for your organization, as the basis of your plan. You can scale their complexity to match individual proposals’ requirements and complexity, as well as your organization’s capabilities.

Allow approximately 10 percent of your available proposal development time for production efforts, scaling up or down depending on the size and delivery type of the proposal (electronic versus hardcopy). Always confirm your production team’s availability to meet your proposed schedule.

Upon final RFP release, update your draft production plan, confirm the production schedule with your team, and confirm your reserved equipment and facilities.

Carefully read and reread RFP instructions. Confirm instructions and any relevant amendments prior to production. Then, make any necessary updates to your production plan. You don’t want to overlook a key requirement and not notice until too late.

Check to see whether the RFP has stipulated font style, size, and line spacing, all of which can have a dramatic effect on the page count of the final submission. There may also be maximum page counts for individual responses, and these are useful when calculating maximum proposal length.

Planning for production activities early in the proposal lifecycle allows you to identify gaps or shortcomings in your team’s production capabilities, tools, equipment, facilities, and personnel, allowing you to alert senior management of your production requirements and adjust your plan and resources before you enter the actual production fray.

2. Assign responsibilities for key roles involved in proposal production early.

Remember that there is great variation within organizations as to the roles and responsibilities assigned within a bid team. This is often driven by variations in the size and complexity of the documents submitted to customers, and by whether they’re in the public or commercial sector.

The trend over the past few years has been for organizations to have smaller bid teams. This has meant that roles are frequently amalgamated. Larger bid teams tend to designate specific roles to each team member. These teams may have what others see as a luxury, such as a Bid Manager, Proposal Manager, Graphic Artist, or Production Manager.

For example, within a small bid team, the Bid Manager may be responsible for everything from supporting the Opportunity Manager in the early, pre-RFP/ITT stage, to developing strategy, to producing the bid prior to submission. This mainly occurs in organizations bidding into the public sector, where lead times may be longer.

It’s common in the commercial sector for organizations to need to be reactive, with short turnaround times. Commercial organizations tend to engage proposal managers who may have only a short involvement prior to the RFP release. Therefore, strategy development tends to begin later in the cycle. Here, too, the Proposal Manager may be responsible for all activities up to and including submission—and beyond.

TEAM MEMBER ALTERNATE POSITION TITLE ROLE & RESPONSIBILITIES
Bid Manager A Bid Manager is responsible for managing a bid or proposal opportunity from qualification to contract award, including early and ongoing strategy development, legal review, solution development, winning price development, partner identification, risk management, proposal development, stakeholder management, and management of the customer relationship for the procurement.
Proposal Manager A Proposal Manager is responsible for proposal development (e.g., written, oral, demonstrations), including maintaining schedules, organizing resources, coordinating inputs and reviews, ensuring bid strategy implementation, resolving internal team issues, and providing process leadership.
Proposal Coordinator Facilitator, Specialist A Proposal Coordinator is responsible for all administrative aspects of proposal development, ensuring security and integrity of all proposal documentation, coordinating internal flow and review of all proposal inputs, coordinating schedules, and directing submission of the final master proposal to production.
Production Manager A Production Manager is responsible for planning and directing the printing, assembly, and final check of proposal documents. This may include both traditional print and electronic versions.
Proposal Graphic Designer A Proposal Graphic Designer is responsible for developing customer-focused visual information that highlights an offer’s features, benefits, and discriminators. The Graphic Designer communicates with other members of the proposal/bid team to conceptualize and create visual elements to persuade the customer. Graphic designers may develop multiple deliverables, such as proposals, presentations, sales collateral, and brand identities.
Proposal Editor Proposal Editors are responsible for ensuring the writing structure and words used in the proposal persuasively convey the offer to the customer. They edit for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, clarity, readability, consistency, and persuasiveness.
Proposal Desktop Publisher A Proposal Desktop Publisher is responsible for designing, formatting, and producing proposal templates, documents, and related materials.
Final Production Quality Reviewer Book Assembler, Checker A Final Production Quality Reviewer is responsible for helping assemble hardcopy proposal volumes, checking for completeness of each volume/copy, and ensuring each page/tab/insert/cover/spine is printed and inserted correctly into the proposal binder (e.g., not smudged, skewed, ripped, or out of order) in accordance with the master copy of the proposal volume. Ideally, this individual should be a member of the proposal department staff for security/continuity.

In addition to the roles listed, be sure to plan for IT support. Know who in your organization provides IT support for all of your software and systems and how to contact them 24×7 in case of emergency. Keep this information readily accessible—including a hardcopy and/or cloud- or smartphone-based list readily accessible by the production team just in case.

Make friends with your IT staff and explain how you do proposals so they’ll be aware of your needs—and the importance of proposals to your company’s success—when you go to them for support.

3. Scale your proposal production plan based on proposal size and complexity and on your organization’s size and capabilities.

Large proposal organizations generally manage and produce multiple proposals concurrently and have several individuals performing distinct roles. Developing a comprehensive production plan for each proposal effort is extremely important to be able to produce multiple, concurrent, compliant proposal submissions.

Smaller proposal organizations, or those in which individuals perform proposal-related duties as their “second jobs,” must pay particular attention to developing a simple, yet comprehensive, production plan that all participants can follow and support alongside their primary jobs.

Scale the production plan’s detail to the size and complexity of each proposal. Take advantage of the checklists provided here and others you may develop to fulfill your organization’s requirements and account for the number of staff and available resources to support each effort. Update these checklists with the specific requirements of each particular proposal.

4. Consider outsourcing proposal production.

There are pros and cons to outsourcing proposal production versus producing a proposal in-house. They depend on the size and complexity of the proposal itself, staff capabilities, available equipment, available production time, cost, and others. Review the Production Checklist, especially the sections for In-House Production and Outsourced Production, along with the Production Resources Checklist, and determine which method works best for each particular proposal.

If you want to use an outside production/printing vendor, begin sourcing that vendor (and a backup in case of unavailability) long before you have a proposal in hand that you plan to outsource for production. Provide the vendor with an old proposal and completed Sample Printing Instructions.

Test the vendor’s systems and capabilities to produce and assemble that proposal to be sure the vendor will be able to perform as expected on a real proposal with actual deadlines. If you are not satisfied with the final product or level of service, continue sourcing efforts until you find at least two vendors who perform to your expectations.

5. Carefully plan contingencies to mitigate risks for final delivery.

Plan your delivery methods (electronic and hardcopy) in meticulous detail in your production plan. Have a solid backup delivery plan ready to implement at a moment’s notice.

Always plan to submit a day early, and train your management to understand the need for this schedule. Accidents, terrorism threats, disasters, traffic jams, weather emergencies, severe illnesses, and other problems occur year-round, and late delivery equals no delivery. You should also establish backups and emergency plans in case a disaster does occur. Be sure to implement:

IT support for computers, software, systems, and equipment

Get to know your organization’s IT staff. Educate them about the company’s business acquisition processes and how the software and systems support those efforts. The IT staff can literally save your proposal in emergencies. Know how to contact them 24×7 in case of emergency, and be sure that this information is available to all business acquisition staff.

Emergency plans

Develop emergency procedures and contingency plans, including all relevant contact information and directions, and make them available to the business acquisition team in case you lose electricity, computers, equipment, the network, or a facility. This planning is especially important during proposal production.

A backup proposal site

Identify and confirm a backup proposal development site (along with provisions for up-to-date hardware and software and access to backup files) to complete proposal development, production, and submission, in case you need to move the proposal offsite. Include a communications plan to alert all proposal team members to the location change and emergency procedures.

Backups (or a backup procedure) for electronic documents/portable backup systems

Throughout proposal development, and especially during the production phase, back up proposal data files frequently. Aim to have at least two backups in different places. Discourage team members from keeping their own individual backup files, which would likely cause confusion should a failure occur and would complicate version control.

Historically, portable backup systems would be used at least once every hour in case of catastrophic failure of computers or the network. These would require the use of a thumb drive, portable hard drive, or CD/DVD, or emailing files to yourself using an alternate email address accessible from outside the network.

Today, the trend is for organizations to use cloud-based solutions. Cloud backup solutions allow organizations to store data and computer files on the Internet using a storage service provider, rather than storing the data locally on a physical disk such as a hard drive or tape backup.

Whatever your circumstances, it’s a good idea to confirm with IT staff that backups of your data occur and how frequently they occur. Depending on the criticality and complexity of the proposal you’re working on, you may need to carry out additional backups, so it’s vital that you understand the backup procedure.

Always follow company rules for security, but be sure you have an immediately accessible backup copy of all materials at all times. Test your backup system and know how to get to the backups in case of emergency. If an emergency occurs, your aim should be to use the backup regime to minimize the amount of rework required and protect the proposal development schedule. In this circumstance, pay special attention to managing version control to ensure you use the right versions of files.

6. Maintain senior management visibility to ensure support throughout the production process.

Maintain regular communications and report status to senior management during production. Status reporting provides management with information and oversight of all efforts and allows you to share updates and obtain support as needed during production.

Keeping communication lines open helps prevent surprises and alerts management to your activities, challenges, and support requirements. Keeping management involved helps them maintain the company’s commitment to the proposal effort.

7. Ensure version control in all phases of the proposal development lifecycle.

Consciously maintain version control at all points in the proposal development lifecycle. While version control is extremely important at any point in proposal development, it is critical during proposal production. You can lose the competition by submitting a non-compliant proposal based on an older version of a proposal section or out-of-date graphics, or can commit your company to performing the wrong services or supplying the wrong products at the wrong price.

8. Do not make last-minute changes to your proposal.

At the last minute, it is far too easy to introduce a mistake that violates RFP instructions or introduces an error.

If you do need to make last-minute changes, review each proposed change against the RFP to ensure that you don’t violate any RFP instructions. Check that any inserted/revised text does not affect page flow, thereby affecting every word and graphic placement in the proposal after your change—as well as your tables of contents, figures, tables, and so forth—potentially making your proposal non-compliant on the basis of page count.

To be safe, don’t make any last-minute changes—and never without the direct, eyes-on involvement of the Proposal Manager and Opportunity Manager.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Failure to plan adequately

The most common problems associated with proposal production arise from a failure to plan carefully. You must develop a production plan and associated checklists for every proposal as early in the proposal development process as possible, preferably in the pre-RFP release phase, and then update the plan as you receive new information (e.g., new proposal formatting and submission instructions provided in RFP amendments or instructions from the client).

Summary

  • Begin planning for production during the pre-RFP stage. The more time and attention you pay early on to planning for proposal production, the more smoothly and professionally your proposal productions will run.
  • Assign proposal production resources early, including people, facilities, and equipment.
  • Scale your production plan based on proposal size and complexity, as well as your organization’s size and capabilities.
  • Ensure that the proposal complies with stipulated font size and formatting instructions.
  • Make contingency and backup plans for all aspects of your proposal production efforts.
  • Maintain version control of all proposal text and graphics. Not doing so can completely derail your production effort, jeopardizing compliant and on-time proposal delivery.
  • Make no last-minute changes to a proposal unless not doing so would cause you to deliver a non-compliant product and thereby lose the proposal.

Terms to Know

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