Proposal Management Plans

Proposal management plans, or bid plans, are used to allocate effort, structure work, and ensure adherence to timelines throughout the proposal development process.

Introduction

A high-quality bid or proposal of any kind is always based on careful planning, before any text or graphics development. This planning is increasingly focused on two key documents: the opportunity/capture plan and proposal management plan (PMP). These plans may vary in form but essentially map proposals and specify key issues, activities, tasks, and task groups over time—through a submission deadline and beyond.

In addition to rigorous proposal planning, there is now a greater focus on the choice of and best use of plans (i.e., appropriate tools/frameworks to structure proposal work). Plans are now tailored by industry sector and bid size and type.

So why plan carefully, even with the shorter deadlines many bidders may face?

Bids and proposals are complex projects with many elements that must be resolved before a “must-meet” end point: the submission deadline. Like any type of project, they benefit from organization, which helps teams decide how to allocate effort. As some later bid tasks depend on earlier tasks, a plan with clearly defined stages can be valuable.

This section discusses some of the most common PMP types, their typical characteristics, and key factors in their selection and most effective use.

Best Practices

1. Prepare the PMP before the kickoff meeting, using the opportunity/capture plan as a starting point.

The PMP is an evolution of the opportunity/capture plan. In many cases, more than half of an opportunity/capture plan will appear in its corresponding PMP, with the key additions of writers’ packages, a proposal preparation schedule, and an outline.

Always follow your opportunity plan, unless capture is not used (for example, a situation with limited supplier-buyer interaction ahead of the RFP).

Roll the PMP out to the larger team at the kickoff meeting. Introduce and share the PMP to achieve buy-in and to perform a reality-check of assumptions and potential omissions with internal and external stakeholders. If necessary, you may need to send an updated plan after kickoff to maintain momentum.

When a plan is established, use it to frame all key activity during the bid development process. Although minor variance from plans is typical, more significant changes, or those that cause substantial impact, should be the exception.

2. Use plan templates when appropriate.

Templates can make creating a PMP easier and encourage their use on smaller or more routine bid with common recurring elements. However, the fine-tuning of any template is increasingly considered a key skill. Process overkill can hurt your proposals.

Be sure to make documents user friendly. Carefully developing easy-to-use plan documents pays for itself in the long run.

3. Ensure executive buy-in and support of plans.

Buy-in is essential for effective use of any type of plan. There are a few ways to foster and support buy-in:

  • Explain to stakeholders how plans can benefit them (They create a common set of expectations and deadlines, ensuring more time for reviews and a more balanced workload for all.)
  • Ensure respect of plans by all members of the lead organization and any other key bidding partners, especially senior staff (Key staff will help set an example for the rest of the team.)
  • Clearly identify the owner and updater of the plan (a senior bid team member)
  • Clarify the process of conducting signoffs and sharing changes
  • Ensure that bid leads and key staff refer to and use plans regularly and visibly

When you make updates to a plan, share them, and ensure that all team members understand the updates. Do this throughout the life of the bid. Online tools and repositories can help with sharing and updating plans.

4. Carefully plan and organize content.

Use overview plans to map content at a high level.

These high-level plans have a small number of key stages with activities grouped underneath them. They cover what to do and when to do it in very broad terms. This plan format is a useful expression of the way an organization approaches the proposal lifecycle.

Terminology can vary in proposal creation models and training materials. Use techniques such as proposal outlines, annotated outlines, section content plans or storyboards, and mock-ups to map content to requirements.

See Content Plans for detailed guidance on planning content.

Use document-based plans to organize key resources.

A document-based plan is more detailed than an overview plan. It includes tasks and templates that may be worked through and developed within the plan document in various stages.

This plan document may then become the key repository of higher-level, opportunity-specific information and supporting material for the proposal process.

A PMP is a type of document-based plan. The detail of a typical PMP varies according to four main factors:

  • The type of opportunity targeted (corporate/commercial or government)
  • The scale of the proposal (complexity of requirement, page count of the response)
  • The lead time for the development and production of proposal
  • The number of people and/or organizations involved in the proposal

For a large, longer-term proposal, the PMP is often the central and most critical document produced, besides the final submission. For smaller bidders and shorter-term proposals, however, the PMP approach may require you to be selective about the sections that are planned, as shown in the following table.

DIFFERING TYPES OF OVERVIEW PLANS    
Typical Plan Content (what it covers) Valid for larger proposals Valid for smaller proposals
Proposal Project Summary (overview of the opportunity for managers, reviewers, and the bid team)
Customer/Buyer Profile (analysis of customer needs, issues, and perceptions of the bidder)
Competitive Analysis (offer strengths and weaknesses, bidder comparison matrix, and discriminators)  
Proposal Strategies and Themes (use of reviews and storyboards and themes before writing)
Staffing and Roles and Responsibilities (selecting a team and assigning responsibilities)
Proposal Operations (process considerations for daily operations)  

Use action-based plans to visualize the proposal process in detail.

Action-based plans are even more precise than document-based plans. Action-based plans are usually detailed and diagram-based. They address specific proposal tasks on timescales, showing specifically when the tasks are to be done and often who specifically should perform them. They assume knowledge of the task and how well it should be performed.

Gantt charts are the most common format for this kind of plan. A Gantt chart is a grid that maps and allocates tasks on one axis (vertical) against timescales on the other axis (horizontal). Gantt charts are widely used in both proposal planning and wider project management. They are also known as bar charts.

A well-conceived Gantt chart often underpins and expresses a bid process better than any other document. It typically clarifies:

  • Stages of a bid process
  • Start and end points of specific tasks
  • Milestones, gate points, and review points (these are sometimes the same thing)
  • Role allocation (by color coding, shading, etc.) to bid team members and partners
  • Prioritization of tasks (by color coding, shading, etc.)
  • Leave/vacation arrangements, which a Gantt chart can help define or work around

Some bid activities depend on the successful completion of prior activities. The process of discovering these dependencies and anticipating what tasks need (and then placing these prior requirements on the grid) is one of the strengths of this type of planning. If activities are time critical, prepare for slippage by advancing the completion point on the plan.

Action-based plans typically have several iterations. When starting a new plan, it is often best to work away from the grid initially. You can start by capturing all elements on blank sheets of paper or sticky notes, then sequencing and ordering them on a grid.

Completed action-based plans can be as large as multiple sheets of A3- or letter-sized paper on a wall for large-scale bid. However, a user-friendly single A4- or legal-sized page remains the most useful size for analysis/discussion.

If you want to record extra detail related to a particular stage, such as start-up around a large, multistakeholder kickoff meeting or the many needs of the final pre-deadline phase, produce an “exploded” version of the plan for that time period.

Figure 1 shows an action-based plan in a Gantt chart format with task division and allocation. It also shows an “exploded” final week for mapping more intensive activity detail.

Figure 1. Sample Action-Based Plan.

Figure 1. Sample Action-Based Plan. This plan, presented in Gantt chart format, illustrates how tasks will be allocated and executed over the course of a project.

Use content plans to develop ideas before you write.

Content plans build out from customer analysis and competitive intelligence and opportunity/capture plans. This approach reflects the belief that a set of steps is more effective than higher-level content mapping to get from initial ideas to full text. Content plans encourage planning in advance, when it is arguably more effective.

Increasingly, these plans have a signoff process at each stage. They are often mapped onto document- or action-based plans.

Today’s highly competitive bid environment has led to more widespread use of content plans. The trend toward more robust content planning among teams in both the government/public sector and in corporate proposals seems to be rooted in both the drive for higher proposal assessment scores and a keener appreciation of the needs of the bid evaluator.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Allocating too little time for plan development

Bid operations invariably benefit from extra care taken in planning phases. Yet good plans often require more time than is allocated to be researched and produced in a user-friendly format. Proposal developers should keep this in mind when creating submission timelines.

Misunderstanding of plans’ role

A plan should be followed as closely as possible but must not become an end in itself. Keep in mind that a plan is merely a stepping stone to help you and your team map out proposal development activities and decide what you will say in a submission.

Also remember that the existence of a plan does not mean that it will be followed. Refer to your plan regularly to be sure you are on track toward reaching your goals.

Summary

  • A bid or proposal of any size is a complex project with many tasks to be completed by a strict deadline. These projects benefit from plans that clearly define the schedule and effort needed to complete tasks
  • Choose the plan type that best fits the opportunity and your organization
  • Ensure that the plan is owned, understood, and approved by all key proposal personnel
  • Follow the plan, but not to the exclusion of common sense; allow for modifications as needed

Terms to Know

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