Opportunity/Capture and Proposal Management Scheduling

Opportunity/capture scheduling is essential for visualizing, implementing, and monitoring progress of the opportunity/capture plan. Effectively allocating time and resources across multiple tasks—and communicating and enforcing milestones—is an essential part of proposal management.

Introduction

Common scheduling principles apply to opportunity/capture plans. Planning a realistic schedule requires a clear understanding of each task, the situation, the capability, and the competence of adequate assigned resources.

The complexity of the schedule should be adapted for the market sector, value, and importance of the opportunity to your organization, timeframe, and available resources.

Scheduling opportunity/capture efforts can be more difficult than scheduling proposals. Opportunity/capture activities might be limited by customer procurement requirements and shifting end points. In addition, the earlier you discover the opportunity, the less you and your customer are likely to know about the procurement schedule. Customers routinely modify procurement milestones, meaning you can’t reliably schedule opportunity/capture activities. You won’t necessarily be certain of when opportunity/capture–centric activities should end.

Proposal submittal dates might extend—but they still have a fixed end date. Hence, proposal schedules are built backward from the due date. However, proposal and opportunity/capture schedules are concurrent, as capture activity continues while the proposal is being developed.

It is therefore best to assume a disciplined yet adaptive approach to scheduling opportunity/capture activities.

In some markets, a proposal that is even 1 minute late is not accepted. In any market, on-time proposal delivery is a key objective of the proposal management process.

The basic principles of proposal scheduling are consistent with those of good project management. Careful project schedule development and management is the only way to ensure on-time delivery. Contingency planning, based on the specifics of the organization, the proposal, and the team, is an essential component of schedule management.

Figure 1 summarizes some of the similarities and differences between opportunity/capture and proposal schedules.

Differences
Opportunity/Capture Schedules Proposal Schedules
Longer and more variable time span from the pursuit decision through program initiation
Based on milestones, gate reviews, and customer activities
Uncertain dates driven by customer decisions and competitor tactics
Built after the pursuit decision and extended through program initiation
Permitted customer-facing activities might be limited after the bid request is issued
Similarities
Requires a single manager to lead the effort and manage the schedule
Requires an established budget to support approved tasks
Assigns a single person the responsibility to complete each task, with start and end dates
Arranged to minimize sequential tasks and maximize parallel tasks
Requires senior leadership buy-in and participation in gate reviews

Figure 1. Differences and Similarities of Opportunity/Capture and Proposal Scheduling. The timing and focus of the schedules differ by many scheduling guidelines.

Best Practices

1. Create, align, and adapt the opportunity/capture schedule to the customer’s actions, your organization’s business development process, the resources available, and the selling environment.

When starting to develop an opportunity/capture schedule, it’s important first to consider the following:

  • What phase-critical and time-sensitive activities must be completed immediately before circumstances change?
  • What key activities must be completed to meet senior leadership’s expectations?
  • What items must be presented at the first or next gate decision?

Then consider the following phase-critical and time-sensitive activities.

Access to the customer is likely to be restricted after the bid documents are released. If this is true, gathering intelligence early is vital to making an informed pursuit decision, developing your capture strategy, and positioning your solution as the preferred solution. Schedule customer intelligence gathering and solution positioning activity as early as possible and continue until restricted.

If your strategy requires teaming, you must identify your partner and negotiate a teaming agreement before your partner teams with a competitor. Schedule teaming discussions promptly after completing your competitive analysis and capture strategy.

If your solution requires key personnel, identify and reserve or recruit them before they’re committed to other activities, programs, or competitors.

If new technology is required, use lead time to develop and verify that technology before promising it to the customer. Ideally, persuade the customer to specify your technology in the bid request.

If past performance requirements are critical, identify appropriate experience and performance examples within your organization or via teaming partners. Ideally, preview this experience and performance with the customer, scheduling site visits or interviews if possible.

With the next gate review identified, focus on scheduling the key activities required to prepare the mandatory inputs and meet your management expectations.

Once time-sensitive activities are identified, consider typical key opportunity/capture planning actions.

KEY ACTIVITY

Activity Leader

Start Date

End Date

Comments

Manage the Opportunity/Capture Process

Develop opportunity/capture plan

  • Populate, validate, and update the opportunity/capture plan
  • Hold review sessions to ensure that the team is moving forward

Determine key management actions

  • Provide oversight for opportunity, key relationships, intelligence strategy, and actions
  • Establish opportunity capture/B&P budget
  • Transition from capture to proposal planning

Build Relationships

Form and train the opportunity/capture team

  • Select an Opportunity/Capture Manager
  • Initiate an opportunity/capture team (SMEs)
  • Define specific roles and responsibilities
  • Train the opportunity/capture team
  • Hold a kickoff meeting to initiate opportunity/capture activities

Expand customer relationships

  • Identify customer, program, and procurement organizations
  • Define the customer buying cycle
  • Create a customer contact plan
  • Collaborate on value propositions

Gather and Analyze Data

Perform program/opportunity assessment

  • Gather relevant opportunity/program data
  • Analyze, validate, and update data
  • Determine gaps and update findings as opportunity evolves

Perform customer assessment

  • Gain clear understanding of customer requirements
  • Identify/validate customer issues, wants, needs, and hot buttons
  • Determine key decision makers

Perform competitor assessment

  • Determine key competitors
  • Validate data from multiple sources
  • Populate Bidder Comparison Matrix
  • Assess strengths and weaknesses from Bidder Comparison Matrix
  • Determine critical gaps and discriminators

Develop and Implement Strategy

Determine a price-to-win strategy

  • Gain understanding of customer budget and pricing strategy
  • Learn what competitors are charging for similar work
  • Create a should-cost analysis from the customer’s perspective
  • Align PTW strategy with customer, competitor, and should-cost findings

Develop a win strategy

  • Lay out key actions needed to win

Initiate a teaming strategy

  • Determine customer subcontracting requirements
  • Build a teaming strategy to complement capabilities
  • Initiate teaming discussions
  • Formalize through executed teaming agreements

Develop a high-level proposal solution

  • Develop key points and issues for technical management, past performance, and cost price
  • Document a high-level solution

Initiate competitor strategy activities and review

  • Determine the most threatening competitors
  • Create opportunity/capture strategies through the eyes of the competition
  • Incorporate key findings into the opportunity/capture plan

Determine a program execution strategy

  • Plan ahead to determine the key actions necessary to begin work on Day One of the contract award

Turn strategies into action plans

  • Populate action plans with key strategies
  • Manage specific tasks within each action plan

Engage Proposal Support

Identify the proposal team

  • Select the Bid Manager
  • Determine resource needs
  • Integrate with opportunity/capture team

Develop a proposal management plan

  • Transfer key opportunity/capture data to the proposal management plan
  • Develop content plans

Hold a proposal strategy session

  • Determine which actions may evolve into proposal messages
  • Review strengths, weaknesses, discriminators, features, and benefits
  • Turn strategy statements into win themes

Develop a draft executive summary

  • Populate the executive summary with important key messages to drive proposal messages
  • Share the draft executive summary with the proposal team

Collect high-level proposal collateral

Gather potential documentation (i.e., past performance, resumes)

Validate appropriateness of data for proposal use

Manage data collections

Figure 2. Potential Opportunity/Capture Activities. Determine which activities are needed for each capture opportunity. Eliminate, condense, or expand as appropriate. Align the actions with gate reviews deliverables, then assign the activity leader, start date, and completion date.

Opportunity/capture plans are built over time. Content detail increases from conceptual to detailed to updated. Although the contents of a capture plan might look daunting, build and adapt the contents to meet the requirements of your gate decisions.

Typically, you’ll identify key activities, add them to your schedule, and then lack sufficient resources to complete some activities. One option is to simply delete the activity and use the resources you have as efficiently as possible, hoping for the best. An alternative approach is to schedule the activity but leave it unassigned to highlight the lack of resources to management.

Adapt your opportunity/capture schedule to the selling environment. A great deal of focus has been given to a sales cycle measure in months; however, a sales cycle measured in days requires a highly compressed and streamlined process.

For example, if you’re responding to 5-day task order requests, or short commercial turnaround times, your capture activity will focus on collaboratively developing requirements with the customer. In this scenario, gate decisions are short and few, but you should still address the key activities identified.

2. Schedule opportunity/capture activities as you would any other project, using the same scheduling tools.

Simple timeline charts are adequate for smaller opportunity/capture plans. Full critical path software tools are more appropriate for complex opportunity/capture plans.

Opportunity/capture managers seldom manage direct reports, so adapt your scheduling approach to your organization. If you use a common calendaring tool, enter events in your calendar and invite assigned attendees to accept the event. Use web calendars like those offered in SharePoint to coordinate your opportunity/capture schedule.

One of the best ways to keep opportunity/capture tasks on schedule is to publish the schedule prominently and review it regularly. When assigned individuals see their names on a late or incomplete task, it often prompts them to complete the task.

3. Schedule backward, starting with the proposal due date and time.

Start with the due date and time. Estimate the total proposal development effort and then schedule delivery and production before scheduling tasks that occur earlier. When you’ve built in enough time for delivery and production, make a list of the other tasks and subtasks, using as many levels as necessary to describe the work in detail. Be sure to identify the dependencies for each task, such as supplies, approvals, or completion of other tasks. Sample schedules for 10-, 30-, and 60-day proposals are available among the tools and templates for this chapter.

When the list of tasks is complete, determine the start and end dates for each task. Use whatever scheduling tool or software makes sense given the size and complexity of your organization and the proposal involved. In some instances, a spreadsheet or a manual scheduling tool is sufficient. Larger proposals often require automated tools that adjust interim deadlines automatically when there is an extension or a material change.

Develop realistic time estimates for specific tasks and record these in a resource schedule. Often, organizations allow the task to fit the available time. Mature organizations develop and apply standards for common proposal development tasks.

The following are example metrics you can use as a starting point. These will vary based on factors such as:

  • Industry
  • Organization type
  • Team availability
  • Team experience
  • Complexity of the response
  • Other response-specific factors
Task Time
Writing: New material 4 pages/day
Writing: Extensive revision 8-10 pages/day
Writing: Minimal revision 20-25 pages/day
Simple graphics 1-2 hours each
Complex graphics 2-6 hours
Retouch photo 1-2 hours
Complex illustration 1+ days
Final document review (new) 40 pages/day
Final document review (with extensive boilerplate) 80 pages/day

4. Allocate time for proposal planning and for establishing the proposal infrastructure.

Setting up a proposal infrastructure and creating realistic plans are critical to a smooth proposal process. They also decrease the overall effort required. The planning process, including preparing for the kickoff meeting, setting up a collaborative workspace or tool, establishing a contact list, defining roles and responsibilities, and developing a schedule, usually requires 10 percent to 20 percent of the total time available for response to an RFP.

In addition, keep 10 percent of the available time in reserve to manage unforeseen events, such as a proposal writer with writer’s block, a family emergency, or a client crisis that requires immediate attention.

5. Always minimize sequential tasks and maximize parallel tasks wherever you are in the business development cycle.

Clear task descriptions, quality standards, and start and end dates empower contributors to work in parallel with minimum conflict. If you hear contributors say they’re waiting for someone else to finish a task before they can start, you have sequential tasks, and you might be in trouble. When task owners are waiting for better information or for someone else to complete another task, they’re often seeking an excuse to avoid action.

Think through all dependencies carefully when determining start and end dates for proposal tasks and subtasks. Tasks that are dependent on each other must be scheduled sequentially, and it’s easy to run out of time when there are many sequential tasks. To the extent possible, create a task list that includes activities that can be conducted simultaneously, such as writing proposal text and making plans for proposal reviews.

Many proposal activities, such as forms that require information from finance, operations, or human resources departments or legal reviews of contract terms and conditions, have long lead times. Start these activities early and conduct them in parallel to make the best use of your time. Make sure that the same people aren’t assigned to tasks that have to be completed in parallel, unless it’s clear that they can actually execute them simultaneously. For items that have dependencies, check the progress of the activities on which they’re dependent on a daily basis.

For complex proposals, use critical path scheduling to highlight sequential and parallel activities, and allocate and track proposal team resources. Schedule-building tools, such as Gantt charts, can also help you visualize tasks.

6. Clearly explain the start and end date for each task as well as the expectations associated with the completion of the task.

Resources are rarely assigned full-time in opportunity/capture or proposal development, and this often includes the Opportunity/Capture Manager and the Bid Manager. Establish realistic hours, schedule the task and all subtasks, manage completion, and return them to their other responsibilities.

People can’t adhere to a schedule if they’re not aware of one. The opportunity/capture and proposal schedule must be clear and visible to the entire team, preferably on a collaborative platform that enables easy access and updates when necessary. Define a start and completion date for each individual team member. Many collaborative platforms allow managers to send calendar reminders when task deadlines are approaching.

Use the proposal schedule to make formal proposal assignments to each individual for the time required to complete proposal sections or perform proposal functions. When explaining assignments, be clear about the start date and the end date or, if the person is fulfilling an ongoing function, the level of effort for that function. Establish and clearly explain performance expectations. Often, Bid, Proposal, and Opportunity/Capture Managers explain assignments at a high level and fail to confirm that the task owner accepts accountability.

Take time to spell out details involved in completing a task. For example, instead of assigning someone to “preparation for the final document review/internal review,” list all the specifics, including sending invitations, reserving a meeting room, ordering food, distributing the RFP to reviewers, explaining how reviewers should document their comments, preparing a presentation for the beginning of the review, and establishing a cutoff time after which the contributors should not make any further changes to the proposal.

It’s a common mistake for Bid, Proposal, and Opportunity/Capture Managers to assign multiple people to a task. This almost certainly guarantees that the task won’t be completed successfully. Only one person should have accountability for a task or subtask. That person can, and often must, reach out to others for help, but accountability and ownership must remain with one person. If task ownership has to be transferred, make the handoff to the new owner clear and explicit.

Above all, be transparent, reasonable, and honest about the schedule with all members of the team. Respecting team members’ time will help gain their trust.

7. Break large assignments into short, manageable pieces.

It’s easy for proposal team members, particularly authors of proposal sections, to be overwhelmed by the size of the tasks they face. This is intensified if an individual lacks proposal writing experience or if deadlines are tight.

Bid and/or Proposal Managers can make authors and other contributors more effective by breaking large tasks up into smaller pieces, assigning interim deadlines, and providing immediate feedback. This is a more labor-intensive approach than relying on contributors to complete longer assignments, but it allows progress to be checked early and problems to be identified and escalated rather than waiting until a section is overdue.

In the case of short-turnaround proposals, identify the key messages that need to be delivered and focus assignments on communicating those key points.

8. Make sure the schedule drives the priorities for daily activities.

A well-planned schedule is an excellent tool for ensuring that proposal activity constitutes the best use of time and resources. If people are working on tasks that are not on the schedule, either the schedule needs to be revisited or work assignments need to be clarified.

Use near-term, interim deadlines to drive priorities when there are multiple ongoing tasks. For tasks that have long lead times, establish interim milestones that you can use to make sure that the objectives of those tasks are met.

9. Avoid scheduling weekends and holidays.

More work isn’t always better work. Even when deadlines are tight, proposal team members need most evenings, weekends, and holidays “off the clock” to be productive. For proposal writers in particular, having a break, a chance to exercise, and a good night’s sleep produces much better results than continuous work.

However, there are times when proposal team members may need to (or prefer to) use weekend or holiday time to complete their activities. By not assuming weekend work, the schedule gives team members flexibility to use this time at their discretion if unforeseen events occur.

10. Allow sufficient time for proposal reviews.

Proposal contributors are too close to their work to be able to review it for quality, compliance, consistency, and impact. A fresh look at a proposal by experts who have not been involved in writing or solution development is essential.

Reviews can consume considerable time in the schedule. After each review, it takes time to read, understand, and absorb feedback about the proposal. It also takes time to determine how best to respond to reviewer comments.

Depending on the size of the proposal and the number and availability of reviewers, each review cycle can take anywhere from half a day to a week. Determine the appropriate number of reviews at the beginning of the proposal, and do not add review cycles unless there is a significant change in the RFP or an extension of the due date.

11. Plan for production time conservatively.

Proposal production includes final document formatting, printing, and assembly of proposal volumes, as well as a final check to ensure that everything is in the package or on the disk and is compliant with any stated client requirements. Not all aspects of the production process are within the team’s control, so it’s important to be prepared, to be conservative when scheduling, and to carefully protect the time allotted to this activity.

This often holds true even when the proposal is delivered electronically. Because production occurs late in the schedule, if other activities run late, the production process suffers. When allocating time for production, plan for all worst-case contingencies, such as computer viruses, power outages, and equipment malfunction.

Because every organization has a different production infrastructure, it’s important to keep metrics from previous proposals and use them to allocate sufficient time not only for production but also for final quality control.

Adhering to the production schedule without sacrificing quality means establishing a firm cutoff time after which no changes can be made to the graphics or text. It’s the role of the Proposal Manager to weigh the benefit of additional changes with the risk of faulty production or late delivery and to resist editorial changes beyond a pre-established date and time. A production checklist can help with these efforts.

12. Change the schedule only if it absolutely has to be changed and be sure to communicate changes clearly to all involved.

Changing the schedule to accommodate events other than an alteration of the RFP or an extension of the deadline carries risks. Proposal contributors need to know that they can plan their time to accomplish the tasks assigned to them. Schedule changes affect the balancing act they have to perform between the proposal and other obligations.

More importantly, when interim deadlines change frequently without a clear reason, participants start to discount them entirely and assign a higher priority to activities outside the proposal. Thus, although there are often compelling reasons to let interim deadlines slip, it’s advisable to change the schedule only when there are customer-driven events, such as an extension of the due date or a significant change in the RFP.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Rigid adherence to allotted timeframes

Avoid being so rigid with the schedule that you miss an opportunity to win by readjusting. It’s the role of the Proposal Manager to anticipate and prepare for situations where adjustments may be required. One of these situations could be a late-stage change in strategy in response to new information received. Such a change could mean the difference between winning and losing a bid. To account for the possibility of schedule adjustment, plan for and allot time at the end of the schedule to allow for anything unforeseen.

Summary

  • Even if everything else is functioning, scheduling mistakes can threaten quality, compliance, and on-time delivery of a proposal.
  • Base the schedule on metrics collected from previous proposals and make a single person accountable for completion of each task.
  • Use interim deadlines to keep tasks on track and provide feedback early.
  • Look for tasks that are independent of one another that can be completed in parallel. Carefully plan tasks that have multiple dependencies.
  • Leave enough leeway in schedules for time off on weekends and holidays, multiple review cycles, and potential RFP changes, as well as for unexpected setbacks.

Terms to Know

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