A Proposal Manager is the single point of accountability for delivering a compliant and compelling proposal on time and on budget. It’s your job as the proposal manager to make sure your team is working well together, producing high-quality content, and meeting the deadlines.
Managing a proposal is similar to managing any project in that fundamental project management principles apply. There is a well-defined proposal process with formal milestones, specifically the kickoff and the reviews traditionally called pink, red, green, and gold team, and the process ends with a book check or white glove review and submission.
Proposal management also requires leadership over proposal content, and that’s what separates proposal managers from proposal coordinators. A proposal coordinator can run the schedule, issue data calls, assemble drafts, track assignments, and so on. But a proposal manager takes ownership of the content and provides leadership to the people providing the information. Proposal managers oversee the logistics and administrivia as well, but that alone will not improve the quality of the proposal. A proposal manager must judge whether the content provides thorough and compelling responses to the government’s requirements while meeting all compliance standards.
Don’t Neglect Your Cost Volume
One of the biggest gaps in the proposal management profession is that many proposal managers abdicate the responsibility of their cost volume because they don’t understand it. They focus instead on the technical and management volumes.
A proposal manager needs to know the fundamentals of what it takes to put together a winning cost volume. After all, the cost is the other half of your proposal and a major factor in how the government decides who to select. You need to make sure that the price you’re bidding is the right price for your solution, fits within the customer’s budget, and is competitive.
As the proposal manager, you need to read the basis of estimates, check the work breakdown structures, and ensure that the cost narrative is progressing along with all the estimates. Cost volumes may include graphics, win themes, and elements of ghosting that mirror the content in your technical volume from a cost perspective. If there’s no integration between your cost and non-cost volumes, and there’s no leadership to get the cost and writing teams to work together, then there will be a disconnect between what you’re proposing on the technical side and what you’re actually pricing.
The cost team needs to have its own budget, its own schedule, and it needs to be managed. The proposal manager needs to know what’s happening with the cost volume, even if it’s simply reviewing progress and touching base regularly with the cost-volume lead.
Think Like an Evaluator
As the proposal manager, you need to have a thorough understanding of the Request for Proposal (RFP) so you can direct your team in developing the best responses. You need to determine whether your content will score high with the evaluators and improve inadequate content by issuing action items to your team. Proposal writers may have segmented knowledge and perspectives on the proposal, and it’s up to the proposal manager to see the big picture and guide the team to that goal. Read the proposal often — the entire proposal — from the point of view of a government evaluator. Will a government evaluator understand and relate to what we’re saying? Keep in mind, your evaluator hasn’t attended your brainstorming meetings, and certain decisions and assumptions you make might not be clear in your proposal. It’s up to the proposal manager to maintain the overall vision and ensure the proposal is clear.
When writing a proposal, you assemble a team of many different people. You have technical people, subject matter experts who typically work full time on other projects and will be answering your questions in their free time. You have your proposal professionals: writers, editors, and graphic artists. You also have financial people. Sometimes these are proposal consultants (estimators and pricers), but often the people who write the cost volume are internal to the company submitting the proposal. They might work in a different department (finance or accounting) or they could be senior leaders of the company. This can make it more challenging for a proposal manager to keep track of the cost volume.
You may also be working with subcontractors, people from outside of the company who might be less responsive to a proposal manager’s requests for information. That’s why it’s vital to also have senior management support and visibility on the project: they will help you to keep all the team members working together on the proposal.
To get the most out of your formal reviews, it’s important for the proposal manager to constantly read the evolving proposal narrative and give regular feedback during informal reviews to keep the content headed in the right direction. Tell your writers that if you haven’t seen it, you’ll assume it does not exist. Check in with them daily to measure progress and, if necessary, sit down with them to brainstorm how to fill holes in their section. You may need to do the thinking for the writers when they are stuck. You have the overall macro vision of the proposal, so you can help the writers create your vision at the micro-level. And you will need to train the proposal reviewers to give you the right type of feedback during formal reviews – don’t assume they will know how to do it.
Proposal management involves juggling the complexities of a tight schedule, budget, and often an untrained proposal team. It requires practice, diligence, and leadership to ensure compliance and quality in your end product. On a day-to-day level, that means taking responsibility for the many moving parts involved in developing a proposal. Over and over again, proposal managers must diagnose problems as early as possible and implement plans to get back on track. Take leadership of your team and the content, and you’ll be on your way to a better proposal process and a higher quality proposal at the finish.