Ken Merwin | President/Polaris Systems – Proposal Management
I’ve found that we often propose overly complicated solutions when we write a response to a request for a proposal. We highlight one or two non-critical tasks, try to describe a process we cannot clearly articulate, and miss important tasks. We tend to write pages of text about the one thing we know best, although that thing may only be a small part of the overall solution. The result is often an incoherent, complicated solution that is hard to evaluate. Try the following seven steps to simply your response and improve your chances of winning.
- Identify the problem you are trying to solve – Start with the end in mind. This is the output of your process. Write it down. Everything that follows must support this step.
- Identify the required inputs – Chances are you need information or materials from some other section of the proposal or even from the customer. Leave these out and you risk demonstrating a lack of understanding.
- Identity all the tasks you need to accomplish in solving the problem – Brainstorm and ask tough questions. Sticky notes and whiteboards are your friend, here. They give you the flexibility to move and network the tasks; to arrange them a logical sequence.
- Highlight the tasks that provide value in the eyes of the customer – These are the things that the customer is willing to pay for. If it were easy, they would not need you. Highlighting critical tasks demonstrates understanding. Include a feedback loop to allow for quality checks, flexibility, and feedback.
- Eliminate the non-value added tasks – If a task does not contribute to the solution, leave it out. If the customer is not willing to pay for it (even if it adds value), leave it out. In short, if a task does not directly add value in the eyes of the customer, leave it out.
- Simplify the process and illustrate the tasks in a logical sequence – There should be a clear flow to the sequence of the tasks. I like left to right, top to bottom and lines that do not cross. If it’s not clean, rearrange the tasks. If there are too many tasks, see where you can cut and combine. Go back to step 3 to make sure you included everything. Make sure it solves the problem.
- Write a clear, concise description of your process – Use the finished process as a graphic in your proposal. Once you have a clean process, you have something simple to write to.
A complicated solution may provide the desired results, but it is hard to positively evaluate. The chances are that it includes tasks that the customer does not want to pay for, misses key tasks that facilitate understanding, and focuses on unimportant aspects of the process. Remember, simple always wins!