Proposal Land

Better RFP Responses & Management
Proposal Land

To Hell with Happiness

Well, not really.  But this article in Harvard Business Review argues (convincingly, I think) that happiness–a fleeting emotion, but I repeat myself–is not a reasonable target for our work lives.

So what would be better? Meaning and purpose, that’s what.

Living with meaning and purpose may not make you happy — at least in the short term. It requires self-reflection, effort, and wrestling with issues that initially can be frustrating. But when you approach work situations mindfully, with an eye toward contributing to others while honoring your personal identity, you’ll find opportunities to practice the skills that help you find the intrinsic value in your work.

The whole article is worth reading and certainly doesn’t need me to summarize it here. I’ll just add three Proposal Land points.

First, supervision is mostly MIA in Proposal Land. With ad hoc teams, staffed with people who don’t report to you on an ongoing basis, the apparent benefits of supervision don’t come close to matching the costs thereof (the effort required to supervise at all, never mind the effort required to supervise well). However, this article gives anyone in a transient supervisory role (e.g. proposal managers, volume/technical leads, chief editors, production leads) some ideas for providing useful feedback to team members. It allows leaders to go beyond the “We won, so thank you” approach, to address the specific effort someone made.  The difference they made. Who knows? It might even come as a surprise to them.

Second, supervision is mostly MIA in Proposal Land. (“Hey!” you say, “That’s the same point.” And so it is. Would you like to work as a proposal editor?) Given that transient supervisors have no compelling business reason to invest their time and their selves in you, consider supervising yourself. That is, use the ideas outlined here to think about what part of proposal work adds to your sense of meaning and purpose. To think about how you could change how you work to add more meaning/purpose.

Third, supervision is mostly MIA in Proposal Land. (“Hey!” I know.) But here’s the thing: Teams can be self-supervising, especially with respect to “sharing best-self narratives.” That’s called “work culture” and we all hold it in our hands to a greater degree than we think.


The Older I Get . . .

. . . and the further removed from active (aka manic) proposal work, the less I have to say about the details of editing and document management and graphics. All that fades into the background or is actively overcome by new ways of doing things. Like, when was the last time *you* submitted a hard copy of a major proposal? All the things I learned about doing that and doing it well are now pretty much useless.

Except this one thing: Don’t go flat out.

Me, I don’t have much street cred, but you’ll believe Seth, right? And wonder of wonders, he agrees with me. (Or I with him. What-ever.)

The hypervigilance required to go at full speed
gives us no room to breathe or even improve.

As you start this new year, look ahead to its end. Do things now that will allow you to look back with satisfaction on how in 2024 you took the time to breathe and even (Gasp) to improve.


Your Inner Juggler

Seth is learning to juggle better.

The secret, as I wrote about in The Practice is the throwing, not the catching. If you get the throws right, the catches are easy.

The way to focus on the throws is simple but culturally difficult: Errant throws don’t earn a lunge.

Let them drop.

Simply stand there and watch them drop.

Realize that the problem isn’t that you didn’t lunge. The problem was that your throws were off.

And at work? Ah, that’s a little harder.

There are lots of rewards for heroic saves at work. But heroic saves undermine the desire to build better systems.

I’ve done lots of lunging in my time in Proposal Land. Working crazy hours. Rewriting crappy inputs. Digging out inconsistencies driven by a lack of planning. I’m far from the only one.

Should I have just stood there and let a “badly thrown” proposal hit the floor? Not likely.

Should you? Not likely.

But you can make sure you and everyone else understands what just happened, and you can commit to doing the work to preventing it from happening again. That’s why I wrote The Book: to document what I’d learned about how to throw better. To help others learn how to stop having to lunge to save a proposal.

If you get the throws right, the catches are easy.

The corollary? If the catches *aren’t* easy, you know you’re not throwing right.

Continue reading“Your Inner Juggler”

Your Inner Orchestra

I just stumbled across this.

My first thought? Orchestras give me hope for humankind: A bunch of people with different skills, personalities, and backgrounds come together to create something beautiful and coherent.

My second thought? Proposal teams are just like orchestras.

Orchestras don’t work without direction: They have a conductor. Proposal teams have a proposal manager.

Orchestras don’t improvise: They have a musical score. Proposal teams have outlines, storyboards (of whatever ilk), and writing guidelines.

Orchestras aren’t made up of interchangeable people-units: Each player has a role, and knows it. Proposal teams are made up of people with specific expertise, and given clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

Orchestras don’t wing it: They practice and practice and practice to achieve that “out of many, one” performance. Proposal teams . . . oh, oh. Proposal teams don’t practice.

But they could.

If your company does regular proposals, the usual participants could practice once a week, say, or once a month, by running solo and group exercises:

  • Setting schedules
  • Setting outlines
  • Drafting responses under time pressure, then evaluating them, then doing it again
  • Brainstorming responses to sample questions in small groups, then evaluating them, then doing it again
  • Developing graphics standards through trial and evaluation
  • Presenting experience in compelling and easy-to-mark ways
  • Gathering data to turn into information for the next proposal

Even after the RFP drops, teams could take a day (even two) at the outset to run these exercises.

Proposal teams COULD practice. Think what beautiful music they might make together if they did.


Changing Your Proposal Culture

Everyone starts early and works late.

There are no weekends.

Red Team is a disaster.

There’s always a hot mess at the deadline.

These are not “just the way things work” in Proposal Land: They’re choices.

If this is your status quo, and you wish it were not, then Seth’s Blog is for you today. Maybe you are the someone who cares enough to make things better.

The future isn’t the same as the past.
Technology develops, systems change and most of all,
someone cares enough to make things better.

Changing how you do proposals is work. It takes sustained effort.

Systems are built to resist short-term hurried effort.
But patient, persistent and focused effort can pay off.

Don’t try to do it by yourself. Find at least one like-minded person, preferably two, and do a proposal differently. Do it better.

Solo quests make good Westerns or legends,
but almost all systems change is the result of teams of people,
organized and connected in service of the longer goal.

If it’s a large proposal and you’re not in charge of the Whole Thing, that’s OK: Do your part better. Model the change you want to see.

To start, convert/subvert one proposal team by showing them better processes and better working conditions; convert one executive member by showing them better business results.

Change begins with the smallest viable audience,
not the largest possible one.

And then do it again. Eventually, your new way of doing things will become the default, the expected, the status quo. And someone else will build on that.

Continue reading“Changing Your Proposal Culture”