Proposal Land

Show & Tell

Writers are often enjoined to “show” not to “tell.” I often enjoined proposal writers to do both: Make it easy to “see” or grok your point, but don’t hesitate to also make it explicit in words. That was a result of being smacked up-the-head by marketers on Red Teams, insisting that all points be hammered home.

Checking in for a flight recently (remember flying?), I encountered a new-to-me user interface. One aspect addressed a complaint I’ve long had about airline communication around what’s OK to pack or to carry onto an airplane: A communication approach that requires way too much of the reader, IMO. Here’s the latest approach, at least in Canada.



Drat! Now I have to remember not to pack my avalanche-rescue pack. Anyway, I know this approach takes up valuable real estate in a page-limited proposal, but it’s worth using selectively.

Another aspect offered me a visual summary of my upcoming airport experience: What should/would happen when.  Nice, eh?


Now, this would have been more effective if it didn’t contradict instructions/information already given in text about how early to arrive at the airport during COVID-19 (2 hours before the flight, not 1.5 hours), or the departure time (now 7:15, not 7:00).

So that’s the last thing to remember: Keep your words and visuals consistent.



Life-long Learning

On my last, last-ever proposal, I learned how to use Mural, Loom, and Microsoft’s snipping tool. With no ongoing need to herd cats, I’ll probably never use Mural again, but Loom has other possible applications, and I’ve already been snipping up a storm.

Learning new things is a benefit that at least partially offsets the cost of working with other people. In an ideal world, employers would formalize or at least foster this process. In the world we’re in, each of us can consciously seek out new skills when we’re in unavoidable groups.

I mean, snipping: Too cool.

Seth and Me

Yup.  We’re like that <<insert image of two side-by-each fingers>>.

Seth:  Write Something.

Then improve it.
Then write something else.
Repeat this process until you have a post.
Then post it.
Then repeat this process.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply a fear of bad writing. Do enough bad writing and some good writing is bound to show up.
And along the way, you will clarify your thinking and strengthen your point of view.
But it begins by simply writing something.

Me: Buddy & Me – I have writer’s block.

Introducing Buddy & Me

Electioneering in Proposal Land

Warren Kinsella is a former Liberal political operative, now a liberal political operative in Canada. Here’s a snip from his recent op-ed in the Ottawa Sun (underlining added by my correspondent):

What does this have to do with Proposal Land? Just this. Proposal geeks talk about storyboarding; executives talk about finding the “Wow!” factor. It sounds more impressive and more difficult than it is.

Your aim? A single sheet of paper (actual or virtual) that lists the message of each section.

Your method? Starting high – with the major sections that will/would be tabbed in the hard-copy submission and moving to sub-sections as time allows – do these four things:

#1 – Identify two messages for each section:

  • What benefit(s) will your solution deliver to the client?
  • Why should the reader believe you? That is, what specific experience and accomplishments in similar work can you point to?

#2 – Turn it into clear, non-jargony, non-fluffy English.

#3 – Tell writers to incorporate these plain-language messages in their sections.

#4 – Ask reviewers what message they received. If they didn’t receive what you intended to transmit, fix that.


Just Like Families

From the definition:

Proposal team: the group of people assigned to produce a proposal in response to a specific RFP.

Always overworked; often overwhelmed; frequently underappreciated.

Hahaha. True, but missing a few salient points. Here’s one.

Proposal teams are just like families:
They’re all dysfunctional.

Proposal teams are usually (always, in my experience) ad hoc teams of people lacking established group norms and accepted reporting/supervisory structures. By any reasonable measure, the work of the response is more than can be accomplished in the time available: Creating a functional team is way more than a bridge too far.

As a result, the behaviour that emerges is either the natural behaviour of the individuals or the corporate culture of smaller sub-groups on the team. Is the team task- or status-focused? Welcoming or hostile to new people? Cooperative or snippy? Open to new ways of doing things or entrenched in previous processes? Interested in new approaches or dismissive thereof? Good communicators or idiots?

Oh, sorry, that last was my outside voice.

As a manager, it’s worth some time (preferably between proposals) to identify what dysfunctions your teams are exhibiting and how to minimize their impact. Training? Coaching? Supervision? Threats? Reassignments? Firings?

As a proposal conscript, it’s worth some time (preferably at the start of a proposal) to think about what behaviours you want to model, what contribution you can make and want to make to a happy, healthy, and effective team.

Good teamwork doesn’t fall from Heaven: It’s built, bit by bit, from the ground up. And many hands make light work.