Managing the Project Management Triangle

Good and quickly seldom meet.
– George Herbert,
quoted as “Thought du jour” in “Social Studies” in Globe & Mail June 16, 2010
and in John Robson’s “Wish I’d Said That” feature on 2020 Oct 19

Maybe so, but that’s exactly the challenge in schedule-driven activities like, say, proposals. So in the slow times it’s worth thinking about how to make good and quickly meet more frequently. You can accelerate the creation of good responses if you do these things:

  • Work ahead. I’m not a fan of boilerplate — stock answers that can be used in many proposals — because the questions aren’t stock. But  we can still do significant work outside the response period.
  • Start short. Insist that writers start with one-page answers before launching on the 5- or 15-page response. Some teams use storyboards. Whatever. Just start with a short answer and then go on to the next step.
  • Use reviews. Everyone wants to do good all by themselves, but there isn’t time for that. Opening-up our work to review is the shortest shortcut we have to getting there.


Habits: Redux

It’s not an accident that dirt roads end up with deep ruts on them,
that moguls on hills get steeper
and that we find ourselves slipping back into the very things that exhaust us at work.
Once the pattern starts to be grooved, we repeat it, which only makes the groove ever deeper.
Seth Godin, The ruts

Proposals are notorious for being exhausting, even for burning people out. So, why don’t we just do things differently?

Habits are habits because in many ways,
they’re simply easier in the moment.

A new year is as good a time as anyway to revisit our bidding ruts. To smooth off some of those proposal-team moguls. To stop slipping back into the very things that exhaust just because we’re too tired to do anything else. To form some new habits:

  • To limit hours of work for proposal teams and to enforce the limits
  • To set standards for presentation quality that are suitable for a one-off sales proposal, as opposed to a coffee-table photo book
  • To include repair time (aka management reserve) in our schedules
  • To train proposal workers outside the process, and to brief them properly inside it
  • To rotate proposal work among all technical and marketing and communications and administrative staff
  • To gather statistics and stories and kudos every week, rather than after the RFP hits the street

Touchy-feely types tell us to stay in the moment. For appreciating the world’s wonder, I couldn’t agree more. For managing proposals, I couldn’t agree less.


A New Year’s Habit

For many people, work consists of a series of urgencies.
Set them up and knock them down.
Empty the in-box, answer the boss, make the deadline.
Seth’s Blog, 2020 Dec 30

Make the deadline?!? Please don’t remind me. I’m taking a break from proposals.

Most of us are so stuck on the short-cycles of urgency
that it’s difficult to even imagine changing our longer-term systems.

If you happen to be outside a short cycle of urgency at this very moment, then consider taking Seth’s advice to fix your proposal systems:

  • Identify the kinds of work you never win or never make enough money on, and exclude them from future consideration. No exceptions.
  • Make it a requirement to get early executive review of your plan, so you have time to adjust course if necessary.
  • Train newbies in the ways of proposals. Before they start.
  • Persuade executives to expect a clear and comprehensive project-risk assessment by presenting one. Once. (They’re fast learners.)
  • Require costers to “show their work” so the next poor schmo through the mill can benefit from it.

And so on. They’re your urgencies: You know what needs to be fixed.

None of this works if you do it temporarily.
Resolutions don’t work. Habits and systems can.