Five Lessons on Proposal Management
Updated: Jul 16, 2022
Proposal management ain't easy. It's 15% note taking, 10% scheduling, 30% nagging, and about 45% managing people who don't report to you. (Remind me again why I still love it?)
Working as a proposal manager, you have to learn to play the long game.
It's incredibly easy to burn out if you get overly invested in every single proposal you touch (more on avoiding burnout here).
Fortunately, I've been managing proposal processes for a decade now and have collected my most irreverent tips for you today. Will they help? Maybe.
1. Be sillier
This may be a YMMV tip, but I've found that the more I allow my personality to shine through in my proposal management, the more enjoyable the experience is. For me, this is being sillier - mostly by ensuring that there's at least one pun-based proposal title development meeting on the calendar, or one celebratory submission gif. For you that might mean something completely different. Show how you enjoy the proposal process to your teammates - it'll give everyone permission to have fun while working hard.
2. Don't do everyone else's job
Stepping in when there is work to be done tends to make up a lot of the responsibility of a proposal manager. Take it from me - if you try to do everyone's jobs for them, they'll let you. And you'll end up writing a staffing plan at midnight after working 16 hours. Step up where you can, but don't be afraid to tell the proposal team that you have a full workload on your plate. A helpful way to ensure this doesn't happen is to include your own proposal management related tasks and responsibilities within proposal status updates. That way the team will know what you have going on that they may not see first hand.
3. Move faster
When you are working as a proposal manager, your role involves a lot of getting people accurate information as quickly as possible. I would say that many proposal managers focus on accuracy more than speed, going back to triple check travel dates or spell out acronyms or otherwise clarify minute aspects of the proposal. But I will argue that quick is probably more important. While accuracy can be corrected in a follow up email or discussion, leaving people without information for more than a few hours can cause major communication gaps and version control issues, ultimately slowing down or derailing the whole proposal team.
4. Practice flexibility
No proposal process I've ever managed has stuck to a proposal calendar without fail. That's the reality of working with a team of people, most of whom have lives and other competing priorities (how dare they?). If you follow my usual proposal calendar guidance, you should build in plenty of flex time into the proposal process to accommodate an unexpected shift. This means that if someone is sick or some meeting comes up or some section just really needs more time and attention before a review, you have the flexibility to make it work. You will win no favors by playing deadline dictator.
5. Don't worry about winning
Woah, I can feel the collective backlash from here. But hear me out. A proposal manager is going to work on hundreds if not thousands of proposals over the course of their careers. They will have wins; they will have losses. They will have good proposal teams, well staffed and well resourced. They will have one person with a laptop writing to an unrealistic deadline. If you are weighing the worth of your soul on the success or failure of every proposal that passes your desk, you will fail. That's the long and short of it. Instead, meet your responsibilities to the best of your ability and deliver what you can deliver with the resources you have.
I don't want you to win every proposal you manage. I want you to enjoy your job for more than a month.
Hopefully if you try out some of these tips, it'll help you enjoy the process of managing proposals more.
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