Tutorials and resources for proposal writing and business development

Proposal Process vs. Checklists

Flow charts for business development and proposal processes are useless. Those of you with an engineering background may be tempted to say that "it's not a process unless you can diagram it." But our experience shows that the flow chart for any BD process fails within minutes of meeting the real world. They may be useful as a concept, but little more. A formal process requires a finite, defined scope. You need clear begin and end points for each phase of activity. You need to be able to define the process deliverables. Instead of a sequential set of steps, business development is more like a collection of sub-routines. And while it is at least theoretically possible to diagram it, you may get better results if you focus on process deliverables.

In business development there is this thing that confounds any well defined process. This thing is often referred to as the Customer. The Customer is not required to follow your process. The Customer can:

  • Issue an RFP (or not)
  • Use a nearly unlimited variety of contract vehicles or methods
  • Change the RFP or the process in midstream
  • Change their mind at any time. And they do.

Sometimes it's good to be the customer ;-)

In addition to the Customer to contend with, most companies have separately managed groups for business development, proposal development, and project execution. A process that originates in one group may not be followed by those in another.

It may be possible to craft a process diagram with sufficient decision points and options to cover all of the possible contingencies. But often the process does not get executed in sequential steps. There is a lot of backtracking and iteration that is difficult to impossible to anticipate. In developing a process that adds value to participants you can put many hours into flow charting. Or you could just skip the charts.

Consider the following list of documents for supporting proposal development:

  • Proposal Manager's Workbook
  • Pre-RFP Progress Checklist
  • Draft RFP Checklist
  • RFP RFP Release Checklist
  • RFP Distribution List
  • Kickoff Meeting Checklist
  • Kickoff Agenda
  • Kickoff Attendees
  • Author Instructions
  • Author Self-Review Checklist
  • Status Log
  • Graphics Log
  • Staffing Worksheet
  • Project Worksheet
  • Cross Reference Matrix
  • Outline
  • Assignments
  • Schedule
  • Annotated Outline
  • Review Plan
  • Production Plan
  • Review Team Instructions
  • Review Team Comment Form
  • Production Checklist
  • Submission Readiness Checklist
  • Submission Checklist
  • Post Submission Checklist

If you give one proposal team a well thought out process, fully diagramed, with a detailed process manual to back it up, and you give another proposal team a set of templates and checklists like those shown above, which do you think would execute better? The team with the templates and checklists will execute better because the get their process guidance from the same tools that they use to execute the process.

Once you have worked through all of the plans, checklists, tools, and deliverables used in business development and proposal writing, then you are much better prepared to diagram the process. The next time you are starting a proposal process definition effort, instead of starting off by drawing a flow chart, instead consider starting by creating a set of templates and checklists.

By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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