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Is centralized or decentralized proposal development better?

Once you settle on process, roles, and responsibilities, you still have to decide how you are going to manage a proposal. In some companies, the proposal manager takes total ownership over the proposal, writes the outline, prepares the plans, and tells people what to write. In other companies,  the proposal manager may write a high level outline, but delegate the detail-level so the proposal team as a whole plays a role in figuring out what to write.

The centralized approach has the advantage of being decisive. The Proposal Manager decides what needs to go into the proposal and tasks it out to be completed. The decentralized approach is more collaborative, and relies on a lot more delegation. Which is the right approach for you?

The management style and personality of the Proposal Manager play a role. Some people have the right charisma to pull off being a proposal dictator. Some people do better with a collaborative management style. Neither one is necessarily better. It depends on the environment. Both can be highly successful in the right environment, and disappointing failures in the wrong environment.

The centralized approach only works if the Proposal Manager has:

  • The subject matter expertise to know what is being proposed and how that should drive the win strategies for the proposal. The more that the subject matter for the proposal is outside the Proposal Manager’s areas of expertise, the more collaboration is needed.
  • Enough time to prepare the outline. Centralizing the effort makes the Proposal Manager a bottleneck. A large, complex RFP can take days to turn into a fully cross-referenced set of proposal plans and instructions. Is it better for writers to wait for instructions or for them to participate in preparing the instructions?
Which approach to take also depends a lot on the strengths of your proposal writers. The more limited their proposal experience and skills, the more it will help them if the Proposal Manager can set up what they need to do in detail. If you have strong proposal writers, they can parse the RFP requirements and prepare their own Content Plans.

Corporate culture also plays a role. Some companies lend themselves to centralized authority. Some companies lend themselves to total chaos. Most are somewhere in between. The result is that for a given company, either a centralized or decentralized approach may be more compatible with the corporate culture. Most companies settle into a preference for one approach or the other, and usually it is based on charisma, politics, the personalities and egos of the people contributing to the proposal, and whether the Proposal Manager has enough executive support to act with authority.

On some large proposals they take a middle-of-the-road approach and assign a middle manager to lead each volume. For example, a lead engineer might be assigned to lead the development of the Technical Approach. This just pushes the centralized vs. decentralized decision down a level. The volume lead can take either approach, and which approach is best will depend.

When we wrote the MustWin Process, we decided to make it compatible with either approach, since that is what exists in the real world. Instead of telling you what type of management style will work best in your environment, we structured the process to provide a set of tools that could be used either way. For example, the Content Planning methodology can be prepared by the Proposal Manager and used to drive instructions to the writers. Or sections of the Content Plan can be delegated to other contributors who can use it as a vehicle for collaboration. Another example is the way Proposal Quality Validation is implemented. Reviews can be centralized, and given to a specific team or even an individual. Or they can be farmed out according to expertise and availability. The MustWin Process focuses more on what to review than on how to allocate the resources to accomplish those goals. But either way it gives you the tools to clarify expectations and provide guidance so that you can manage according to your style and what works in your environment.

The MustWin Process is available on PropLIBRARY along with samples and online training...

The PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase comes with our MustWin off-the-shelf process documentation that
provides step-by-step guidance to help you:

  • Get ready for RFP release
  • Develop win strategies
  • Produce a winning proposal
  • Achieve quality assurance
  • Comes with online training!

Click here to learn more about it

By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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