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Implementing an Alternative to Boilerplate Using Privia

One of the problems people have with boilerplate is how to build and maintain the library. What topics do you include? Do you use large comprehensive files, or small granular ones? How do you deal with similar write-ups that only partially overlap? What about special cases? How do you keep them up-to-date? When you add detail to a topic in a proposal, how do you capture that and bring it back to the boilerplate library for future re-use? When do you add a new topic? When do you delete an obsolete one?

The reason few companies have a boilerplate library is that it ends up being insanely labor intensive to maintain. Every once in a while someone in between proposals will put the library together and usually within a year or two it’s falling apart because no one had the time to properly maintain it.

What a lot of companies do is try to implement a keyword search tool so that people can search past proposals and “bring forward” files that they find. The problem with that approach is that most searches will return a lot of noise. This is because context is important and search tools don’t understand context. If you search a systems integrator’s proposal library for the word “network” you’ll get words related to LANs, the internet, processes, personnel, customers, organizations, and probably combustion engines. Most of what comes back will not be relevant.

And if that isn't bad enough, the same people who think that you should have boilerplate files “ready to use” at a moment’s notice, expect to just be able to do a few global replacements in order to use the files. They expect all of the names, dates, numbers, and key fields to be tagged so that they can type in the new data, hit a button, and have the computer complete their assignment for them.

Software to do this actually exists. However, I have yet to find any that is suitable for working on proposals. But because it exists for other areas (for example lawyers use it to modify contracts), people assume it must be available for proposals as well. The only instances where I’ve seen this work are on product or commodity proposals. These are proposals where the RFPs are nearly identical (or there is no written RFP) and the same thing is offered every time. If this is not you, then the software won’t work for you. Computers are literal, and things that are the same have to be the same. Similar is not good enough. End users see similar requirements and assume that they are the same when they are not.

Proposal Software Requirements That Aren’t

If you ask end users what they want from their proposal software, they’ll say software that enables them to search for relevant write-ups and perform replacements to update the names and key fields. Instead you give them software that:

  • Meets the needs of the proposal specialists by providing access and version control
  • Keyword based search tools
  • Project management and collaboration support
  • Remote access
  • Notifications, routing, and workflow support

These are things that software can do to make everyone’s lives easier. If the learning curve is not too steep, your users will use the software. And then they'll ask where the boilerplate library is.

Give Them a Better Alternative

First, you should explain clearly that you don’t advocate boilerplate because it loses proposals. However, you do offer an alternative that can help them get their assignments done faster.

One alternative that can easily be implemented in proposal software is the Proposal Cookbook. If you are using our favorite proposal software, Privia, then you can implement your Proposal Cookbook as a set of files (one per topic). With each proposal assignment, you either send them the files (best) or a link to the Cookbook (not as good but easier). What the end user gets is an assignment, the RFP, and a recipe that can accelerate the writing and help them ensure that they address everything they should.

A Proposal Cookbook is much easier to maintain than a boilerplate library. No fields to insert. No narrative to make generic. If a proposal adds something new, then add a mention of it in the Cookbook You don’t have to copy the whole thing, just add a relevant question or list it under possible topics to include. If you see a blurb you like, copy it into the Cookbook as an example. You don’t have to worry about providing a comprehensive end-to-end narrative.

Proposal Cookbooks are easier to implement and maintain, and help the writer without exposing the proposal to the risks of using boilerplate. When Proposal Cookbooks are automated using a workflow system like the one in Privia, it delivers help directly to the writers.


By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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