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15 Proposal Risks And How to Mitigate Them

The closer you get to the deadline for a proposal, the greater the risk. The number of risks may remain constant, but their consequences become much worse and you have less time to recover. A good proposal process will help mitigate those risks. Proposal planning will be a key part of a good proposal process. Understanding the relationship between the risks you face during proposal development and how your proposal plans help you mitigate those risks helps you to prepare better plans.

Here is a list of risks that often rear their ugly heads during proposal development and suggestions for how to mitigate them. The mitigation strategies are based on the MustWin Process. We created our process to solve problems just like these. It is an off-the-shelf fully documented process that comes with a Premium Membership to our site and contains the planning methodologies, forms, and checklists you need to counter these risks.

We’re also delivering an online training course titled Quick and Decisive Proposal Planning this month to help you learn how to apply our approaches to proposal planning in your particular environment. The course is also free to Premium Members.

But even if you can’t become a Premium Member, the table below provides the foundation you need and shows you what you need to develop on your own to mitigate proposal development risks.

Risk Mitigation
Insufficient planning will result from a desire to maximize time for writing, or, you spend so much time perfecting your proposal plans or going in circles trying to finalize them that you don’t have enough time for writing. Allocating time to planning vs. writing is a judgment call. We designed the steps in our Content Planning methodology so that if any were skipped, the plan would still add value. We also identified the key questions you need to be able to answer in order to lower the risks to acceptable level before you start writing.
Someone new will join the proposal effort and want to change everything. If you leave any stakeholders out, they’ll show up at the worst possible time. You must give them a chance to participate in the design and validation of the proposal. But that participation should come at planned milestones. The hard part is making sure you have their attention; otherwise the changes will come whenever they get around to considering them. This is easier to achieve when the Executive Sponsor supports the process.
You’ll learn something new that will change your approach. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it sure is easier if the upfront research is done properly. Having a process to ensure that the research is done can help. It also helps to have a roadmap to link intelligence to win strategies to the proposal.
Assignments won’t be completed on time. If you don’t give writers permission to decline an assignment, there’s no way out of being overloaded except to be late. If an author accepts an assignment they make a commitment. Then you must monitor their progress continuously to make sure they don’t get stuck, distracted, or otherwise delayed. Your proposal plan is a key part of setting expectations. It needs to be supported by feedback tools to identify when expectations need to change.
After writing starts someone will want to change the outline  Proposal outlines contain judgment calls. These must be validated before the outline is used. However, once the outline is validated, it should be very difficult to change because changes to the outline can cause a huge amount of disruption to the proposal.
The authors won’t include everything they should in their sections. You need a process for planning the content of the proposal that is comprehensive and guides authors through topics they may not be familiar with.
The draft proposal does not include enough (or any!) graphics. This is a strong indication that the approach for planning the content was inadequate. In order to arrive at a proposal designed to communicate visually, you need an integrated approach to planning the message as well as the content. Otherwise, things like graphics can easily get overlooked.
The draft document will not contain any themes, win strategies, competitive advantages, story, or message. Themes should be based on customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence that leads to the discovery of your competitive advantages. You must collect the data, assess it, and use it to determine what your strategies are. Then you can convert it into themes and a story for the proposal writers to substantiate. If you don’t do the research and carry the information forward to the authors as part of a plan for the content, then they aren’t likely to stumble across it on their own.
The offering will not be compliant. There are two kinds of compliance: 1) Compliance of the offering with the specifications, and 2) Compliance of the proposal text with the RFP. The worst way to review the compliance of the offering is to write about it, wait until a draft proposal is ready, and then read it. The offering should be designed and validated separately but in parallel with writing the proposal, and not as part of the writing process.
In the middle of the proposal, someone will change their mind about the offering or approach. See above comment on designing and validating the offering separately from writing the proposal text. For the offering to be considered valid, you’ll need the buy-in of all stakeholders. If you leave anyone out, they’ll show up at the worst possible time. You may need to hold a formal offering review in order to make sure you have their attention, otherwise the changes will come whenever they get around to considering it.
The offering will be too expensive or non-competitive. See above comment on designing and validating the offering separately from writing the proposal text. If you wait until the end to realize this, you not only won’t have time to redesign the offering, you won’t have time to re-write the text either.
The proposal will contain factual errors. The number one source for factual errors in a proposal is recycling previous proposal content without properly checking it. We recommend using a checklist every time text from a previous proposal is re-used.
The proposal will contain embarrassing typographical errors. The number one way this happens is when unplanned changes compete with quality assurance for the remaining time. In other words, you skip proofreading to accommodate a change that wasn’t part of the plan.
Reviewers will tell you what you should have known at the start. The proposal plans should be reviewed prior to creating the draft proposal. Reviewing the proposal plans is actually more important than reviewing the draft proposal because that is where you make sure that all required information and approaches have been defined and you are ready to start writing. If you get major changes or new directions when the draft is reviewed, it’s a sign that the review of the plans was insufficient. When the same people participate in both reviews, it helps reinforce accountability.
The customer will change the RFP. Sometimes its feels like business would be so much easier if it wasn’t for those wacky customers. If your customer relationship is strong, you should be able to determine whether the procurement is stable and anticipate major changes. Outside of that, all you can do is react.


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By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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