Stick to your knitting

Dear Proposal Doctor,

We are a little more than halfway through the response time for a big, must-win bid. Red team madness is approaching. Big gaps exist. We have not road-tested the solution, and we are still missing resumes for people badly needed for us to be credible for this job. Two partners have yet to sign their teaming agreements. Yet the capture manager and the two senior executives with a lot to lose (or gain) are focused (read obsessed) with tiny proposal details such as the colors of the text boxes and the size of the fourth-level heading. How can I get these people to focus on the important things and let me do my job? Why would they want to do my job? I can’t understand this!

Confused and Bewildered

Dear Confused,

This problem is so common that it is almost a pathology unto itself. Here is the simple fact: people do what they know how to do. I once found a manager of a 2,000-page volume, under incredible time pressure, measuring the space between the bullets. Senior executives don’t really want to be desktop publishers—but it is much easier to appear competent at that than to appear incompetent at addressing the big problems. And it is always possible, although probably unlikely, that they don’t really have confidence in your abilities. Either way, their behavior is destructive. It threatens the viability of the proposal document, and it undermines your credibility, even though that is probably not their intent.

I don’t know whether or not you had a discussion of roles and responsibilities at the outset of the proposal. If you did, and if those roles were documented, you can use the definitions to remind your capture manager and executives that specialization is a good thing. Desktop publishers have their expertise, and so do capture managers. It’s a waste of resources for us to do each other’s jobs.

If you did not have this conversation, or if you had it but didn’t document it, you need to arrange a meeting with these micro-managers now. This is a conversation that would be good to rehearse with a friend or colleague before the actual event. Try to ascertain whether or not the capture manager and executives have a reason to doubt your abilities. If they don’t, then it will be much easier to point out the folly of more than one person performing the identical function. It would help to have a neutral party present—someone respected by all who understands the position you are in and the danger to the proposal effort. Doing what is right for the proposal needs to be the focal point, not whether or not someone is doing his or her job. If the capture manager can’t get the partners to sign the teaming agreements, who can? Document the results of the meeting to remind participants of the agreements you reach.

Going forward, articulate roles at the beginning in a very concrete way. It’s tempting to skip this step or to define roles at a high level. It isn’t pleasant or interesting to spell out every proposal function and get agreement about who will perform it. Yet the more general the discussion, the more room for misinterpretation and frustration down the road.

You still have time to get this situation back on track—please use it wisely.

All Best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor