How to escape from proposal scheduling hell

Dear Proposal Doctor,

I am in scheduling hell. Three proposal managers and a proposal coordinator have vacations planned in the next 2 months. All four need the time off, and all four have already postponed vacations in anticipation of upcoming RFPs (none of which arrived on schedule).

Commercial and government customers alike plan to issue an RFP on a certain date and then encounter roadblocks that result in delays of up to a year. How can I plan effectively and still give my staff the time off that they need?

-Struggling with Scheduling

Dear Struggling,

Thanks for your excellent question. In all honesty, this is why I am thrilled to be a single practitioner again and not a manager. There is no silver bullet or easy solution to your problem, which is headache-making for managers in this business.

My approach is radical and it might not work for everyone—before you decide, hear me out. I don’t postpone vacations or trips or occasions for pending RFPs (ongoing proposals are a different story; we can deal with that in another letter). When I commit to a family event, I honor that commitment even if I have a high level of confidence that an RFP will appear that day. In my household, we celebrate birthdays on the actual birthday, anniversaries on the actual date, Passover on whatever night it actually occurs (even though it would be so much more convenient to “move” it to a weekend). You get the idea.

I came to this approach after realizing that dates and commitments are what give meaning to my life, and it undermines my sense of order to start moving them in anticipation of something that might or might not happen – usually, not.

Now, back to your problem. To implement this approach, you need to be prepared in case an RFP does appear when some of your staff is gone. The idea here is to make sure that people and facilities are accessible during the period that your staff will be gone, which is smart planning, and not try to work out all the details until you actually have the paper in your hand. To do more would be over-planning.

Can you cross train? Can you pull in people from another part of the organization to be on call? Can you stagger vacations so that two of the four will always be there? Can you engage outside help on a contingency basis? This means going to your management and laying out a plan that covers the most likely contingencies and, yes, it might mean asking for more money. The investment will pay back in the long run.

Everyone knows someone who seems to have endless energy and sleep 5 hours a night. Research has shown that these people are not as productive as they think they are and not nearly as productive as they could be if they were to sleep more and play more. Once you buy in to this approach, it is amazing how creative you will be in developing ways to implement it.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor