Proposal scheduling – make it or break it (Part 2 of 2)

Instituting scheduling best practices before, during, and after Request for Proposal (RFP) release can help alleviate risks and improve a company’s chance of developing a compliant, compelling, and winning proposal.

This week Brenda Crist, PPF.APMP and APMP Fellow shares part 2 of her time-tested advice on proposal scheduling.

Part 2: Effective scheduling after RFP release and submission

As soon as the RFP is released, the race against the clock starts to prepare the information needed for the Kick-off Meeting, including the schedule, compliance matrix, and writers’ packages.

Start by building a bullet-proof compliance matrix. Have at least two people review the compliance matrix to verify no instruction, evaluation criteria, or requirement is missed! Use the requirements list to build a work breakdown structure (WBS). Then add additional structure to incorporate proposal management tasks including:

  • Kick-off Meeting
  • Contributor Training
  • Question development
  • Daily Standup Meetings conducted
  • Executive Summary draft development
  • Conceptual planning/solution development
  • Conceptual solution review
  • Conceptual solution frozen
  • Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA) completion
  • Teaming Agreement (TA) completion
  • Reps and Certs development
  • Pricing development
  • Graphics conceptualization
  • Document style conceptualization
  • Cover, spine, and tab design
  • Graphics design and development
  • Price-to-win development
  • Price-to-win reviews
  • Risk identification
  • Risk mitigation
  • First draft review
  • Final draft review
  • Business case review
  • Quality control
  • Past performance qualification
  • Past performance questionnaire dissemination
  • Editing and quality control
  • Production
  • Shipping
  • Delivery

Use an automated project management tool or spreadsheet to build your schedule, and apply the following “golden rules” to schedule each activity.

  1. Identify activities that you do not know how long it will take to perform. I call these the “long poles in the tent” and develop primary and contingent plans and schedules for performing the activities.
  2. Communicate the risk of unknown tasks and potential mitigation strategies to executives for approval.
  3. Identify which tasks can be done in parallel and which tasks must be performed sequentially.
  4. Schedule the last activity (delivery) first and work backwards and provide start and stop dates for each task.
  5. Allow sufficient time for final desktop publishing, quality control, shipping, and delivery. The industry average is 10% of the total proposal life cycle for these tasks.
  6. Assign specific start and end dates to all task activities.
  7. Assign an individual to perform each task and ensure the individual is not overcommitted.
  8. Establish interim milestone reviews for the conceptual solution review, first draft review, final draft review, and business case review. Schedule interim reviews at each time 20-25% of the proposal life cycle is completed.
  9. Never schedule work on weekends or holidays – work not finished during the week slides into these days.
  10. Build a primary and contingent production and delivery schedule.

If you think you will miss a deadline or milestone, proactively communicate the risk to the lead executive along with your recovery plan. Estimate the time it will take to recover and what resources you need to mitigate the risk. As you implement the schedule, record the actual time taken to perform the task, compare it to your budgeted time, and provide a brief explanation as to why you missed a deadline.

After proposal submission

After submitting the proposal, update your scheduling metrics illustrated in part 1 of this post, and store the proposal documents in a central, secure location. Extract relevant information for your library of boilerplate text, and update your past performance and resumes databases.

Try to schedule a schedule a lessons learned session within one week of proposal submission to identify what you did right and make recommendations for improvements in scheduling and schedule management for your next proposal.

As soon as you get an award notification from the Contracting Officer, schedule a debrief session (whether you won or lost), and store the debrief notes in your central repository.

What best practices do you follow in your proposal scheduling? Send your thoughts to me at, and I’ll share your advice in upcoming posts!