Best way to get new proposal managers up to speed – Ask Proposal Doctor

Training for proposal managers is a tricky business

Dear Proposal Doctor,

I have just assumed a position as director of a team of junior proposal managers. They are bright and they have great work habits, but they have only minimal training and not much experience.

What is the best way to get them up to speed? By the end of the year, they will each need to be able to independently manage several concurrent task order proposals ranging from 25-50 pages (for the technical and management sections).

Thanks very much,

-The New Director

Dear New Director,

Congratulations on your new position. Training for proposal managers is a tricky business because so much of what these young people need to know is specific to your company and your industry. Moreover, there are many different ways of approaching this challenge.

I like to think about three broad categories in which proposal managers need to develop, and you have to be the judge of the right mix. First, they need to know the terminology, skills, and concepts (color reviews, compliance matrices, and the like). Second, they need a certain amount of subject matter knowledge relevant to your industry. One does not have to be a civil engineer to manage a proposal to build a bridge, but it certainly helps to be familiar with construction contracting as opposed to IT service contracts. Third, all proposal managers need a certain level of leadership and facilitation skills.

The real challenge is getting each type of training. APMP and other professional organizations offer training on proposal terminology and concepts. Classroom learning is necessary, but not sufficient. Your team needs a way to practice implementing those concepts in a safe environment, when life does not hang in the balance.  One option is to ask them to prepare and use a compliance matrix at the pink team stage, when there is time to adjust for error. Another is to ask them to serve as second in command to a red or pink team facilitator. Subject matter training is probably the easiest one to tackle, because you can look to whatever courses or seminars you use for new hires, particularly new hires fresh out of school with no industry background. Leadership skills can be gained in many different ways, but I would recommend not relying on books or formal coursework for this. Mentoring, shadowing, and direct feedback from senior professionals are all likely to provide more useful as long as you incorporate them into a formal program and don’t rely on ad-hoc comments, which might be neither well delivered nor well received.

In general, I think it is safe to say that the easier the solution sounds (send someone to a “boot camp,” sign someone up for an on-line course, give someone a “how-to” book), the less useful it is likely to be. Training for this profession is inherently hands-on and interactive.

Whatever you do, set measurable goals and track the progress of the team. Otherwise, training and education objectives can seem nebulous. A colleague once told me that in golf, “If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.” I think this really applies to many other endeavors.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor