The Outline Conundrum

It is a universal truth that if you give three experienced bid and proposal professionals a request for proposal (RFP) with instructions, evaluation criteria, and requirements that are not well aligned, you will get three different proposal outlines. While all three can produce a compliant and responsive proposal, which outline is easier to evaluate and score? Which is more likely to produce a higher score? This blog presents three methods for creating a compliant and responsive proposal outline given the RFP requirements listed below and ranks them from weakest to strongest.

RFP Scenario

  • RFP Section L3 asks you to create a plan to recruit (L.3.1), train (L.3.2), and retain (L.3.3) staff
  • The RFP statement of work (SOW) asks how you will transition and onboard (C.1.1), recruit (C.1.2), screen (C.1.3), train (C.1.4), and retain staff (C.1.5)
  • The evaluation criteria require that you understand the requirements (M.1.1), that your plan is feasible (M.1.2), and that the customer has high confidence that your plan will produce a successful outcome (M.1.3)

Scenario 1 (Weakest): Follow the instructions chronologically

Bid and proposal professionals set up the outline around the RFP instructions and fold in additional SOW and evaluation criteria under the sections listed in the RFP instructions. Unfortunately, this arrangement makes it the evaluator’s job to find the offeror’s understanding, a description of the plan’s feasibility, and whether or not it can produce a successful outcome.

  • Section 1: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.1-C.1.3, M.1.1-M.1.3)
  • Section 2: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4, M.1.1-M.1.3)
  • Section 3: Retain (L.3.3, C.1.5, M.1.1-M1.3)

Scenario 2: (Moderate): Assign each instruction, requirement, and evaluated criteria to a separate section

This method makes it easy to verify compliance and responsiveness for each requirement, but it becomes the evaluator’s job to make the linkage among all the sections and how they all work together to deliver a successful outcome.

  • Section 1: Transition and Onboard (L.3.1., C.1.1)
  • Section 2: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.2)
  • Section 3: Screen (L.3.1, C.1.3)
  • Section 4: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4)
  • Section 5: Retain staff (L.3.3, C.1.5)
  • Section 6: Understanding (M.1.1)
  • Section 7: Plan Feasibility (M.1.2)
  • Section 8: Plan to Ensure a Successful Outcome (M.1.3)

Scenario 3 (Strongest): Build an outline that is compliant and easy to evaluate and score

This outline logically describes the requirements to facilitate the evaluator’s comprehension of how and why the plan meets and exceeds their requirements. Section 1 starts with the offeror’s understanding of the customer’s requirements. Section 2 describes why the plan is feasible and how and why it will deliver a successful outcome. Section 3 describes the approach to accomplishing all instruction and SOW requirements and can further detail why the plan is feasible and delivers a successful outcome. It concludes with an explanation of why the approach is best placed to meet and exceed the customer’s requirements.

  • Section 1: Understanding of the Requirements (M.1.1)
  • Section 2: Rationale for Plan Feasibility and Confidence Rating (M.1.2, M.1.3)
  • Section 3: Approach to Transitioning, Recruiting, Screening, Training, and Recruiting Staff (L.3.1-L.3.3, C.1.1-C.1.5)
    • 3.1: Transition and Onboard (L.3.1., C.1.1)
    • 3.2: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.2)
    • 3.3: Screen (L.3.1, C.1.3)
    • 3.3: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4)
    • 3.4: Retain staff (L.3.3, C.1.5)
  • Section 4: Summary

In summary, your outline can make it easier for the evaluator to verify compliance, find the information needed to score your proposal, and build the case for awarding your company the contract.

By Brenda Crist, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals. As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $170B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.