Ask the Proposal Doctor: How to write technical volumes more efficiently

Running out of ideas...

Dear Proposal Doctor,

I work for a small business, and all our engineers work on a customer site while our BD/Proposal staff work at our office (which is in another state). This makes writing the technical volume really difficult because we can’t get our engineers on site to write. We end up having to travel a lot, which disrupts the proposal and takes people away from their families for weeks at a time. How could we write technical volumes more efficiently?

Running Out of Ideas

Dear Running,

This is a situation many proposal managers face frequently, so I’m glad you wrote to me about it. In one respect, you are fortunate. You said you can’t get your engineers to write. This is actually a good thing. Typically, engineers struggle with proposal writing. So, it’s a great idea to team them up with someone who is an experienced writer. Professional writers know how to interview and draw the information out of subject matter experts (SME).

Working across locations is always a challenge, and it’s difficult to give specific advice without knowing the average page count, content, and duration of your proposals. However, a proposal should have one location that is the center of gravity, and participants who can’t be there should be required to use whatever tools are available to connect (Skype, collaborative tools, etc.).

So, the question for you is where should that center of gravity be? It sounds as though it should be where the company’s office is. This will save wear and tear on staff, and it will save time and money.

What is the BD staff doing when they travel? Are they interviewing the engineers? Are they trying to manage the proposal from a customer site? Or a hotel room? Once you determine a center of gravity, you can break down the tasks and work on ways each can be accomplished from the home base. Maybe the team could conduct interviews using a webcam and digital tape recorder. Don’t forget the camera—otherwise people will be multi-tasking and not giving the interview the attention it deserves.

Remote participation demands much more discipline and structure than are required when the team is collocated. Could the traveling be restricted to the early proposal stage when you are gathering information? These are just a few ideas, and you will probably have to experiment and refine until you come up with a process that works for your organization.

Have courage,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor