Dear Proposal Doctor,
How can I get my clients to communicate the schedule accurately?
We provide print and graphic services, so we are just one part of the proposal machine. Often the clients don’t communicate when there are extensions and leave us waiting for information. Or they give fake deadlines — I believe their intent is to get the product back faster or instill a greater sense of urgency. What actually happens is chaos, which prevents accurate scheduling.
My staff cannot prioritize without accurate deadlines for multiple projects. Even worse, there is a loss of trust. If the vendor isn’t given timely or accurate information, it communicates that the person with the information doesn’t trust enough or respect their resource enough to share it. That makes it harder to work together in an open environment after that.
Frustrated and Indignant
Wow. You raise some important issues. Let’s take the fake deadlines first. In fact, every proposal manager is tempted to pad the schedule and ask for things earlier than they are needed. My own belief is that this is acceptable only to a degree, and only if it is explained. I always put extra days in the schedule for production, because you never know when someone is going to have a sick child, a car crash, a weather-related crisis, or some other personal emergency. I explain this to the team, and I keep the padding to a realistic minimum. I usually have historical examples I can cite that validate my assumptions.
Padding the schedule for any other reason communicates the proposal manager’s lack of confidence in the work ethic of the team, the quality of work that will be produced, or both. If there is no confidence, it’s time to swap out the team and get new people. People will work to the standards that are communicated. Low expectations will result in low quality. People who engage in this behavior are convinced that they are out-smarting the system and it might be difficult to get them to adopt another approach. But it is worth trying. If they don’t understand or won’t change, you need to move on.
As to not communicating the schedule, I suggest you address at the outset of your next job. This has to be one of the rules of engagement, and it needs to be clearly articulated. You need to tell your clients what you expect of them. Put it in writing if you have to, and then hold them accountable. Live by the sword; die by the sword! If they can’t live up to it, they are not desirable clients and you need to devote some business development time to finding better ones. It will pay off in the long run.
Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor