Proposal Doctor: Stop the madness

How to steer management towards realistic metrics and schedules

Dear Proposal Doctor,

The company I work for is bidding on a large government contract, and the proposal is a huge undertaking. My team consists of more than 50 people, and my MS Project schedule has hundreds of lines. It’s a challenge, which is to be expected. I was excited and optimistic when we started, but now I have a boatload of senior executives breathing down my neck. All the time! I spend at least half of every day explaining and justifying what we are doing to some vice president or other and the other half of the day managing the proposal. How can I get these people off my back?

Pounded by Management

Dear Pounded,

Your frustration is understandable, and so is the behavior of your managers. The company is spending a lot on this proposal—in real cost as well as opportunity cost—if your team has 50 people on it. It is only natural that the executives in charge would want to understand your progress on a regular basis. If I were in your shoes, I would corral all the vice presidents and other Lord High Pooh Bahs whom you consider stakeholders, and set up a meeting to discuss proposal metrics and schedules.

The purpose of the meeting would be to agree on three items:

1) What metrics should be reported?
2) How frequently should they be reported?
3) What is the best format for the report?

Just as a good litigator never asks a question of the witness without already knowing the answer, I would have my own answer to each of these questions prepared in advance in order to steer the conversation towards those metrics and schedules that put the least strain on me and my team. Metrics I have used in similar situations include number of sections ready for pink team, number of pages written, number of graphics completed, and number of requirements addressed.

I have sometimes posted this information to a collaborative site and in other instances used a chart on butcher paper in the war room. When managing one very challenging proposal, I sent a voicemail to key stakeholders at 7:00 a.m. every day summarizing the previous day’s activities.

These are just suggestions. Pick what works in your situation. Whatever you do, don’t treat management as the enemy. An us-versus-them environment unites the team in the short term, but wears away at productivity after the initial thrill of battle. Moreover, your managers have a legitimate need for the information they are seeking. And finally, you might need their help at some point. I am sure there is a way to give them the information they need in less than half your working day.

All Best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor