Stepping on toes

How to get roles and responsibilities on track

Dear Proposal Doctor,

Despite a kick off meeting at which we discussed roles and responsibilities, everyone on this proposal seems to be stepping on everyone’s toes. The coordinator keeps trying to do my job; the capture manager is trying to be the solution architect; the contracts representative is getting way too involved in pricing. We have redundancy and re-work in some areas and complete neglect in others. How can I get things back on track?


Dear Proposal Manager,

I feel your pain and have lived through similar experiences. The root cause is an unwillingness to have a discussion of roles and responsibilities at the level of detail required. To emphasize those last six words: at the level of detail required. It is much easier to define roles in general terms.

Here is my favorite: “Responsible for red team.” What exactly does that mean? Does the responsible person find the room, order the food, send the invitations, print the proposals, set up the room, dial the speaker phone, give instructions to the evaluators, adjudicate all red team comments, facilitate the meeting, choose the reviewers, schedule the review, clean up the room? Or what?  Unless you have a discussion that nails down these details, there will be confusion and overlap.

Here is one technique that might help: for each role, make sure the responsibilities are defined as concrete actions. “Plan red team” is not a concrete action because there is not a result. I won’t know what it looks like when I am done. “Create list of reviewers,” on the other hand, is a concrete action. Either I have the list or I don’t.

A warning: these discussions are not fun. Typically, they are boring and they can also be contentious. If, for example, the proposal coordinator feels stuck in an administrative role, drilling down on the details of that role will only reinforce those feelings. But, the payoff is huge because when all is said and done, even if people don’t like their list of responsibilities, at least they know what they are.

Try it on your next proposal and see what happens.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor