Look Ahead to Production Before You Begin Writing

Successful bid and proposal teams create a compliance matrix for every opportunity as soon as the RFP hits. An additional step that is just as important for complex proposals is a production guide. Production is the process of formatting, publishing, and delivering the proposal. For the simplest proposal, production may mean no more than finalizing the bid sheet and sending it through an email. In other cases, production can take several days of work by multiple team members. 

When you are submitting multiple volumes, sanitized or redacted proposal versions, print submissions with numerous tabs, etc., you need a production guide.  The production guide should document, at a minimum:  

  • the submission deadline and delivery instructions 
    • for emailed submissions: email address, subject line, file size limit
    • for mailed submissions: mailing address, instructions for mailing or hand delivery, list of all supplies needed 
  • a listing of all required submission components
  • a mapping of the proposal factors or components onto the requested submission volumes  
  • all formatting instructions 

Many of these topics are covered with an effective compliance matrix, but the production guide should include more detail that allows you to fully envision the final submission package. To create a production guide, start with the compliance matrix, then strip everything that is not related to production, and then do a deep dive into the RFP to find all requirements and specifications that will affect proposal production. 

While production may be the last step in the proposal development process, planning for it should not wait until the end. You do not want to end up in a situation where the proposal is due and production demands are more complicated than expected. This can lead to an otherwise competitive proposal becoming non-compliant. With the production guide, you will have a better understanding of the time and resources that need to be devoted to production, and so your proposal development timeline and team assignments can be adjusted accordingly. For this reason, the production guide should be developed before the question deadline and before the kick-off meeting.   

Double-check your compliance matrix 

The longer and more complex the RFP, the more likely it is that submission requirements are buried in different parts of the RFP. Teams that prepare both a compliance matrix and a production guide give themselves a second chance to find those hidden requirements. For example, there are times where the only mention of a specific required document is in an unexpected part of the solicitation. In many cases, such a requirement is not found on the first pass while creating a compliance matrix but is found while creating the production guide. 

Similarly, by preparing a production guide, you are more likely to notice ambiguities in the submission instructions that affect the final submission. Suppose one part of the RFP requests a two-volume submission and another part requests a three-volume submission. If this contradiction is found close to the submission deadline, it creates a lot of stress for the proposal team as they cannot finalize any proposal documents until the production plan is clear. If this contradiction is found prior to the question deadline, however, it is easy to ask for and receive clarification. 

Eliminate redundancies and last-minute formatting 

A production guide improves efficiency in several ways. I bet we have all worked on an RFP where the same information is requested in three or four different places in the proposal. Let’s say the RFP asks for certain information in the past performance volume and also asks for very similar information in two places in the technical volume. These redundancies will be easily noticed in a production guide, and this will allow the proposal manager to assign these past performance write-ups accordingly. Without a production guide, they may have been assigned to three separate individuals who each have no idea that two other people are writing about the same topic.  

The production guide will also allow you to set up your documents in line with formatting standards from the beginning, and this will save time in desktop publishing on the backend. This can be crucial when dealing with tight submission timelines. When the page formatting is already set up to be compliant, it is much easier to make last minute changes to the written text, rather than trying to update the text and the formatting at the last minute. 

Motivate proposal writers 

Like many writers, I am often intimidated by a blank page. This is why creating an outline from the RFP is so helpful – proposal writers always should start with something on the page!  Sometimes, though, even with an outline, I find myself not sure where to start and second guessing what to say. With a production guide, I can do more than just outline; I can set up the page and volume to look like the final product before drafting or pasting in text.   

When I get these extra visuals, they show me that the final proposal is within reach, and it really motivates me to begin writing. It makes the final product feel real and achievable. I think, “All I have to do is put some words on paper, and this proposal is ready to submit!”  It is not that simple of course, but my brain thinks it is, and this helps the writing process. 

Impress the evaluation committee 

By showing a clear path to the final product, the production guide will save time, reduce stress, and increase motivation for the proposal team. 

Furthermore, the work you put into the production guide will be noticed by the evaluation committee. While it may not be an explicit evaluation factor, the committee does notice and will appreciate well-organized proposals that give them the information they are looking for in the place where they are looking for it.    

The most frequent feedback I have received from evaluators that is not directly tied to an evaluation factor is “your proposal was so well organized.” This shows how much evaluators notice this and how grateful they are for the effort.   


Author Bio

Melissa Frazier has been a proposal manager for 10 years and is certified through APMP.  She is the owner of Waterleaf Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in proposal writing and management for public sector procurement. 





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