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There is a buzz in the proposal development industry regarding the inevitability and benefits of virtualization.1 The last decade of technological advancement has created opportunities and tools that allow our trade to flourish anywhere. As the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) states, “Business acquisition teams are able to support the opportunity planning, proposal planning, and proposal management phases equally effectively whether working from a corporate or field office, local coffee shop, home office, airport, or car.”2 With financial pressures and a new generation of proposal professionals to appeal to, many are willing to part with the standard practice of co-location and adopt a purely virtual approach.
Before going all in on remote development, however, proposal development professionals need to take a collective breath and weigh the risks of fully abandoning the war room. For all its strengths, virtual proposal development has some serious shortcomings, especially around communications and collaborative development. As a result, a place still exists for in-person proposal development. By holding targeted, focused, in-person meetings during the key collaborative stages of the proposal process and then enabling content creation to occur virtually, quality and productivity can be maximized while minimizing risk.
With financial pressures and a new generation of proposal professionals to appeal to, many are willing to part with the standard practice of co-location and adopt a purely virtual approach.
Production, Collaboration, Innovation
The best way to determine the tasks best suited for co-location or remote support is to consider the level of collaboration required. In defending her controversial decision to end telework at Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer stated, “People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”3 A Cisco study found executives believe in-person collaboration is critical for more than 50 percent of strategic and tactical business processes, including brainstorming and project kick-offs. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed believe in-person collaboration is critical to corporate success.4
For collaborative activities, co-location in the same physical space provides the best opportunity to create quality work products. Having a team in a single place promotes creativity, leading to better and more innovative solutions. Developing common themes and messages, including strategy and solution development, represent the perfect opportunities for co-location. Being in a single location creates an environment where the sharing of ideas is enabled, whether it be in the war room, in an office, or even in a coffee shop. As John Sullivan writes, “Innovation is maximized when there is a high volume of serendipitous meetings between coworkers from different teams and functions.”5
Studies back up the assertion that working remotely increases employee productivity. A CompTIA survey found 67 percent of respondents ranked increased productivity as the key benefit of telecommuting.6 Given this evidence, proposal teams should encourage writers to develop content, including details around a collaboratively developed solution and proposal narrative, wherever writers are most comfortable, including remotely. Successful remote development requires continual communication among team members. Allowing contributors the flexibility to work when and where they find themselves best able to focus leads to successful, quality work product and can help reduce overall bid costs. In addition, it opens up the pool of potential contributors. If a company has a geographically dispersed workforce, the proposal team can find key individuals from anywhere within the organization instead of focusing on support in and around the home office.
Many proposal development activities can be successfully accomplished either virtually or in-person. For example, kick-off meetings and daily stand-ups help foster team building if people are in the same space. However, this is not always possible. When people are in the same facility, they should meet in a single location for these meetings. Having people connect virtually does not diminish the effectiveness of these sessions, if they are well run and focused on the objective.
One Shoe Doesn’t Fit All
Using a hybrid in-person/remote proposal development strategy is not feasible for all bids. For example, it is not cost-effective to pursue the hybrid approach on quick-turn task orders with contributors spread around the country or internationally. Whenever possible (especially on company-critical bids), all steps need to be taken to leverage the power of collective collaboration. A proposal manager may need to travel to interface with internal customers when work sites are in multiple locations. Working with your executive team to make short-term co-location possible provides a great return on investment through a higher quality proposal.
Balance is the End Game
As a proposal professional, your focus is to best leverage your resources to the end of producing the highest quality proposal. By putting people in an environment most conducive to the type of work required and balancing in-person and virtual work, you can achieve high-quality, cost-effective bids and make the best use of your entire resource pool.
Virtual tools for virtual conversations
There are dozens of communication tools available to help you get your job done no matter where you are, and many of them are available on multiple devices for no or little cost. Here’s a short list to determine the best option for your proposal development process.
FaceTime is available on all iOS products, which means you can video conference from your Apple computer with someone on an iPhone on the other side of the world. Its basic capabilities make it good for a conversation that should happen face-to-face but doesn’t require sharing files or presentations.
Additional capabilities: Camera view swapping (mobile)
Number of participants: 2
GlobalMeet is a cloud-based videoconference and presentation program. The cloud service makes it easy for users to join calls without needing to download an app or program, but there is an app available for iOS, Android, and Blackberry users.
Additional capabilities: File sharing, screen sharing, meeting recording; meeting hosts can hand off to other callers
Number of participants: 125–325; varies for different services and subscription level
Google Hangouts provides a seamless video and voice experience for users with Gmail or Google+ accounts. The conversations are synced wherever you log in with your Google credentials, so there’s no hassle to find the last conversation with your proposal manager. It’s available on mobile for Android and iOS and for iOS and Windows desktops.
Additional capabilities: Photo, .GIF, and map sharing; desktop-to-mobile conversations
Number of participants: 10
GoToMeeting offers personal meeting rooms to subscribers, which creates a custom URL for you to provide to meeting attendees. The service is also integrated with both Outlook and Google calendars, so invitations are a breeze. Users can join from the desktop version or use the mobile app on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. Try it for free with up to three participants.
Additional capabilities: Screen sharing, meeting recording
Number of participants: 3–100
Kevin A. Switaj, Ph.D., CF APMP, is director of proposal development at LongView International Technology Solutions, a midsize government contractor. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- For example, see Beth Wingate, CF APMP Fellow, et al., “AppMaven and Tech Gurus: How Platform and Tool Convergence Can Enhance or Change the Way You Work”; John Sullivan, “Requiring Employees to Work On-Site Spurs Innovation,” US News; Donna Creason, CF APMP, “Going Virtual: Is Virtual Proposal Development Right for You?” APMP Journal, Vol. II, Issue 1.
- “Collaboration and Other Proposal Automation Tools,” APMP Body of Knowledge.
- Christopher Tkaczyk, “Marissa Mayer Breaks Her Silence on Yahoo’s Telecommuting Policy,” Fortune.
- “The Power of In-Person Communication,” Cisco.
- John Sullivan, “Requiring Employees to Work On-Site Spurs Innovation,” US News.
- “Telecommuting Improves Productivity, Lowers Costs, New Survey Finds,” CIO, October 7, 2008, www.cio.com.