The Technical Proposal Manager as ScrumMaster

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For technical proposal managers in the IT industry, the world has been changing quite rapidly over the last 20 years. New practices and standards of software development have taken center stage, and many companies are moving toward project management frameworks such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Lean Six Sigma and Agile.

Software development and its Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) require teams to have great knowledge of these methodologies, and those who do not change to meet these new standards will fall behind. Therefore, it is essential that proposal managers be more agile.

Agile Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes the concepts of agile software development, defines “agile” as the ability to create and respond to change — a method of navigating an uncertain environment.

Nowadays, managers expect more from software companies, and they expect a complete service they can trust. They want your software to do everything that was promised in the proposal, in addition to installation and implementation. Because of this, proposals in this industry must now outline how it will be implemented into their systems to ensure a successful software solution. This means the proposal manager has to go one step beyond their usual duty, not just focusing on the end-to-end proposal management, but also envisioning the implementation and collaborating more deeply with the architects and the developer SMEs. This includes understanding the Scrum framework in which those professionals are accustomed to working.

According to Agile Alliance, “Scrum is a process framework used to manage product development and other knowledge work” and provides a way for teams to hypothesize how they think something works, to try it out and then reflect and adjust. In addition to this, proposal managers should understand what a sprint is all about. The Agile Alliance defines a sprint as a time frame (or “timebox”) “of one month or less during which the team produces a potentially shippable product increment.” Having insight into this process will allow proposal managers to work more effectively with the developers and architects on their team.

To take it a step further, it is also beneficial for a proposal manager in the IT industry to have a ScrumMaster certification. The certification will help the proposal manager in their insertion into the agile framework. The entire IT industry has been moving toward this, and with ever-increasing technical challenges in the proposal management world, now is the time for proposal managers to become more tech-savvy and to start answering proposals with increasingly more collaboration with the rest of the technical team. Here are some ways this can be achieved:

  • The proposal can be set up as a “sprint zero,” which typically happens before the project officially begins. This allows the implementation (tech) team to add this sprint to their current sequence of sprints, preventing disruption of their flow of work.
  • The proposal plan can be discussed in a sprint planning meeting, which happens at the beginning of a sprint. During this meeting, the team determines the priorities they will work on and complete during that sprint.
  • Daily Scrum meetings can be held to discuss what was accomplished today and yesterday and whether there are any roadblocks.
  • Sprint retrospectives can be conducted after the sprint to analyze what could be improved and to create an action plan to implement for next time.
  • Proposal managers can work as ScrumMasters and be servant leaders, putting the team’s needs first, sharing power, and ensuring the team’s development and success. In this role as servant leader and liaison between the sales executive in charge of the opportunity and the main contact at the purchasing company, the proposal manager can ensure that the proposal will move faster between the cross-functional and technical teams. Nowadays, requestors add many odd questions to proposals, and the level of complexity and collaboration needed by the various functional and technical teams is a must.
  • Sales executives can act as product owners who identify and manage the priority items that help the team achieve its goal.

The more that agile best practices are set in place by proposal managers, the better the response from the tech team will be. Introducing proposals using frameworks they are already working in could only be beneficial for the entire organization.

As the proposal manager job description evolves, so do the best practices that they use to grow as professionals. Keeping an agile state of mind can make our interactions with tech teams more successful and allow our bid success rates to keep rising.

Gonzalo Chacon, CF APMP, is a global proposal manager for the IT industry for Shipley Associates. He is a certified ScrumMaster (SCM) and has written several hundred proposals. During the past three years, Chacon has managed global proposals for SaaS platforms and specializes in win strategies, content differentiation and global privacy/security laws. He currently lives in Costa Rica and can be reached on LinkedIn.

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  1. Frank Rowland

    It’s 1000% logical that agile development processes, and especially timeframes, apply directly to the bid process for commercial proposals. Maybe not so much for government bids. Great article!

    Frank Rowland
    Nine Wright Bid

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  2. Joachim Klühspies, Agile Coach, Scrum Master, Proposal Manager

    Thank you for your awesome article. Scrum promotes cross-functional teams. But I think it depends (as always) on the circumstances. Sometimes proposal managers or sales people can give valuable insights on the market. On the other hand, scrum also says there are 3 roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner and DevTeam. So, Sales, please step out of our way and let us code 😉
    According to the roles, I think the proposal manager should at least have a good relationship to the product owner who represents “the” customer to the team.
    Agile frameworks can be very useful in the proposal process itself. I introduced a kanban board where the steps of the process are visualized in different columns. So, I can see the state of the proposals and know the responsibilities with a quick view.

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