The Ultimate Proposal Outline Development Guide

It is a universal truth that if you give three experienced bid and proposal professionals a request for proposal (RFP) with instructions, evaluation criteria, and requirements that are not well aligned, you will get three different proposal outlines. While all three can produce a compliant and responsive proposal, which outline is easier to evaluate and score? Which is more likely to produce a higher score?

Here are three methods for creating a compliant and responsive proposal outline using the RFP requirements listed below, ranking them from weakest to strongest.

RFP Scenario

RFP Sections C, L, and M are somewhat different in this scenario.

  • RFP Section L.3 asks you to create a plan to recruit (L.3.1), train (L.3.2), and retain (L.3.3) staff.
  • The RFP statement of work (SOW) asks how you will transition and onboard (C.1.1), recruit (C.1.2), screen (C.1.3), train (C.1.4), and retain staff (C.1.5).
  • The evaluation criteria require that you understand the requirements (M.1.1), that your plan is feasible (M.1.2), and that the customer has high confidence that your plan will produce a successful outcome (M.1.3).

Scenario 1 (Weakest): Follow the instructions chronologically

Bid and proposal professionals set up the outline around the Section L RFP instructions and fold in additional SOW and evaluation criteria under the sections listed in the RFP instructions. Unfortunately, this arrangement makes it the evaluator’s job to find the offeror’s understanding, a description of the plan’s feasibility, and whether or not it can produce a successful outcome.

  • Section 1: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.1-C.1.3, M.1.1-M.1.3)
  • Section 2: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4, M.1.1-M.1.3)
  • Section 3: Retain (L.3.3, C.1.5, M.1.1-M1.3)

Scenario 2: (Moderate): Assign each instruction, requirement, and evaluation criteria to a separate section

This method makes it easy to verify compliance and responsiveness for each requirement. Still, it becomes the evaluator’s job to make the linkage among all the sections and how they all work together to deliver a successful outcome.

  • Section 1: Transition and Onboard (L.3.1., C.1.1)
  • Section 2: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.2)
  • Section 3: Screen (L.3.1, C.1.3)
  • Section 4: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4)
  • Section 5: Retain Staff (L.3.3, C.1.5)
  • Section 6: Understanding (M.1.1)
  • Section 7: Plan Feasibility (M.1.2)
  • Section 8: Plan to Ensure a Successful Outcome (M.1.3)

Scenario 3 (Strongest): Build an outline that is compliant and easy to evaluate and score

This outline logically describes the requirements to facilitate the evaluator’s comprehension of how and why the plan meets and exceeds their requirements. Section 1 starts with the offeror’s understanding of the customer’s requirements. Section 2 describes why the plan is feasible and how and why it will deliver a successful outcome. Section 3 describes the approach to accomplishing all instructions and SOW requirements. The offeror can further explain why the plan is feasible and delivers a successful outcome in each subsection. It concludes with an explanation of why the approach is best placed to meet and exceed the customer’s requirements.

  • Section 1: Understanding of the Requirements (M.1.1)
  • Section 2: Rationale for Plan Feasibility and Confidence Rating (M.1.2, M.1.3)
  • Section 3: Approach to Transitioning, Recruiting, Screening, Training, and Recruiting Staff (L.3.1-L.3.3, C.1.1-C.1.5)
    • 3.1: Transition and Onboard (L.3.1., C.1.1)
    • 3.2: Recruit (L.3.1, C.1.2)
    • 3.3: Screen (L.3.1, C.1.3)
    • 3.3: Train (L.3.2, C.1.4)
    • 3.4: Retain Staff (L.3.3, C.1.5)
  • Section 4: Summary

Expedite the development of the writing using your outline

Now that you have an outline that writers can use to develop a high-scoring proposal, expedite the writing process by inserting RFP requirements into the outline. Use different color fonts to distinguish between the following information.

  • RFP evaluation criteria
  • RFP instructions
  • RFP SOW requirements
  • All other RFP requirements related to the section

After adding RFP requirements, you can further accelerate the writing process by adding information or links to information developed before the RFP release in the outline, including the following:

  • Relevant boilerplate
  • Strengths and proof points
  • Approaches, risk mitigations, and graphics
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) information to jumpstart thinking

In summary, your outline can make it easier for the evaluator to verify compliance, find the information needed to score your proposal and build the case for awarding you the contract. In addition, good outlines can accelerate the writing process and reduce bid and proposal (B&P) costs by putting the information writers need at their fingertips. Providing writers with the information listed above can also help improve the consistency of your response.


About the Author

Brenda Crist, CPP APMP Fellow is Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, an APMP Fellow, former APMP Chapter Chairperson of the Year, and currently serves as the APMP Chesapeake Chapter Program Chairperson.

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