Winning the Business

Timing It Right for a First Draft

Assessing the time required for RFP response leads to more effective scheduling and better work-life balance

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How long does it take to produce an average proposal? How long will it take to respond to this RFP?

Sound familiar? Like most corporations, we’re looking to streamline efficiency to deliver a great product.

As a small and unrelentingly busy RFP team within a commercial enterprise, we are responsible for managing a continuous influx of RFPs and IT questionnaires, most with tight deadlines.

We noticed that an increasing number of assignments were requiring level loading during the project, and we were experiencing crunches just prior to deadline.

The Problem

We’re lean and agile—and we consistently deliver proposals that get us to the next level in each sales cycle. But we noticed that an increasing number of assignments were requiring level loading during the project, and we were experiencing crunches just prior to deadline. After ruling out other potential root causes, we had to ask ourselves: How can we effectively evaluate the time commitment required to respond to an RFP?

To increase our agility while maintaining quality and consistency, we needed a method for more accurate time and resource assessment. So, I developed a solution that demystifies the “how long” estimation.

The Solution

By evaluating our tools, and each writer’s efficiency in using them, we can provide accurate estimates for time and resources. And it’s working—individually and as a group. We have greater awareness of our individual capabilities and can better plan for contingencies, like that multi-questionnaire proposal with a six-day turnaround. Best of all, our leadership loves the visibility we can provide to the rest of the enterprise, leading to more efficiency.

This solution hinges on how many questions each proposal writer can answer in an hour. No idea? Here’s how to go about finding out:

  1. Determine your average number of questions per hour. Start with a new RFP, set Skype to Do Not Disturb, and time yourself. Do this a few times and take an average. You could even challenge your teammates to some friendly competition. Once you have your average number of questions per hour, you (or your assignments manager) can determine approximately how many hours it will take to complete a good first draft.
  2. Review the RFP and take care of the short answers. Start by reviewing the RFP to get a feel for size while initially reading the materials. Tag assignments to other pursuit team members (the sales lead, solutions architect, etc.). Answer any yes/no questions as well as any that require single- or few-word responses (how many years in business, your corporate address, etc.).
  3. Delve deeper for the remaining questions. Now that you have several questions out of the way and a better feel for the RFP’s requirements and scope, you can pay closer attention to the remainder of the material. For the remaining questions, divide by your average number of questions per hour to determine how long you will need.
  4. Set aside time for the long answers. Schedule the needed time as busy and space out the sessions so you can meet the first draft review deadline without feeling crunched for time.

The Verdict

It is likely that junior writers or newer team members will have a lower question-to-hour ratio. You can use this exercise to gauge a learning curve and, if necessary, provide additional training. By analyzing and counting the questions, you can level the playing field.

We now have insight into our individual and group abilities, and a yardstick to measure the need for training and resource requirements.

Those RFPs written in 9-point font may look short until you realize that they fit 30 questions on one page. Likewise, a 10-tab questionnaire that is 100 percent stock industry analyst template is a breezy cut-and-paste affair.

We now have insight into our individual and group abilities, and a yardstick to measure the need for training and resource requirements. And that’s how long it will take to complete a proposal.


Gwen George-Bruno, CF APMP, is a proposal manager for Tangoe Inc., a Parsippany, New Jersey-based IT solutions company. She can be reached at tdmact@aol.com.

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