Agile Proposal Development: A Spotlight on Stakeholders

Last week I posted an article that discussed how proposal management is in actuality project management. I pointed out how our long-standing proposal best practices are Agile, and have been Agile long before Agile was the latest industry craze. I was so pleased with the discussion that this article sparked, including how this recognition can help us to improve how we develop proposals.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to build on some of these discussion points in a series of articles focused on how we can expand the application of Agile in our pursuit processes. This week I’ll take a deeper look at stakeholders, and how we can better integrate stakeholders into the business development lifecycle.

Stakeholders are anyone outside of the team with vested interests in the working of the team and the products they develop. If you’ve worked on a proposal, you know there are many stakeholders involved, and their buy-in is critical to a successful proposal effort.

As with many projects, with proposals, we have both external and internal stakeholders. External stakeholders include the customer—acquisition professionals, contracting personnel, customer leadership, and customer end users, to name a few. Internal stakeholders include those individuals within our companies that are impacted by the proposal—these can be executive leadership, project personnel, or other decision makers. One major challenge of proposal, capture, and business development professionals is meeting the needs of both internal and external stakeholders.

External Stakeholders
As Al Pearce pointed out last week, Agile prioritizes iterative feedback from stakeholders and customers. And since source selection rules put significant restrictions on customer communications during the Final RFP phase, it's important to take full advantage of the Questions & Answer (Q&A) sessions.

However, not only is it important to take advantage of the Q&A sessions, it is critical to take the time to understand the customer stakeholder needs before the RFP is even released. Remember that building a relationship with our customer stakeholders and understanding their underlying concerns takes time. Without solid customer stakeholder relationships, we won’t have the opportunity to understand their programmatic concerns or determine what really keeps them up at night. Further, we won’t be able to develop solutions to meet their needs and vet those solutions prior to the RFP release. As Al pointed out, once the RFP is released, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) limits customer interaction—so at that point, it’s too late for effective opportunity shaping and solution vetting.

Internal Stakeholders
For the best results, internal stakeholders need to be involved throughout the opportunity pursuit process. It is essential to gain internal stakeholder buy-in at critical milestones, including pursuit decisions, strategy reviews, color team reviews, as well as formal milestone/gate reviews. As Jennifer Siler noted, it’s just not effective for internal stakeholders to jump in at the eleventh hour with opinions on content, pricing, or solution. By seeking internal stakeholder feedback and buy-in throughout the opportunity lifecycle, we can help avoid the last-minute chaos that can occur otherwise.

Final Thoughts
As we’ve pointed out, with Agile, success stems from iterative stakeholder feedback—and it’s no different with proposals. To increase our probabilities of win, we need to collaborate with our customer stakeholders frequently and early—and well before the RFP is released. Similarly, to minimize the hurdles of getting the proposal out the door, we need to collaborate with our internal stakeholders early and frequently as well. As our tried and true best practices have shown, this iterative stakeholder collaboration will support a smoother and much more successful proposal development process.

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


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