Agile Proposal Development: A Spotlight on Two Common Tracking Tools

Three weeks ago, 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 have been so pleased with the discussion that this article has sparked.

I have been building on some of these discussion points in a series of articles focused on how we can expand the application of Agile in our opportunity pursuit processes. The first week I discussed the role of stakeholders and explored how we can better integrate stakeholders into the business development lifecycle. Last week I took look at Scrum, how our proposal best practices fit into the Scrum model, and how we can learn further from Agile ideologies to improve our proposal processes. This week I’ll take a look at some common Agile tools and discuss how we might apply them to increase the efficiency of our proposal processes.

Tools for Tracking Progress
Once the Scrum Team completes the Sprint Planning Meeting and defines the sprint commitment, they begin tracking their progress using highly visible information tracking tools. These tools include the Task Board and the Burn Down Chart.

Task Board: The Scrum Team uses the Task Board to track the progress of the tasks associated with each feature. The minimum columns used to track the progress are:
  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

Task Boards drive the daily stand-up meeting. The Task Board allows the team to move items across the board while discussing the progress made the previous day, what they plan to accomplish that day, and what challenges they are facing. Task Boards originated using a whiteboard and sticky notes (often called a Kanban board), which encourage individuals outside the team to view and discuss the team’s progress.

Though many teams still prefer the physical board, others are using software to streamline the process and share information across multiple locations. The use of software is arguably more popular in a software development application; however, we have learned that some proposal teams have actually started leveraging Task Board software. For example, TQI Solutions has started using JIRA Kanban Boards to manage their proposal efforts! You can find an example Task Board applied to a proposal scenario below.

Task Boards are great because they are a visual representation of the team’s progress and major hurdles. Because they are simple and very visible, there is no question as to how the team is progressing. Too often on stand-up calls, Section Leads downplay any challenges they are facing and overstate the progress they are making. By breaking down section progress into tangible tasks, tracking the progress of those tasks, and being honest about the challenges faced, we can increase the effectiveness of our daily stand-ups and eliminate the number of issues identified too late in the game. By adding Task Boards into our proposal development process, we can increase communication, better track progress and challenges, reduce the number of color team surprises, and foster a smoother process overall.

Burn Down Chart: The Burn Down chart shows the trend line of the amount of work left to do in the sprint. The x-axis is the number of days in the sprint, and the y-axis is the number of hours for all the tasks that were defined in the sprint-planning meeting. Over the days of the sprint, the line indicating the amount of work left to do should trend down to zero by the last day of the sprint. The Burn Down Chart should correlate to the tasks and progress reflected in the Sprint Backlog. Below you can find an example of how you might use Sprint Backlog and correlating Burn Down Chart on a proposal sprint.

The Burn Down Chart is useful because it is a high-level picture of how the team is progressing. By comparing the planned progress versus the actual progress, the team can identify where the major hurdles have occurred, and use this information to improve moving forward.

Final Thoughts
With Agile, success stems from iterative development, collaboration, and regular stakeholder feedback—and it’s no different with proposals. As our tried and true best practices have shown, this iterative development, collaboration, and regular stakeholder feedback supports a successful proposal development process. But as we have highlighted over the last several weeks, there are areas where we can still improve. When leveraging the Agile Scrum framework, sprint progress is typically tracked using the Task Board, Burn Down Chart, and the daily stand-up. Our best practices embrace the stand-up, but the Task Board and Burn Down Chart are used far less frequently. By adding these two tools into our best practices, we can increase the effectiveness of our proposal development process. We will have a much clearer picture of what is tasks are in progress and whether they will likely be completed on time; what tasks have been completed and whether they were completed on time; and perhaps most critically, what hurdles might be preventing the team from meeting its sprint (color team) and/or final delivery goal.

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


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