Proposals and Agile, Challenge #1: We Often Lack Dedicated, Collocated Teams

Four 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. First I discussed the role of stakeholders  and explored how we can better integrate stakeholders into the business development lifecycle. Then I looked 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. Next I explored some common Agile tools, and discussed how we might apply them to increase the efficiency of our proposal processes. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll take a look at some unique challenges that we face in proposals, highlight the implications, and discuss how we must adapt to be successful.

Unique Challenge #1: We Often Lack Dedicated, Collocated Teams
Agile and Scrum are all about close collaboration. The ideal team would be assigned full-time to work on the project, sitting in the same room, and would work on many projects consecutively. This removes barriers to communication, eliminates the distraction of other duties and assignments, and reduces the wasted time of new teams learning to work together. When the group is spread out over different rooms, locations, and even time zones, it is too easy for team members to delay their interaction, or simply avoid it and work in silos. When the team is not assigned full-time, work is delayed even more as individuals are forced to divide their attention between multiple projects and tasks. This leads to a far less effective development effort.

In the good old days, more frequently we saw dedicated teams working full-time on the proposal effort, collocated in war rooms, solving problems, developing solutions, and marching forward together until the proposal was submitted. In fact, most proposal best practices still preach this as the ideal path forward. However, in today’s world, we see this scenario far less frequently. It seems that corporate leadership less often recognizes the value that these dedicated teams can provide. The reality is that even when corporations are trying to implement Agile Software Development, we’re all still stuck in a world of “we must do more with less,” and “we will save so much money on travel costs with virtual teams.”

What Can We Do?
In a perfect world, our companies would automatically recognize our plight and change corporate policy to support having dedicated and collocated teams to support our proposal efforts. Although we cannot bank on this happening, there are some things that we CAN do to facilitate smoother proposal operations within our individual organizations: (1) educate corporate leadership, (2) strive to have a dedicated core team, and (3) leverage software for virtual teams.

1. Educate Corporate Leadership
It is our job as proposal professionals to help educate corporate leadership on what we need to succeed—and to help the company succeed. If the company is pursuing too many opportunities at once, and the resources are stretched way too thin, the company is set up for failure, not success. This is because in this situation, the probability of win is significantly reduced for each opportunity. A company is much better off submitting fewer, high-quality responses to very targeted opportunities than submitting several, poor-quality proposals. We must help leadership understand the criticality of smart bid decisions, the impact of resource constraints, the value of dedicated teams where practical, and the importance of bringing in extra help if you simply must pursue everything in the pipeline.

2. Strive to Have a Dedicated Core Proposal Team
The Core Proposal Team typically comprises the Capture Manager, Proposal Manager, Proposal Coordinator, and Volume Managers. For larger opportunities, the Core Proposal Team may also include a Compliance/Integration Manager and/or Section Leads. This Core Proposal Team works on the proposal from the planning process through submission. Ideally, all members of the Core Proposal Team are dedicated to the proposal throughout the proposal process. If that is not possible, the team should identify those Core Proposal Team members that can be dedicated, and then build the team around that group.

3. Leverage Collaboration Software for Virtual Teams
With the current business environment, it is more and more common to have a dispersed proposal team and to use a virtual workspace. When this is the case, the team must turn to collaboration software and tools, including collaboration portals, telephone and/or video conferencing, and chat applications.

Collaboration Portal: Collaboration portals establish a secure and organized repository for files and data. Companies are increasingly turning to applications such as SharePoint, Privia, Virtual Proposal Center (VPC), and even JIRA to facilitate management of the large volume of files and data. The collaboration portal is used for writer collaboration, color reviews, and final production. Collaborative software applications also include features for version control. Since team members post files from remote locations, it is critical to establish and clearly name file libraries, directories, and security profiles early in the proposal process.

Telephone and/or Video Conferencing: Teleconferences and/or video conferences are important in virtual proposals since they help bring the team together. To use these tools effectively, you should establish teleconferencing and video conferencing protocols and ensure that all proposal team members understand the protocols.

Chat Applications: Chat applications help dispersed team members collaborate quickly and effectively. Ensuring that all team members actively log into and use the company’s preferred chat application can facilitate more frequent and effective team collaboration.

These three tools can go a long way in helping your virtual teams to succeed; however, virtual proposal development will only work if the team members understand how to operate in the virtual environment. Team members must be trained on the use of collaborative software, coordination expectations, and proposal procedures before the team begins using the system. This is essential to maintaining configuration control while providing an environment conducive to collaboration. Even if team members claim to have used the collaboration tool(s) before, it is helpful to provide refresher training to go over key processes and features.

Final Thoughts
With Agile, success stems from collaboration—and it’s no different with proposals. As our tried and true best practices have shown, this collaboration supports a successful proposal development process. However, the proposal development environment does create some unique challenges that we must strive to conquer. We rarely have dedicated proposal teams and our teams are not often all located in the same place. But there are ways we can tackle these challenges head on. We can educate our corporate leadership on the criticality of smart bid decisions, the impact of resource constraints, the value of dedicated teams where practical, and the importance of bringing in extra help if you simply must pursue everything in the pipeline. We can strive to have a dedicated core proposal team wherever possible. And we can leverage collaboration software when we have no other option than to have a virtual team. Many of these challenges are not new, and we have been facing them for years. By remaining disciplined and agile, we can continue to overcome these hurdles and still find success in our opportunity pursuit processes.

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


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