Yes, Proposals Are Agile—Here's What We've Learned

Six 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. The article sparked some incredibly insightful feedback and discussions, and so I spent the following weeks building on some of those 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. In the following weeks, I looked at unique challenges that we face in proposals, highlighted the implications, and discussed how we must adapt to be successful. In my final article of this series, I’ll put it all together and summarize the key takeaways from this incredible online discussion.

Proposals Really Are Agile
There is no doubt that our tried and true proposal best practices are Agile and have been Agile long before Agile was the latest industry craze. We have long embraced small, dedicated teams; short iterations; and iterative review cycles. And although “Agile Proposal Development” may be a new term, it is certainly not a new process or methodology. Most of us have been practicing Agile Proposal Development our entire careers.

Proposals Follow the Scrum Framework
Scrum is a specific Agile framework that supports effective team collaboration on complex products. A Scrum is comprised of short iterations, called sprints, within which work is completed iteratively. Sprints are a period—typically 1 – 4 weeks long—when the development team produces the next increment of the product (in our case, the proposal). And following this logic, sprints are just the writing and development process that occurs between each color team review.

Continuous Stakeholder Feedback Is Key
Agile prioritizes iterative feedback from stakeholders and customers. And since source selection rules put significant restrictions on customer communications during the Final RFP phase, to increase our probabilities of win, we need to collaborate with our customer stakeholders frequently and early—and well before the RFP is released. Once the RFP is released, we need to take full advantage of the Questions and Answers period. We must also simulate the customer’s evaluation as part of our review cycles.

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. 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.

There Are Areas We Can Do Better
Agile focuses on continuous improvement, and with proposals, there are definitely areas where we can improve. Keeping stand-ups short and sweet will bring the meetings back to their original purpose and provide the proposal development team with more productive time. Encouraging more of a collaborative environment during our color team reviews can help foster a more positive morale and transform reviews into working sessions, rather than a series of monologues and attacks. Making time for regular retrospective/lessons learned meetings can help the team to increase effectiveness and efficiency by continuously learning and improving.

By integrating Agile tools like Task Boards and Burn Down Charts, we can further increase the effectiveness of our proposal development process. With these tools, we will have a much clearer picture of what 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.

Final Thoughts
As we’ve pointed out over the last several weeks, 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. However, as we have also highlighted over the last several weeks, Agile stresses continuous improvement, and there are definitely areas where we can still improve.

I have sincerely enjoyed this discussion over the last several weeks, and I am hopeful that the dialogue will continue in industry and within our individual organizations. I hope we will all continue to be Agile in our proposal pursuit processes, that we will continue to share our best practices and lessons learned, and that we will all further embrace Agile ideologies and continue to improve.

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


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