8 Agile Terms You Should Know and How they Apply to Proposals

Agile software development is a set of approaches to software development where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between cross-functional teams and stakeholders. Agile encourages flexibly and rapid response to change while advocating adaptive planning, iterative development, early delivery, and continual improvement. Agile principles can be applied to other disciplines, including proposal management, to support flexible, adaptive processes that reduce waste, time, and cost. This article examines eight key Agile principles and discusses how each can be applied to proposals and the proposal development process.

1. Agile Project Management: Agile project management is a term used to describe project management that uses Agile methodologies. This may include daily stand-ups, collaboration with stakeholders, and continuous integration and availability of working product (i.e., drafts between color team reviews), which have long been standard proposal best practices.

2. Backlog: A backlog is a collection of user stories and tasks that the team needs to complete. Product backlogs are related to the tasks to be done for the overall product while sprint backlogs are the tasks that need to be completed in the current sprint. Proposal managers typically maintain a running list of the tasks that need to be completed before the next color team review (sprint backlog) and the tasks that need to be completed before final submission (product backlog)—but more frequently we call these lists an action items list.

3. Iteration: An iteration is a period—typically one to four weeks long—when the development team produces the next increment of the product. At the beginning of the iteration, the product owner defines the requirements/tasks to be completed in the iteration. The team collaborates and agrees upon these tasks. In most cases, proposal managers have their teams write the proposal draft in iterations too. Depending on the length of the response period, these iterations typically last one to four weeks. After each of these iterations, the team reviews the work in progress. 

4. Scrum: Scrum is a specific Agile framework that supports effective team collaboration on complex products. A scrum is made up of short iterations, called sprints, within which the team completes work iteratively. The scrum involves four key activities: daily stand-up meeting, sprint planning meeting, sprint review meeting, and the retrospective meeting. With the exception of daily stand-up meeting (done everyday during the sprint) the other three are done once every sprint. This scrum framework can be applied to proposals, particularly when response times are 45 days or less—the sprint reviews take the form of color team reviews and retrospective meetings are the color team recovery sessions with the team.

5. Sprint: We’ve touched on this already, but sprint is simply the scrum term for an iteration. Sprints are a period—typically one to four weeks long—when the development team produces the next increment of the product (in our case, the proposal). In proposals, sprints are just the writing and development process that occurs between each color team review.

6. Scrum Master: The Scrum Master is responsible for daily stand-up meetings and tracking the overall progress of the product development. The Scrum Master is charged with making sure the team is not blocked at any point of time due to external or internal issues. In proposals, the Proposal Manager serves as the Scrum Master.

7. Stakeholder: Stakeholders are anyone outside of the team with vested interests in the working of the team and the products they develop. With proposals, there are many stakeholders involved and their buy-in is critical to a successful proposal effort. 

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.

8. Stand-up/Daily Meeting: The stand-up is noted as one of the most important activities in a scrum-based approach. In a stand-up meeting, the team discusses the daily progress for a 15- to 30-minute period. A key point of Agile is the important of keeping these meetings short and precise. Daily stand-ups—so called because they should be so brief that you don’t need to sit down for them—have long been a best practice in the proposal development process. For some organizations, these have morphed into longer, more dreadful meetings, but that has never been the intent.

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. However, Agile also stresses continuous improvement, and there are definitely areas where we can still 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. Additionally, by integrating Agile tools and product like JIRA, 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.

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


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