7 Pitfalls of unprepared proposal kick-off

I have a proposal horror story that involves a late and unprepared kick-off:  When I was working in a corporation, we got a sudden “you must bid” directive from upper management. At a so-called kick-off, we sat in a room together reading the RFP, with senior people calling all of their contacts, trying to gather last-minute teammates to patch up holes in our strategy, and figuring out who was going to write what section. This was well after the RFP had dropped, with only two weeks left before submission.

We were all trying collectively to decide on the schedule, and on who was going to tell the unlucky section leads what they were going to write. As it turned out, 90% of the key writers who were assigned sections were not present at our “kick-off.” They didn’t know whether they were assigned anything, what the RFP was all about, or what and how they should write. They worked around the clock. Each effort was stove-piped, with every writer doing his or her own thing. No one integrated their efforts or worried about meeting team deadlines.

During the Pink Team evaluation, there were major holes: entire sections were missing, and other sections were cut-and-pasted out of other proposals, being only lightly peppered with the requirements of the RFP at hand. After a mad scramble from a proposal manager, some of the holes were patched up in the next few days. The effort was stopped after an abysmal Red Team evaluation, where the decision makers, who assigned the team to respond to the RFP so late in the game in the first place, decided to no-bid. This would have been OK had the proposal effort not already cost the company close to $100,000.

To learn from this lesson, first and foremost, let us be clear on what a proposal kickoff is not:

  • Group RFP reading session
  • Discussion of win themes and brainstorming about the technical approach (although you can do it immediately following the kick-off)
  • Droning on and on for a full day, discussing the opportunity and assignments without a clear sense of purpose or direction

Sadly, many people overlook the importance of properly run and prepared kickoffs. However, if you don’t prepare the kickoff properly, here are seven proposal pitfalls that result directly from this failure:

  1. Hardly anyone shows up for the kick-off, and the resource availability does not improve later on in the proposal.
  2. People do not know what they are supposed to do and by when.
  3. People treat interim deadlines as artificial and arbitrary products of a proposal manager’s whim, and therefore become passive-aggressive (or plain aggressive) and blow those deadlines off.
  4. Proposal team members are unclear about your expectations regarding their work, the firmness of the deadlines, or the rules of communication.
  5. People do not know how to read the RFP or what they are expected to prepare for their sections.
  6. People are wondering where the schedule is, where the proposal effort is located, and what happens next.
  7. Proposal team members say to you “I didn’t know I had to…” too many times.

Great kick-offs result in well-orchestrated and less stressful proposals. I consider a kick-off one of the most important milestones in the whole proposal development process, on par with the Red Team.


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