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Measuring quality of a proposal

While most organizations are talking about proposal quality improvement, not many actually know how to define it, leave aside how to measure it. Most discussions about measuring quality of the proposal end up in arguments rather than finding solutions.

One school of thought says that if it wins, it is a quality proposal; another says that if experienced proposal makers write it, it will be a quality proposal, and then another approach was to get feedback from people (especially sales folk) to rate the quality of the delivered proposal. However, these are subjective ways to measure the quality.

After research and classifying various inputs, I believe that a framework, which attempts to measure the quality of a proposal, should do so along the three ‘C’ dimensions of ‘Compliance’, ‘Content’ and ‘Communication’.

Compliance

This is an important factor and the degree of compliance can be measured. Best practices indicate that in case the client wants the response in a particular format, it is best provided in the requested structure. The typical pitfall in such cases is to create our own format and then provide the RFP compliance matrix. This should be avoided unless backed up by very strong reasoning. In order to measure this, consider the evaluator’s point of view; if one has to compare five responses, it would indeed be very difficult to compare the responses unless they are fitted into similar comparison parameters. A score can be given as a degree of compliance with the customer’s requirement. Another important aspect of compliance is the internal process compliance wherein the organization has created a workflow and review checkpoints that should be adhered to.

Items Remarks
RFP compliance Is the document structure as per customer requirements?
Internal Process Compliance Has the document gone through required review or followed the workflow as needed.

Content

This is the soul of the proposal and actually provides the best technical solution and addresses the basic questions of What, How, Where, When and Why.

Quality can be assessed through the following aspects:

Items Remarks
Technical solution Does it answer what we will do?
Execution approach How & where will we do it?
Estimation How much time will it take?
Value, Benefits and Differentiators Why should we be doing this?
Commercials Is it competitive and does it ensure the stipulated margin for the organization?
Risk Is the risk adequately assessed and addressed?

Communication

The communication quality can be checked along two parameters, the first being how well it is articulated; which includes structuring of facts in a way that it clearly communicates the message with minimum jargon and bull words. This can be checked by doing what most people term as the “so what?” test. Each statement which is written to persuade the customer should pass this test.  For example “XYZ Inc is a SEI CMM level 5 company”—so what? This can be further explained as, “XYZ Inc is a SEI CMM level 5 company, which will ensure that our deliverables pass through stringent quality tests that will exceed customers’ expectations.”

Use less of the superlatives; superlatives are passé, it is always important to substantiate and quantify claims wherever possible.

The second facet of communication is the tangible aspect and while most would argue that this should be put under the compliance section, I believe it should be part of communication and this is about checking the medium of communication itself. Is the language correct? Is documentation quality good in terms of look and feel and overall consistencies in styles and fonts? At the end of the day this becomes an elemental part of communication that reflects your organization’s image and professionalism.

Communication can be scored with a red team review through the executive summary itself. If your executive summary can pass the “so what” test half the battle is won.

Items Remarks
Executive Summary Does it pass the “so what” test?
Language Is it clear and consistent?
Style, formatting & look and feel Does it adhere to corporate standards and is it consistent?

Conclusion

We have briefly discussed the three important dimensions on which a framework can be created to measure the proposal quality. The reason of having a framework is to ensure that we can measure the quality upfront without waiting for results.

In order to ensure the quality proposal actually wins we surely need to consider the fourth C of “Connect with Customer”. After all the humungous efforts of the proposal making team, the final response needs to be received well by the end customer through a purchase order or contract thus endorsing the quality of the proposal.

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