The process of writing a formal business proposal can be exceedingly complicated, especially when responding to a government solicitation. Few other business tasks demand so much time and information from so many different departments while maintaining a consistent format, writing style, and message throughout the submission, which often contains multiple volumes.
In general, the proposal development process needs three things in order to succeed:
- Management of the process must be deadline-oriented and focused on outcomes
- Every development team member needs to know their respective responsibilities
- Topics and processes need to be explained in great detail
So how does one ensure that all three of these requirements are fulfilled in every project?
We at SAS use a compliance matrix, which is essentially a ‘living spreadsheet’ that outlines all of the documentation requirements needed to satisfy a solicitation’s instructions. We set these up as templates at the outset of projects and update them regularly over the course of the development process to tick off progress and keep an eye on gaps.
ENTERING THE MATRIX
Making a compliance matrix is fairly simple. First, consider four of the “five Ws,” all of which can be mapped out in spreadsheet form for quick reference:
- What specific information does the solicitation demand?
- Where in the proposal will each piece of information go?
- Who is responsible for supplying each bit of information?
- When is the deadline for each bit of information?
The What is the biggest factor out of the four since it determines the minimum type and amount of content requested by a solicitation. This is followed by the Where, as solicitations often dictate the order in which topics should be presented.
In many government bids at the Federal level, this information aligns with the Scope of Work (SOW) or Performance Work Statement (PWS), along with specific instructions provided in Section L – Instructions to Bidders and Section M – Evaluation Criteria. (Note that these section names can differ depending on the issuing agency – for example, the Army Corps of Engineers tends to use a numbering scheme rather than an alphabetical one, with Section 00010 used for Section B, Section 00100 for Section L, and so on.)
Determining the Who and the When depends upon what type of material is required and how much time you have to produce it. Solicitations also give specific instructions with respect to formatting, defining the look and feel of the document with instructions about margins, font size, font type, and line spacing.
Put together, these factors give you enough information to lay out a matrix spreadsheet.
The sample template above has spaces set up to cover all of the important points:
- The requirement / topic in the RFP and its location within the solicitation
- The location of each topic in the proposal being created (i.e., Volume and section number)
- A brief description of each topic (enough to guide information collection)
- Any page limits in place for sections
- The party (or parties) responsible for providing material for each topic / section
- A place to indicate the ongoing status of each piece in progress
- Space to indicate whether referential or pertinent external information exists for a given topic / section
Compliance matrices needn’t be fancy, but you should try to keep them as streamlined and uncluttered as possible so everyone on your team finds them easy to understand. Color is a great way to make sections and outstanding tasks more instantly recognizable. You can also add additional columns as needed, like a Deadline column to denote cutoffs for content creation or a Notes column for questions (or, well, notes). At SAS we often add external reference information to compliance matrices to keep crucial project data all in one centralized location and keep application-flipping to a minimum.
As your project proceeds and you work content into your proposal, simply update the matrix appropriately and distribute it to your project team members on a daily or weekly basis. This keeps everyone apprised of their progress in near-real time.
Not only does the compliance matrix process help developers track the various materials needed to build a compliant proposal, it helps project team members stay focused on their assignments and remain cognizant of gaps that must be closed prior to submission. Further, by acting as a tangible representation of solid project planning, a good matrix can help build confidence and maintain morale within a development team.