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How to schedule effectively?

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Baskar Sundaram

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In any market, on-time proposal delivery is a key objective of the proposal management process. Effectively allocating time and resources across multiple tasks—and communicating and enforcing milestones—are essential parts of proposal management. Contingency planning, based on the specifics of the organization, the proposal, and the team, is an essential component of schedule management.

Schedule backward, starting with the proposal due date and time.

Start with the due date and time. Estimate the total proposal development effort, then schedule delivery and production before scheduling tasks that occur earlier. When you have built in enough time for delivery and production, make a list of the other tasks and subtasks, using as many levels as necessary to describe the work in detail. Be sure to identify the dependencies for each task, such as supplies, approvals, or completion of other tasks.

Allocate time for proposal planning and for establishing the proposal infrastructure.

Setting up a proposal infrastructure and creating realistic plans are critical to a smooth proposal process. The planning process, including preparing for the kickoff meeting, setting up a collaborative workspace or tool, establishing a contact list, defining roles and responsibilities, and developing a schedule, usually requires 10 percent to 20 percent of the total time available for response to an RFP.

In addition, keep 10 percent of the available time in reserve to manage unforeseen events, such as a proposal writer with writer’s block, a family emergency, or a client crisis that requires immediate attention.

Minimize sequential tasks and maximize parallel tasks.

Think through all dependencies carefully when determining start and end dates for proposal tasks and subtasks. To the extent possible, create a task list that includes activities that can be conducted simultaneously, such as writing proposal text and making plans for proposal reviews. 

Many proposal activities, such as forms that require information from finance/operations/human resources departments or legal reviews of contract terms and conditions, have long lead times. Start these activities early and conduct them in parallel to make the best use of your time.

Clearly explain the start and end date for each task as well as the expectations associated with completion of the task.

The proposal schedule must be clear and visible to the entire team, preferably on a collaborative platform that enables easy access and updates when necessary. Define a start and completion date for each individual team member. Use the proposal schedule to make formal proposal assignments to each individual for the time required to complete proposal sections or perform proposal functions.

When explaining assignments, be clear about the start date and the end date or, if the person is fulfilling an ongoing function, the level of effort for that function. Establish and clearly explain performance expectations. Take time to spell out details involved in completing a task.

Make sure the schedule drives the priorities for daily activities.

A well-planned schedule is an excellent tool for ensuring that proposal activity constitutes the best use of time and resources. If people are working on tasks not in the schedule, either the schedule needs to be revisited, or work assignments need to be clarified. 

Use near-term, interim deadlines to drive priorities when there are multiple ongoing tasks. For tasks that have long lead times, establish interim milestones that you can use to make sure that the objectives of these tasks are met.

Avoid scheduling weekends and holidays.

More work is not always better work. Even when deadlines are tight, proposal team members need most evenings, weekends, and holidays “off the clock” to be productive. For proposal writers in particular, having a break, a chance to exercise, and a good night’s sleep produces much better results than continuous work. .

Allow sufficient time for proposal reviews.

Proposal contributors are too close to their work to be able to review it for quality, compliance, consistency, and impact. A fresh look at a proposal by experts who have not been involved in writing or solution development is essential. Reviews can consume considerable time in the schedule. 

After each review, it takes time to read, understand, and absorb feedback about the proposal. It also takes time to determine how best to respond to reviewer comments. Determine the appropriate number of reviews at the beginning of the proposal, and do not add review cycles unless there is a significant change in the RFP or an extension of the due date.

Change the schedule only if it absolutely has to be changed, and be sure to communicate changes clearly to all involved.

Changing the schedule to accommodate events other than an alteration of the RFP or an extension of the deadline carries risks. Proposal contributors need to know that they can plan their time to accomplish the tasks assigned to them. Schedule changes affect the balancing act they have to perform between the proposal and other obligations. 

When interim deadlines change frequently without a clear reason, participants start to discount them entirely and assign a higher priority to activities outside the proposal.  It is advisable to change the schedule only when there are customer driven events such as an extension of the due date or a significant change in the RFP.

Even if everything else is functioning, scheduling mistakes can threaten quality, compliance, and on-time delivery of a proposal. Base the schedule on metrics collected from previous proposals and make a single person accountable for completion of each task. Use interim deadlines to keep tasks on track and provide feedback early. 

Look for tasks that are independent of one another that can be completed in parallel. Carefully plan tasks that have multiple dependencies. Leave enough leeway in schedules for time off on weekends and holidays, multiple review cycles, and potential RFP changes, as well as for unexpected setbacks

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