Agile in non-IT projects: Proposal writing and bid preparation
Writing a proposal or preparing a bid can sometimes feel like an entire project in and of itself! It is on a very tight deadline (miss it and you are disqualified!). You only have limited resources to complete it (if we could only avoid the overtime and those long nights!) And there is a clear objective to achieve (WIN THE DEAL!)
Here are some thoughts on how to apply Agile principles and techniques to help you win the next RFP.
Use self-organized team
Flatten the structure and let your team self-organize their work. Most importantly, make sure that everyone whose expertise is needed knows they are assigned to the bid team. Too many times, the “bid team” consists of 2, sometimes 1 person who has to beg, plead and grovel to get input from subject matter experts.
Review the RFP’s terms and make sure to put together a team that, collectively, has all the know-how required to prepare a winning bid.
Then, make sure to add a “servant leader”. Make sure they have a dedicated person who will be available to unclog all the bottlenecks and remove any impediments. This is what Scrum management calls the “Scrum Master”. This person does not coordinate the work, they merely help keep the core team fully productive and not distracted.
Timebox your work
Say you have eight weeks to prepare your bid. Eight weeks is a long timeline for the human mind to grasp. Achievements are distant, the path forward is unclear. People prefer to think in smaller chunks. Chalk it up to “Narrow Framing”. So, break your project into, say four 2-week timeboxes. Or eight 1-week timeboxes. Just try it.
The goal is to have a piece of the proposal done by the end of each timebox. Not a draft! A complete section. A set of pages. A table, perhaps. A diagram. Whatever.
Note that extending any one of those timeboxes is ABSOLUTELY not allowed. The end of the timebox is like the end of an exam. You hand in your copy and that’s it. You may not get a perfect score but that is not the goal. Not at this point.
Create a task board
So let’s assume we have an eight 1-week timebox project. For each timebox, make a list of ten to twenty bits of the proposal you have to create, write, produce. The background section. The pricing table. The team profiles. Your risk mitigation strategy for the client.
Create a board (physical or electronic) with three columns: Backlog, Work-in-Progress and Done. Split the three columns in eight rows, one for each 1-week timebox. Using sticky notes, have the team write down every single “bit of proposal” that need to be produced put them in the backlog column. Leave the WIP and Done columns empty for now.
Prioritize the work in each timebox.
Now the hard part. Prioritize the “bits of proposal” from top to bottom with the most important ones at the top and the least important ones at the bottom. Also, make sure to spread the work so that there is an equal amount of work in each row. This is crucial. The stuff at the bottom are the bits that, if you run out of time, you don’t mind handing in your proposal without. Just like writing an exam. When the time is up, we wouldn’t want our proposal to be missing mandatory criteria but the nice-to-have “bells-and-whistles” can be left out.
Keep everyone synched up. Meet with the entire team once a day, preferably in the morning, and review the work done the day before, the work coming up that day and any potential roadblocks. When someone announces they can tackle one of the bits on the board, have them move it from the “Backlog” column to the “WIP” column and write their initials on the sticky. If someone says they just completed a bit of work, have them move the sticky from “WIP” to “Done”, pick another one from the “Backlog” and move it to “WIP”. Be careful not to have too much “WIP” at any given time.
Keep the daily meeting short and no need to go overboard with meeting minutes and agendas. Your board is your agenda and the progress shown on the board is the minutes. Just keep a log of all the roadblocks handy. The “servant leader” can do this. Keeps the team productive.
Review your result at the end of each timebox
At the end of the week, pull the work from each team member and take a bit of time to assemble the whole thing. Make sure to gather comments and ideas for improvement but stay focused on the goal. Rinse and repeat.
Now go and win this bid!