When it comes to meeting tight RFP deadlines, having a well-defined proposal timeline, or RFP response timeline, makes a huge difference. While there’s no doubt that outside factors influence the process, visualizing each step from start to finish when working through an RFP can be helpful.
This blog will explore how you can build a proposal timeline that keeps your team and projects on track. Not only that, but we’ll also cover common proposal roadblocks and how to overcome them. Finally, we’ll explore the best workflow and task tools to help you stick to your proposal timeline.
Building your proposal timeline
A proposal timeline documents each step involved in your proposal process. It helps keep your team and contributors on the same page. While the timeline for each RFP will be slightly different, I find it helpful to create a general RFP response timeline to start from. This timeline should be based on your ideal process. In addition to serving as a template for customization, the general timeline offers a visual representation of your process. It can be also used to quickly onboard new proposal team members, set internal expectations and inform stakeholders.
While the exact timing for each step in the RFP response is dictated by your unique team structure, most proposal managers say that around 30 days is ideal. So it’s good to build your general timeline working with that in mind.
The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) suggests breaking down your proposal timeline into three categories:
- Start up and planning: 10-20 percent of timeline
- Content, writing and creation: 50-60 percent of timeline
- Final review, amendments and production: 10-20 percent of timeline
Every good proposal coordinator knows that time management is absolutely key to success. But unexpected obstacles can derail even the best project manager. So plan for it! Certainly, you don’t want to cut it too close. APMP recommends leaving 10 percent of your time to the end for submission. The small buffer ensures that your proposal is received and accepted before the deadline.
With these guidelines in mind, begin building your RFP response timeline.
Steps in the RFP proposal process
Every proposal team uses steps and processes that are unique to their business. Work through your process from beginning to end and write down all the important milestones.
Proposal timeline milestones to consider:
- RFP received
- Go/No-go evaluation and discussion
- Project planning
- Kickoff meeting
- Collection of questions for RFP issuer
- Search of content library by section and question
- Assignment of new questions to SMEs
- Customization of knowledge library content
- Executive summary and RFP cover letter creation
- Review of SME responses
- Formatting and design
- Final reviews
- Proposal submission
When adapting your general timeline to a specific RFP, it can be helpful to work backwards from the RFP deadline. When working with a tight turnaround, be sure to update the timeline. Then, highlight the condensed version during your kickoff meeting. It’s unfortunate when you’re under the gun, but by preparing an abbreviated timeline early you can outline expectations and instill a sense of urgency.
Proposal timeline example
How your proposal timeline fits into the RFP timeline
Responding to RFPs plays a big role in business growth. Likewise, the RFP process saves time and money for procurement teams who use it for strategic sourcing. Despite its importance, I’m always surprised by how many people are only aware of a fraction of the steps involved.
For organizations responding to RFPs, it’s important to understand the full RFP timeline as well as where your RFP response timeline fits within that process. Proposals created with the big-picture in mind are more likely to be effective and memorable.
The RFP timeline starts with a business need and ends with a signed contract and closed RFP. While the proposal timeline sits in the middle of the larger RFP timeline.
Example of an RFP timeline followed by procurement teams
Tips for using your proposal timeline
The proposal timeline is just one of many useful tools for RFP response management. It can be used to communicate with your team and organize the process. While it’s true that specific timing is often determined by the RFP deadline, creating a proposal timeline clearly defines your workflow and tasks. As I’ve worked with proposal teams and a wide variety of processes and timelines, I’ve picked up some useful tips.
- Be ready to make adjustments. Your RFP response timeline, like your proposal process, should be subject to change. Periodically evaluate if the timeline is working for your team. If not, optimize and update.
- Hold your team accountable. First, use the project kick off meeting to get team buy-in. Solicit feedback and ask the team to raise any concerns. Then as you move forward, the timeline can be used to determine if the project is ahead of schedule or if bottlenecks need to be addressed.
- Nurture your content repository. The best way to accelerate your RFP response timeline is to grow and manage your proposal content library. As you create new content, optimize it for future use and catalog it in your library so it is easy to find.
- Use the timeline to collect process data. Approach your timeline as a way to track your efficiency, productivity and consistency. With a well-defined process you can collect data, analyze outcomes and optimize. The more you know about your process the better off you’ll be. Certainly, with the right information you’ll be able to account for time variances in different types of RFPs. Then, you can use that information to evaluate the cost of responding to different RFP types, balance workloads and have more informed go/no-go discussions when deadlines are tight or resources are scarce.
Proposal and project management tools
All-around proposal management tool: RFP360
RFP360 is an RFP management software that centralizes the entire proposal process. Loaded with useful features that improve collaboration and efficiency, creating winning proposals is faster than ever. Proposal managers will love the knowledge management, automation, and workflow and task tools as well as the visual progress dashboards for reporting.
To explore the value of RFP software, download the ebook.
Proposal and project management tool: RACI matrix
The RACI matrix is a great project management tool. Generally, it focuses on roles and responsibilities within the RFP process. However, it can certainly be adjusted to help with project timing for simple RFPs. Within the RACI matrix, list each task in chronological order and note the appropriate deadline. Certainly it is helpful for simple projects. However, this approach may become overly complicated to manage for complex RFPs.
Proposal timeline approach: Gantt chart
It seems like most people either love or hate the Gantt chart. Despite its polarizing reputation, there’s no denying the popularity of the approach. Advocates of the Gantt Chart appreciate its easy-to-read style and customizability. On the other hand, detractors may find it difficult to update when changes are required.
Pacing yourself with an RFP response timeline
Far too often, the RFP response process is full of dashing around, scrambling and late nights. Luckily, proposal timelines provide a predictable pace. In addition, it clearly outlines the RFP response process and expectations, so your entire team is empowered and ready to win.