Competitive bidding – The right timing for proposal development

Countdown to submission – this is what many project managers and proposal writers all over the globe are struggling with continuously. Regardless of the subject, the art of combining scientific excellence with administrative soundness to deliver a winning proposal for a collaborative project is a widely sought skill. There are numerous ways and methodologies to develop project proposals but the time limit set by the funding body is always a challenging and often hindering factor.

In this blog post, I will try to give you some insight based on our first-hand experiences on how to understand and cope with this always difficult-to-keep time limit.

Mirror your future project

Collaborative projects are great! The expertise amassed through such an exercise can be immense and project partners can tackle issues together they would never be able to tackle on their own. But before the actual project can take off, there is already a considerable amount of work to be invested in at the proposal stage. Although the efforts for developing a project proposal are most of the time not financially reimbursed by the actual fund, we should always remember that a proposal is something like a mirror of the entire project which is to follow. Carrying this analogy further, the ideal proposal presents the reader, mostly an evaluator, with a concise, complete and credible reflection of all those project activities which are not yet carried out but are planned. And this reflection tells him/her a great deal about how the project will be set in a timely pattern. Time management starting at the first day of the proposal development is therefore an essential skill for every project manager.

Two realities in time management

Time management in proposal development for collaborative projects is twofold: One part is foreseeable, while the other is unforeseeable. The foreseeable component represents the entire palette of tasks and activities which will be undertaken during the project. They could also be described as the hard facts of the project. A proposal writer should be able to get an overview of all those facts through an organised planning. This also means that the required time efforts can be estimated fairly well and matched with the set deadline for proposal submission. This all sounds comprehensible and achievable so far, but there is at the same time an unforeseeable component to time management.

The collaboration with a multitude of consortium partners, being it different departments in your company, or different institutions, brings in the desired added value in the form of different experts and expertises. And this is where the unforeseeable time factor comes in. As the collaboration partners will be involved in different areas, tasks and activities of the future project, the proposal ought to be composed of inputs from the partners. This will ensure to reflect the collaboration between the partners and how their expertise will be used inclusively in the project. In the role of the proposal writer, organising, collecting and formatting these partner inputs will take up a considerable amount of time which should be granted to every proposal development process. The required time for these partner communications can vary highly due to a number of factors which are out of the scope of this blog post.

Getting the right balance

Having understood that there is always a foreseeable and an unforeseeable component to time management in proposal development, the proposal writer can try to modify these two components. The goal would be to shift the unforeseeable component to a minimum, meaning to prescribe the input from partners as far as possible. This can be done by seeking a precise overview of the foreseeable component, the hard facts with all project activities and requirements, and guiding partners closely to provide the desired inputs. Taking the opposite scenario, it might happen that input from partners becomes overwhelming due to a lack of precise and delimited hard facts in a project and the proposal phase. This unwanted scenario would clearly lead to an overweight of the unforeseeable time component and would probably cause loss of quality.

Carrying these theoretical insights into practice can be quite challenging but it is very useful to remember the two realities and that they can influence each other mutually, either to the good or to the bad.


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