Managing early drafts

Recent posts examined management tools and techniques to help proposal teams avoid last minute rewrites, including why and how to use proposal narrative prompts.

This post looks at managing writers’ initial drafts.

First rule: Don’t delay

Don’t make the mistake of scheduling your first content deadline more than one week after kick-off. If your writers are new to proposal writing or have other priorities, you’ll likely find they put off proposal responsibilities, if allowed.

Giving writers two or more weeks to produce first drafts, especially when the response window is tight, almost guarantees a last-minute crunch.

Schedule a Pink Team review

Rather than making Red Team the proposal leads’ first opportunity to evaluate early drafts, consider asking content developers to analyse their sections and produce a bullet point outline for review within a few days or up to two weeks after kickoff. This step, commonly referred to as a Pink Team review, does two things:

  • Gets writers thinking about their sections immediately after kick-off
  • Provides an indication of which writers can and will keep commitments

Maintain momentum by reviewing each writer’s outline when submitted. Involve the writer and evaluate for compliance, logical structure and use of win themes. Based on the results, either approve for drafting or request an improved outline.

Triage first drafts on receipt

Whether or not you include a bullet-point stage, assess drafts immediately on receipt to decide whether they meet minimum standards for inclusion in a combined draft. Evaluate against two standards:

  • Is the draft compliant—that is, does it answer the question(s)?
  • Is it substantially complete? (We consider 75% as substantially complete.)

Mark up and return drafts that fail this review for rework and escalate as appropriate. Energy spent trying to rework substandard content is better invested in improving already strong copy. Accepting weak drafts also trains writers to submit poor work.

Speed is critical

Notice our emphasis on turning around outlines and first drafts quickly. Time is always short in developing proposals, making it hard to regain lost momentum.

Even on large proposals, two or three editors typically edit all drafts from a dozen or more writers. Producing a clear, compelling submission that includes win themes and rich visualization takes time—which means those editors need to start with strong first drafts.

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