Managing structure (ATOC)

Once you completely understand the RFP, decide how you will structure your proposal. Depending on the RFP, the structure may be self-evident, or you may have to infer it.

If the RFP:

  • Specifies a structure, follow it exactly, using the same numbering system as in the RFP
  • Implies a structure—for example by posing a set of questions—follow that structure, using the question numbers to number your sections
  • Includes a scoring breakdown, use that breakdown to structure your proposal

We’ve seen all of the above, plus examples of no guidance and RFPs containing separate overlapping versions of the required information. If unclear, consider using the process specified in the RFP to ask the issuer for guidance. Many bidders are reluctant to ask questions, but issuers tell us it shows engagement and interest in winning their business.

Where the RFP is vague or contains conflicting content information, make it easy for evaluators by including a compliance table that cross-references RFP paragraph numbers to of the corresponding response locations in the proposal. We’ll discuss compliance matrices later this month.

Building an ATOC

Document your proposal structure using an Excel worksheet formatted into an annotated table of contents (ATOC). Assign columns as follows:


Begin with a series of columns to capture the proposal breakdown as follows:

  • Book no. (if a multi-volume submission)
  • Section no.
  • Subsection no.
  • Title
  • RFP page and paragraph nos.
  • Points allocated by section or subsection (if in the RFP)
  • Pages allocated and format (8.5 x 11 or 11 x 17)

Use as many rows as needed to enable assignment and tracking of all content items. For example, if the RFP requires resumes for key individuals, provide a row for each key individual resume, since each will need to be managed as a separate item.


Next, use as many columns as needed to capture content responsibilities and key deliverables milestones based on the schedule, as in the example below:

  • Section lead (person responsible for writers and SMEs)
  • Writer assigned
  • Subject matter expert (SME)
  • Deliverables milestones, e.g.
  • Content outline provided
  • Initial Draft Received
  • Initial Draft Commented
  • Initial Draft Returned
  • Substantial Draft Received
  • Etc.


  • Set headers for narrow columns vertically to save screen space
  • For large ATOCs, use Excel’s group and outline tools to collapse rows and columns, to avoid distracting users with unnecessary detail

Populating the ATOC

Use your analysis of the RFP to populate rows corresponding to the content columns. Assign additional rows to covers, tabs, forms and appendices to enable tracking of all requirements and responsibilities.

Complete the content management rows with the names of the individuals responsible for sections and subsections. Use a separate worksheet to capture team members’ contact information (be sure to include mobile numbers).

If the deliverables milestones are consistent across all sections (typical for small proposals), enter the scheduled dates in the first row below the corresponding column heads.

Manage as a living document

Complex2Clear teams use this tool for all proposals, including those with thousands of pages and hundreds of team members. We update it in real time and screen share all or part of it as part of our daily internal meetings and weekly client management calls.

The ATOC is as powerful as your commitment to managing it. Build your management process around it to enjoy no-surprises proposal efforts.

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