Chapter 8 – Role of Communication

8.4. Written Communication: Requests for Proposals and Proposals

Requests for Proposals and Proposals

As a project manager, you might be responsible for writing  Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for your organization’s projects, or proposals in response to RFPs publicized by other organizations. You might also be responsible for drafting parts of a contract such as language describing the scope of work. At the very least, you will need to be conversant enough with contract terminology so that you can ensure that a contract proposed by your organization’s legal department adequately translates the project requirements into legal obligations. Whatever form they take, to be useful, RFPs, proposals, and contracts must be specific enough to define expectations for the project, yet flexible enough to allow for the inevitable learning that occurs as the project unfolds in the uncertain, living order of the modern world. All three types of documents are forms of communication that express a shared understanding of project success, with the level of detail increasing from the RFP stage to the contract.

How To Write a Request for Proposal:

  1. Explain the project (scope) and the needs and opportunities of the project
  2. Write an introduction to the RFP
  3. Define the Mission, Vision, Values of the company, supply a brief history of the organization
  4. Define the requirements of the project
  5. Discuss how the potential contractor is to respond to the request
  6. Explain how the organization will go about selecting the winning candidate
  7. Outline the timelines of the project
  8. Edit and revise as necessary

Throughout the proposal and contract stages, it’s essential to be clear about your specific expectations regarding:

  • Deliverables
  • Schedule
  • Expected level of expertise
  • Price
  • Expected quality
  • Capacity
  • Expected length of relationship (short- or long-term)

Take care to spell out:

  • Performance requirements
  • Basis for payment
  • Process for approving and pricing changes to the project plan
  • Requirements for monitoring and reporting on the project’s health

How to Write a Proposal

At minimum, a proposal should include:

Table of Contents:  Organized well for easy flow and easy access.
Executive Summary: A brief summary of the project Who? What? When? Where? Why? Costs?
Business Objective:  The result that the proposal wishes to achieve, and/or the organization through the project
Business Need/Opportunity:  What opportunities are there for the company?  Why are you completing this project?
Product Description: Describe the product/service that will be produced or completed
Scope: At the proposal stage, assume you can only define about 80% of the scope. As you proceed through the project, you’ll learn more about it and be better able to define the last 20%.
Schedule: You don’t necessarily need to commit to a specific number of days at the proposal stage, but you should convey a general understanding of the overall commitment, and whether the schedule is mission-critical. In many projects, the schedule can turn out to be somewhat arbitrary, or at least allow for more variability than you might be led to believe at first.  You may use a Gantt Chart as a visual display of the scheduling; or a Network Diagram.  The Gantt Chart would be a result of developing a Work Breakdown Structure first.  Milestones would be included as well to show end dates of events.
Risk Management Plan:  To build confidence that if a risk event happens, you are well prepared to deal with it through a contingency plan.
Deliverables: Make it clear that you have some sense of what you are committing to, but only provide as many details as necessary.
Cost/Resources/Budget: Again, make clear that you understand the general picture, and provide only as many specifics as are helpful at the proposal stage. This builds confidence in the approval process.
Terms: Every proposal needs a set of payment terms, so it’s clear when payments are due. Unless you include “net 30” or “net 60” to a proposal, you could find yourself in a situation in which customers refuse to part with their cash until the project is complete.
Clarifications and Exclusions: No proposal is perfect, so every proposal needs something that speaks to the specific uncertainty associated with that particular proposal. Take care to write this part of a proposal in a customer-friendly way and avoid predatory clarifications and exclusions. For example, you might include something like this: “We’ve done our best to write a complete proposal, but we have incomplete knowledge of the project at this point. We anticipate working together to clarify the following issues”—and then conclude with a list of issues.
Roles and Responsibilities: Define and explain the roles of team members and Project Manager.  Outline briefly each role with a short job description.
Authorization:  Ensure there is a place for the Project Sponsor to sign with name and title for approval.

If you are on the receiving end of a proposal, remember a potential supplier probably has far more experience than you do in its particular line of business. Keep the lines of communication open and engage with suppliers to use their expertise to help refine deliverables and other project details.

Assessing New Communication Technologies

New technologies for communicating electronically appear with increasing frequency. Using a new technology that is unfamiliar to the team increases the technical complexity, which can cause delays and increase costs. To decide if a new technology should be included in a communications plan, seek answers to the following questions:

  • Does the new communication technology provide a competitive advantage for the project by reducing cost, saving time, or preventing mistakes?
  • Does the project team have the expertise to learn the new technology quickly?
  • Does the company offer support such as a help desk and equipment service for new communication technology?
  • What is the cost of training and implementation in terms of time as well as money?

Communication Plan Template

So how do you create a communication plan?

  1. Identify your stakeholders (to whom).
  2. Identify stakeholder expectations (why).
  3. Identify communication necessary to satisfy stakeholder expectations and keep them informed (what).
  4. Identify time-frame and/or frequency of communication messages (when).
  5. Identify how the message will be communicated (the stakeholder’s preferred method) (how).
  6. Identify who will communication each message (who).
  7. Document items – templates, formats, or documents the project must use for communicating.

Table: Simple Communication Matrix

Title Scope Statement Work Breakdown Structure Budget Quality Change Management Procedures Change Approvals
Project Chartering Committee Y
Client Representative Y Y Y Y Y Y
Project Manager Y Y Y Y Y
Technology Team Y Y
Finance Team Y Y
Schedule Coordination Team Y Y Y

Adapted from “Simple Communication Matrix” in Project Management for Instructional Designers by Wiley, et al. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

HR in Focus: Human Resources and RFP and Proposals

Human Resources Specialists may collaborate with Project Managers and other stakeholders prior to writing RFP and Proposals.  If a background in writing, HR Specialist can share ideas and steps in writing.  They would first work with or discuss the content of the RFP or Proposal to understand the content, vision, need and outcomes.  HR may offer a workshop to facilitate the writing of the RFP or Proposal for the stakeholders to hone their understanding of the project, and be able to clearly communicate the worthiness of the RFP or Proposal.  HR may polish the proposal by incorporating the content required, adding mission, vision and values of the organization, adding cover pages and logo, use colour, and check for grammar and spelling. Format and readability are important to a professional RFP or proposal.

As well, HR may offer courses to Project Managers on writing a RFP or Proposals.  They could teach Project Managers how to align their outcomes with the client’s motivation for the project, provide tools and resources on writing,  brainstorm for ideas about projects, and write a RFP or Proposal that is competitive.