A number of different skills are needed in the preparation of the proposal. Whether these skills are possessed by one person or by an organization, it is necessary to arrange for their availability and application to the proposal preparation process during the appropriate time phase of the proposal activity. The quality of the mix of skills types and the skill levels used to develop proposals has a great bearing on the overall credibility, accuracy, and completeness of the resulting proposal. The key generic skills used in proposal preparation follow, along with a description of the function they perform and an indication of the skill levels required for credibility and quality in proposal preparation.
Business and Finance Skills
Business and finance skills are an essential part of the proposal preparation process, particularly in the preparation of the cost volume. A knowledge of accounting procedures and techniques and an awareness of changing economics and business policies are needed. For example, a person with this knowledge will have a full appreciation of many of the “hidden costs” that must be covered by the cost proposal such as :
- Direct charges that are added to basic direct costs by “factoring”,
- Overhead cost,
- General and administrative costs,
- Profit or fee.
Since the purposes of bidding on a proposal and winning the contract are to make a profit, the cost volume must be constructed in a way that will do more than merely recover the costs of labor and materials. Business and finance skills are mandatory to understand these facets, so that all costs of the work output will be included in the cost volume, with sufficient allowance for profit.
Engineering and Technical Skills, and Skills of Functional Managers
Engineering and technical skills, acquired by actual on-the-job experience, are the basis for a sound, competitive, credible, and realistic proposal. A completed proposal must be based on practical knowledge of the work activity as well as on the theory of design of the work activity or work output. Although educational background and knowledge of theory are important, this theoritical knowledge must be suplemented by actual hands-on prior experience in producing a similar or identical work output; therefore, experts in the technical field required by the request for proposal must be available to the proposal team.
In addition to the technical experts, functional line managers should be made available to the proposal team on at least a part-time basis. These are the people who will be supervising the technical aspect of the work and who will be able to contribute realism and credibility to the technical approach as well as to the estimates of resources required to do the job.
Manufacturing and Assembly Skills
For work activities or work outputs that involve manufacturing and assembly operations, detailed knowledge of each manufacturing, assembly, test, and/or inspection function is essential. This detailed knowledge requires people who have had experience in manufacturing and assembly operations. The most valuable attribute of these individuals is their ability to originate and organize the manufacturing and assembly plan for the proposed work output and to plan the effort to eliminate gaps, overlaps, and duplications. Should the proposal involve production line operations, these skills are even more important. The most common fault in manufacturing plans is the omission of essential steps in the process. Simple steps such as receiving and unpacking raw materials or parts, inspection of incoming parts, in-process inspection, attaching labels and markings, and packaging and shipping of the final product are often inadvertently omitted. Team members skilled in manufacturing and assembly will assure proposal accuracy and credibility in these areas.
Part of any proposal team’s expertise must consist of abilities in the area of project management. A skilled and experienced project manager will be able to be correlate the need for workers, material, equipment, and systems with the proposed work output or work activity. The manager will be able to envision and plan the management tools, resources, and expertise required to effectively carry out the proposed job and will be able to effectively communicate the management control, schedule control, and cost control aspects of the job to the customer.
Mathematical, Statistical, and Data-Processing Skills
Higher mathematics, the application of statistics, and data-processing skills are not always required in the development of credible and supportable proposals, but in high-technology and multidisciplinary work activities and work outputs, these skills have become essential. Often, a design will not be fully developed and various matemathical or statistical techniques will be necessary to develop data for the technical and cost volumes. When new products are designed and new services are envisioned, it is always best to verify the performance and cost projections by use of mathematical and statistical techniques or computer simulations. Data-processing skills are also required for the creation of the proposal itself.
Production-Planning and Industrial Engineering Skills
Production-planning and industrial-engineering skills are closely related to the manufacturing and assembly skills mentioned earlier, but these skills are usually learned and applied at a higher organizational level. Where the manufacturing and assembly skills used in proposal preparation are derived from hands-on experience by workers or their immediate supervisors, production-planning and industrial engineering skills are acquired from an overall knowledge of the workload and work flow in an office, factory, or processing plant. Production-planning and industrial engineering skills are particularly important for work activities or work outputs that involves high rates or larges quantities of production. Knowledge of automation and labor-saving techniques in the shop, factory, or office become important in these applications.
Writing and Publishing Skills
Since the proposal is primarily a sales document, it must present the best possible picture of the proposing company. Writing style, contents, quality of graphic reproduction, even the choice of cover or binding may have an effect on the evaluating team. Individuals capable of writing and editing material while working under pressure are essential. It is necessary for the proposal team to have available a knowledge of the mechanics of the writing and publishing process, including expertise ini storyboarding, proposal layout and design, desktop publishing, reproduction, and binding.
In soliciting the skilled personnel required to work on proposals, the recruiter should remain the participants that the proposal preparation process is often regarded as an essential step in developing the careers of future project managers, business managers, and corporate management. Because an in-depth knowledge of the company and one or more of its products or service is developed during preparation of a proposal, proposal team participation has historically been a vital asset in the career path of future managers. Management usually puts its best people on proposals and therefore expects these best people to grow into positions of higher responsibility and authority.
(Stewart, Rodney D., and Ann L. Stewart, “Proposal Preparation”. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.)