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Agile Methodology in Proposal Development

By Anna Gault Galjan


ACCORDING TO THE LATEST census data, 5.134 million businesses with up to 20 workers exist in the United States. 1 As nuclei for invention and growth, small businesses have long been recognized by APMP as likely to benefit from the early adoption of best practices in proposal development as part of a sound business plan. 2

However, current accepted procedures in proposal management, such as Shipley, continue to emphasize a multi-resourced, single linear time- line involving a storyboard phase, a first written draft, initial review, second draft, follow-up review (red team), recovery phase, production, and submission. Similar to the “waterfall” methodology in software development, each phase is ideally encountered once, with no back- tracking or repeat, with the objective of building upon the quality of the previous proposal draft. Those 5.134 million small businesses can buckle under the strain of taking a significant portion of their resources from operations to develop a competitive proposal using this method.

Agile development, adopted from the Agile software development methodology created in 2001, presents a more adaptive approach, emphasizing continuous improvement and flexible response to change, with practices that focus on the product needs with an iterative approach.

The applicability of an Agile development approach to proposal management has been explored within the APMP body, 3 but those discussions have tended to favor large businesses in their (1) focus on product improvement through increased collaboration, synergy, and cross-functional teams; and (2) treatment of the process—RFP receipt through proposal submission—as one development cycle, known in Agile as a sprint . These key Agile components continue to elude very small businesses, who lack the large teams necessary to cover the various roles required to successfully implement these elements under Agile. Simply put, and using Agile terminology, the product owner (customer representative), scrum master (proposal manager), writer, and graphic artist are too often all the same person.

Not all opportunities demand the resourcing that a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract proposal requires, and smaller opportunities evaluated on best value are of no lesser importance to many small businesses. Within this framework, and with one experienced and knowledgeable writer, there are elements under Agile that can prove powerful to the very small business, still offering the iterative and adaptive approach but better harnessing the limited skilled resources avail- able. Central to these is the Scrum Sprint, a repeatable work cycle that resolves into a finished product. The Scrum Sprint can be adapted to any length under one month and can be extremely effective for smaller tasks within a one-week time frame.

Consider the example of a month-long proposal cycle, where the RFP requires the technical volume to contain a technical approach, corporate experience, and a management plan with accompanying resumes. Using a standard Scrum Sprint model, 4 the writer first determines whether all tasks can be completed within one week. If so, the writer completes planning within eight hours, performs an initial outreach to resources within the company to gather information, drafts the proposal section, relinquishes the draft for review, and completes the recovery based on reviewer feedback. (Handoffs and additional development phases are discouraged within Agile, to keep the timeline short.) There should be an opportunity for a daily scrum or standup, where technical resources are available for one 15-minute meeting every day to answer any questions that the developer may have and to allow the writer to report progress. The final version of the proposal section is completed in five days, and once that section s done, the writer moves on to the next section, to meet the next dead - line within five days.

This process requires flexibility in the available team, since the writer must access various workers to gather information at four different points within the one-month cycle. The process also requires the reviewers to be available at four different points, but this type of flexibility is often more realistic for brief periods for a very small business. The many advantages of this approach for a small-business proposal include:

  • Rapid convergence of finalized products.
  • Higher quality of writing by an experienced proposal writer.
  • Uniformity of writing.
  • Concurrence of facts through - out the proposal Centrally maintained under - standing of specific technical proposal details.
  • Centrally maintained under - standing of adjustments to the technical solution, in the case of either amendments or changes to technical approach.
  • Reduction in resources diverted from operations.
  • Reduction in reviewer feedback too late into the proposal cycle.

The very small businesses who cannot incorporate all elements of Shipley deserve their own set of best practices in proposal development, and Agile presents a number of scalable, flexible solutions for best-value bids.

  1. U.S. Census Bureau, 2012.
  2. Mitch Reed. Proposal Best Practices: Fitting Best Practices into an ISO/Capability Maturity Model (CMM) Infrastructure, May 28, 2007; Neil Cobb & Charlie Divine. Writing Business Bids & Proposals for Dummies, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.
  3. Maryann Lesnick, APMP-NCA Mid-Atlantic Conference, 2014; Wendy Freiman, APMP Journal , Spring/Summer 2009.
  4. Kenneth Rubin. Essential Scrum, NJ: Pearson, 2013.

Anna Gault Galjan is the founder of AGG Consulting LLC. She can be reached at 860- 712-7276 or

APMP Journal Volume V Issue 2

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