As a project manager, should you care about project proposals? Shouldn’t our focus be more on delivery than on sales?
Perhaps. But like it or not, at some point in your career as a project manager, you’re likely going to be asked to get involved in a project proposal. Maybe it’s so that you can create the proposed project plan and lead the estimation process. Maybe it’s a proposal for the next phase of your current project. Or maybe business development is just part of your job description anyway.
In this article
Why Are Project Proposals Important?
A proposal isn’t just about securing a new project. It’s about representing your team and your organization responsibly. Some will dismiss a business proposal as just “sales talk” — saying whatever you think needs to be said to win over a potential client.
But the reality is that a poorly executed proposal can cause reputational damage, create proposed approaches that have gaping holes, and even get your organization into terms that are detrimental to the business.
When done right, a successful proposal can unlock new and exciting work, help an organization grow, and make a positive contribution to culture and morale. Whether you work for a startup, a small business, or a massive enterprise, it’s important to have a solid process that finds the balance between being competitive and practicing due caution.
Why Should Project Managers Care About Project Proposals?
Whatever the circumstances, I’m of the opinion that there are many reasons that PMs should embrace being involved in proposal writing. Here are just a few:
1. You can shape the scopes versus inheriting them
Instead of always receiving a scope of work that you wished was shaped a bit differently, you can start influencing the project approach, pricing, methodology, time frame, and deliverables during the sales stage. There will always be a bit of compromise, but your voice can help guide the approach towards something you and your project team will be happy to execute.
2. You can help create more interesting work and better stability
By being involved in business development you can help your organization grow and realize its strategic vision by providing a perspective on what opportunities should be pursued as well as the potential risks. This can lead to more gratifying work that is a good fit for your team’s skills, which in turn can lead to better culture, retention, and stability.
3. You can build new relationships
In the process of creating a proposal, you will end up collaborating with team members within your organization that you may not regularly work within your day-to-day project context. This could include subject matter experts, your legal team, your marketing team, members of the leadership team, and other project stakeholders.
4. You can advance your career
Whether you work in a client services organization (like an agency or consultancy) or within an in-house team, being involved in building a case for new projects can differentiate you as someone who cares about keeping your organization relevant. That could keep you top of mind for other transformative projects and even different roles.
And my personal take:
I also personally think that it’s important for project managers to be involved in proposals simply because you all possess the skill set and the experience that can help keep the process grounded.
Creating a proposal is a project in and of itself with many puzzle pieces to keep organized and managed. As an example, a formal request for proposal (RFP) may have hundreds of mandatory, graded, and supplemental requirements to satisfy with comparatively little detail to go on.
When project managers are involved, I find that the elements of risk management, team management, and expectations management are kept front and center throughout, providing a sobering realism that drives smart decision making.
So even though it may currently be outside of your job description, I’d encourage you to proactively get involved in proposals if you’re interested in accelerating beyond your current role or even if you’re just looking for a new experience that will have a different kind of impact.
How To Get Involved In The Business Development Process
Okay, but what if you’re a PM who is not currently involved in the business development process? How do you get a seat at the table? As someone who has been in both roles, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Show Interest
Find the folks whose job it is to create proposals and ask about current and upcoming opportunities. Find out what they’re working on, what challenges they’re facing, and what the strategy is to continue moving forward in the current market conditions.
- Show value
Use that information to suggest ways that your project management skills could be put to use. Communicate how you see yourself being involved: do you have the ability to summarize and address a client’s problem and or the sponsor’s specific needs in a way that will help your proposal get approved? Do you have superhero abilities when it comes to storytelling and formatting a written document? Don’t make the team feel like they have to come up with a way to keep you busy (you’ll end up with an assortment of busy work!).
- Show up!
If your organization has a recurring meeting to review new opportunities or the sales pipeline, ask if you can sit in and be a fly on the wall. Take in the way things are done, and just be a physical (well, I guess virtual these days) reminder in the room that you’re interested and willing to help.
If that’s not possible in your organization, make sure your manager(s) or other decision-makers know that you’re interested in business development, using the same tactics as above — most teams would welcome the additional resources!
Tip: Learn how to write a project proposal in this companion article!
What do you think?
Should project managers get involved in business development and project proposals to land their next project? Or should project managers focus on the craft of delivery and excuse themselves from the sales process? Let me know in the comments!