Communities and businesses are looking for ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, so most people are working from home. Despite these workplace changes, RFPs are still being released and proposals are still being written.
What this means is some people will be managing or participating in a virtual team for the first time. Working with a virtual team may sound intimidating, but most best practices remain the same. One best practice for a successful proposal is holding an effective proposal kickoff meeting.
Whether you are working as a proposal manager, proposal writer, subject matter expert, or other contributor, understanding best practices for a virtual kickoff meeting can help boost productivity during proposal development.
Virtual Kickoff Meeting Objectives
One of the most important objectives of any kickoff meeting is to start proposal efforts. A kickoff meeting held in person or virtually should get everyone on the same page about the opportunity. Invite the sales or capture manager to the meeting to brief the proposal team on the customer’s wants, needs, and hot button issues. Knowing the issues most important to the customer before writing a proposal encourages customer-focused writing and a more effective proposal.
Consider reaching out to kickoff meeting participants before the meeting to gather any questions they have. If multiple people have the same question about the opportunity, the proposal manager should address the question in detail during the meeting. Asking for questions prior to the kickoff meeting saves time during the meeting. Since working from home often comes with additional distractions, keeping meetings short should be a priority.
While the previous objectives apply to all kickoff meetings, proposal managers should also make sure everyone on a virtual team has the tools they need. Does everyone have access to the chosen collaboration software? Does the team understand the file and folder structure for boilerplate or other essential materials? Include relevant information on proposal writing tools in the writers’ packages.
A kickoff meeting should set the precedence for operating as a unified team. However, the proposal manager should still plan activities throughout the schedule to connect with the entire team. Virtual work of any kind can be isolating. When different proposal sections are written by different authors in isolation, the final product is not cohesive. Hold short, daily stand-up meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page, understands the customer, and can create a coherent proposal.
Weaknesses of Virtual Proposal Kickoffs
While working from home has its benefits—like a more relaxed dress code—there are some additional difficulties to developing proposals in an entirely virtual environment. Often, there is no defined process for preparing a proposal virtually. Especially with companies mitigating a pandemic like COVID-19, you may have quickly been transitioned to virtual work without much, if any, training. If you are the proposal manager, define the process during the kickoff meeting. Include information in the kickoff package that clearly defines lines of authority, the schedule, and any ground rules. Defining the process during the kickoff meeting prepares proposal contributors and can help ease any worries for potential first-timers.
Another potential drawback of virtual proposal management is that there can be little consequence for late task completion. A best practice that combats this is overcommunicating the schedule. Along with regular stand-up meetings, email the proposal schedule each week with progress details for each person or department. Communicating the schedule to the entire team can pressure members behind schedule to catch up. Doing this also gives team members no excuses for late work because the schedule has been made explicitly clear.
Some may argue that nothing beats face-to-face communication, but there are ways to make virtual teams work. An effective proposal begins with effective kickoff meeting. Best practices like providing necessary tools and overcommunicating the schedule will help create a unified team ready to create a winning proposal.