The art and science of proposals writing
The aim of this paper is to provide some essential guidelines to the newcomer to the art and science of proposal writing. It is also hoped, however, that the experienced writer will also find a couple useful nuggets or will help to clearly articulate and reinforce what he/she was already intuitively practicing.
1. Decide whether this Request for Proposal (RFP) is for you
To write an effective proposal takes a lot of time and effort. This effort is typically concentrated over a period of two to three months. It is likely to drain the R&D resources affected to existing programs/projects for which management is expecting results. It is thus important to focus on an RFP where you have a reasonable chance of success.
2. Ensure full support of Senior Management
As mentioned in the above section, some projects are likely to suffer somewhat as key scientists are going to be involved in writing sections of the proposal. Equally compelling is the need for the proposed R&D project to be closely aligned to the current businesses of the organization and/or its strategic direction. For these reasons, you need to enlist full support of your organization Senior Management.
The choice of a partner can indeed have very strategic business implications. This may be the occasion to create a new business relationship or consolidate an existing one. Both "horizontal" partnerships (as in the case of fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies mentioned above) and "vertical" ones can be extremely powerful. In fact, if you are a potential supplier of a product or service, there is no more powerful way to sell it to a customer than co-developing the technology with him. Such a partnership in the context of a joint proposal can provide an ideal framework to this effect.
3. Choose your partners wisely
Government Agencies generally like to see partnerships. The choice of the partner(s) is really a key strategic decision. It can be a critical factor of success … or a fatal flaw. Once again, the management of your organization must be on board here as the choice of partners will probably have business implications in the future. The strength of the partners should complement yours. Let’s take the example where a solicitation requires the fabrication of a Membrane Electrode Assembly (for fuel cells) as a deliverable. If your company contribution is to develop breakthrough technology for membranes, it is essential to select partners that will bring electrocatalysts and assembly expertise. In other words, make sure that the team as a whole brings all the necessary core strengths to achieve the project goal.
Besides complementing your toolbox, it is also very important to acknowledge that synergies often occur at the interface: interface between scientists, between teams, between organizations, between cultures … Metaphorically, Mother Nature shows us the way: tons of interesting phenomena happen at the interface. In chemistry and physical chemistry they are embedded in many different concepts such as interfacial chemistry, adhesion, coatings, polymer alloys and blends, (nano) composites, emulsions, adsorption, heterogeneous catalysis, crystal growth, junction, corrosion/passivation, (nano) filtration, etc …etc … In biology, interface phenomena are equally ubiquitous and hide under such words as cell membranes, respiration, perspiration, elimination, digestion, etc … Similarly, in the context of a challenging RFP, the interactions between all the partners can be the life blood of the project … or the lack thereof will lead to a disjointed mosaic of individual efforts that do not significantly contribute to the whole.
There are additional and more subtle considerations in the selection of your partners. If your organization is large or medium-sized, it may be advisable to team up with a small company or an academic group. Universities and National Labs host also very sophisticated tools that you may need but that your organization does not have access to. Sometimes, solicitations will also suggest the use of partners located in different parts of the country.
If you are a staff in a smaller organization, it may be difficult to be the Proposal Leader for a large grant – unless you have some unique, enabling piece of technology that is central for the RFP. In any case, try to identify larger companies that could be interested and offer to participate as a subcontractor. Small organizations can also pursue other types of grants such as from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs or the Small Business Vouchers Program.
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The mechanics of the proposal
1. Assign a team to write the proposal
The Proposal Manager is the orchestra conductor. He/she has authority – delegated from upper management – to engage
2. Read very carefully the text of the solicitation
This point cannot be overemphasized. The Proposal Manager and his/her team must immerse themselves in the text of the
The heart of the matter
1. Technical Plan: rigor, facts and truth
Of course, the technical plan or technical narrative is the meat of the proposal. It is essential for the Proposal Manager and
2. Impact, impact, impact
Impact is to a proposal what location is to real estate: it is what will determine the bulk of its value. In the end, your proposal
3. The final touch
Recheck the proposal again and again for form, substance and consistency. Try to involve fresh eyes as well. If you have the
4. Executive Summary
The executive summary (which is sometimes labelled project summary or abstract) is actually a very important document too
Filing the proposal
Give yourself plenty of time to file your application
Make yourself very familiar with the filing procedure early on. You do not want to wait for the last minute and find out that the
You now have filed a very solid, convincing proposal. You and your team have poured your heart and soul into it. It is now the