“The project economy has arrived,” claims the Harvard Business Review, as organizations around the world increasingly adopt project-based operational strategies. The efficiency models that flourished during the 20th century have flatlined in terms of the growth they provide. Now, businesses are witnessing better immediate performance and greater value over time by establishing projects that improve product development times, shorten timeframes for tech adoption and revamp organizational processes.

One of the most important parts of any project is the beginning: the project proposal. In a world of businesses run by projects, one of the most beneficial skills you can have is the ability to create a winning project proposal.

Table of Contents

  • What Is a Project Proposal?
  • Project Proposal Breakdown
  • Tips for Creating a Successful Project Proposal

What Is a Project Proposal?

A project proposal is a document summarizing all the essential information about a project in a way that appeals to and earns the support of stakeholders. It should provide a comprehensive overview of how the project will best be completed, adequately covering:

  • Goals/objectives
  • Budget
  • Timeline
  • Necessary resources

Project proposals, sometimes referred to as business proposals, are distinct from business plans. Proposals account for a single project or a set of related projects, while business plans cover the entirety of an organization’s strategy and vision.

The content of a project proposal varies depending on its type. Your proposal may be a response to a client request, a solicitation of new business or an updated scope of services.

Types of Project Proposals
Solicited Sent in response to a client’s request for proposal (RFP), a document outlining the scope of the project. Clients will solicit multiple proposals and select the one that aligns best with their organization and its goals.
Unsolicited Sent to a current or potential client without an RFP. In this case, you’ve identified a way your team can add value to the client, and you may be the only organization submitting a proposal.
Informal Sent in response to an informal request from a client. Without a traditional RFP, the scope of the project may be flexible or undetermined.
Renewal Sent pre-emptively to clients to renew or extend their contract with your team.
Continuation Sent periodically to keep stakeholders informed of the project’s progress. These proposals are more informative than persuasive.
Supplemental Sent to request additional resources from stakeholders after the project has begun.

Project Proposal Breakdown

There’s no consensus on the exact number of sections within a project proposal or the terminology used. Industry organization and PM software recommend anywhere from four to six sections. Regardless of how many sections your proposal has in the end, it should contain the following information:

  • An executive summary of the proposal.
  • The project background, which assesses the current situation and the reasoning for the project.
  • A brief but detailed explanation of your proposed project.
  • A list of deliverables.
  • Success metrics or KPIs.
  • A schedule or project timeline.
  • Resources you’ll need from the client, including budget and potential subcontractors.
  • A conclusion.

Creating a Successful Project Proposal

With the basics covered, let’s look at three tips that can bring your proposal to the next level.

1. Keep Things Organized

The sections of a project proposal can technically appear in any order, but it’s always best to follow the order of the RFP. This is a best practice that conveys attentiveness and attention to detail to your client.

If you don’t have an RFP, begin with the executive summary. As you organize the rest of your proposal, consider what makes the most logical sense. Is it a good idea to present success metrics before your plan? Perhaps, if you believe these metrics will be very compelling and viewing them first will appeal to your client. Always consider your audience when creating a proposal.

Additionally, it’s smart to keep resource requests toward the end. Use the earlier sections to sell your idea as best you can. Proving your value early can get stakeholders excited about your ideas and increase the likelihood that they will accommodate your requests.

2. Maintain Professionalism

A project proposal is like a sales pitch. Your ultimate goal is to get the client to choose your idea over all other options. As such, you want to sell yourself without overpromising.

Be clear and specific about your plans so that the client can quickly grasp your ideas. Mistakes and ambiguity can compromise your credibility with stakeholders: so make sure that your content is thoroughly researched and your statements and figures are accurate.

Providing success metrics or case studies from other clients can be risky. Some clients will appreciate proof of your skills, while others reject proposals that deviate from the project at hand. If you do choose to include such details, a brief sentence or graphic illustration will do.

3. Tailor the Proposal to Your Audience

Understanding your audience is key to creating a compelling proposal. Research the industry to understand what concerns they may have, their advantages over their competition and the market factors guiding their decisions. With this information, you can better tailor your plan to the client’s overall goals — and perhaps include benefits they hadn’t considered.

If you’re creating a solicited proposal, address everything in the RFP as succinctly and coherently as possible. The client has told you exactly what they’re looking for, and ignoring part of their request costs you credibility.

On that point, make sure the tone you use matches your audience as well. A government agency, for example, may not appreciate a casually written proposal, but a tech start-up might.

Following Through on Your proposal

A well-crafted proposal and a successful bid are just the beginning of your work. Once you secure the project, your next step is to ensure its successful execution with your certified project management skills.

Purdue University’s Online Project Management Series

Professionals who participate in Purdue University’s online project management essentials course can gain a wealth of field knowledge, solid foundational skills and exceedingly effective preparation for the PMP exam in order to obtain a project management certificate. Course materials and activities align closely with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) to help students retain project management knowledge and apply it to their current projects.

Project Management Essentials
This 100% online, instructor-led course runs for eight weeks and allows working professionals to gain familiarity with basic project management concepts and terms. Students are empowered to begin effectively applying their newly acquired knowledge and skills to current projects and earn project management hours that can help qualify them to take the PMP exam. Experienced PME instructors engage students in a stimulating range of learning activities including directed study of the PMBOK® Guide; participation in online threaded discussion forums; viewing recorded lecture videos; taking quizzes and self-tests; and completing written assignments. They also participate in online discussions and welcome the opportunity to coach interested students on an individual basis via email or scheduled phone appointment.

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