How to write a winning project proposal

Korneliusz Caputa
October 02, 2020

We like delivering projects, but before we can even start, a project needs funding. That’s where you come in. As with any sales pitch, people buy people. Writing a project proposal is about creating compelling content that will convince your management that your proposal can benefit the business, but selling a project proposal is about creating relationships with possible sponsors and champions internally to give your project a fighting chance.

Actively seek out feedback from decision makers, the company’s future is at stake.

You can write the best project proposal possible, but without people interaction you have a slim to none chance of getting funded. Get a hold of appropriate stakeholders and decision-makers as you will need their ear. Use any appropriate one-to-one sessions to discuss their opinions and further your understanding of the problems within your organisation, and discover which aspects of your proposal strike a chord with decision makers. Your superiors will be able to guide you in the right direction and help you refine your pitch.

Whilst it's great to chat about solutions and ideas; stakeholders and decision-makers will require considered arguments (in the form of your proposal) to point towards if they’re going to vote in your favour.

The basic structure of a project proposal

There are best practices on structuring project proposals and usually you shouldn’t diverge too much from them (unless you really know what you’re doing). You’d commonly disseminate your proposal in the following order

  • Problem Statement
  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Deliverables
  • Success Criteria
  • Plan, Schedules & Approach
  • Cost & Budget

We’ll elaborate on each below.

Problem Statement

You need to grab attention in the first 5 minutes of your proposal. Your proposal needs to paint a bleak picture of the company because of the problems in its organization - problems that could have been overcome with the suggested cures in your proposal. Highlight specific examples of where trouble would have already been averted if your solution had been deployed, or missed opportunities. Add useful data to your research and use facts and figures to back up your submission.

General efficiency gains usually don’t strike a chord in decision makers - use specific examples.

For example, an analyst may be spending two days a week compiling a report based on surveys collected by personnel in the field. The report in turn would be used by leadership for strategic company decisions. Because of the human element, it may contain errors, cost valuable time of highly paid experts, but most importantly delay decision making. One could draw attention to cases in the past where the lack of timely and accurate data caused the company to act too late.

Vision

You need to tie in your project into the vision and the long term strategy of the company. Without tying into the organizational strategy you could be seen as a rogue - and not get funding because of that reason.

For example if an overarching goal for the following quarters is breaking into the US market, make sure your project is aligned with these goals.

Benefits

You’ll go into detail about the new capabilities your projects will deliver, the costs that it enables the company to avoid. Be very specific and make sure they are things that are measurable.

For example, a benefit could be having instantly generated reports of the current state of the market instead of having a week old data available at best.

Deliverables

Here you go into the actual artifacts that will be delivered, which could e.g. be mobile or web applications, and what the users can expect from these.

For example a survey web application, an outreach campaign to reach and activate respondents, and a data architecture which correlates survey results with real time analytical data and lets your decision makers view a live report at the press of a button.

Success Criteria

You should define your success criteria as SMART goals, which means a goal should be

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic, and
  • Time bound

These criteria will tell the decision makers whether or not the project achieved success after delivery.

For example double the amount of survey respondents from 1000 to 2000 before the end of next quarter.

Plan, Schedules & Approach

Here you’ll go into detail about how you plan to achieve it all. Are you going to use internal staff? Will you use an external agency? Are you delivering using an agile approach, leaving some parts of the deliverables open ended?

For example, your plan may be to start next quarter, continuing for 6 months, using an external agency that will utilize an agile methodology to create the needed deliverables, and use internal staff for operations as it rolls into production.

Cost & Budget

Here you lay out the funding plan for your project. How it will achieve its deadlines and deliverables based on the euros invested. Provide as much information as possible to show that you have considered and researched every avenue. Make sure to include human resources and salaries, supplies and the tools that you need to make this a success. Breaking down the costs by deliverable or business process gives the decision maker insight into how parts of the project contribute to the cost.

Executive Summary

If you find that your proposal goes on for many pages, you should lead with an executive summary that communicates the most important points above in less than a few minutes. Depending on your organization, decision makers have limited amounts of time to consider various proposals. They will not have confidence in someone who can’t get their point across efficiently.

Tell a story

Your proposal should flow like a well made work of fiction. Once you manage to get the decision maker’s attention you need to keep it to the end, so that they remember your compelling content. Leave no stone unturned which will make them question the validity of your proposal. Make sure it’s all logical for the reader, that everything can be tied back to the initial problem statement.

Proposals do not sell themselves

Remember your proposal is only one of the components in selling your project. You need to be actively lobbying for it internally together with your champions and sponsors to get it off the ground and resourced.

Good luck from us at Makers Den; we hope you found this to be useful and helps you get your project funded.

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