How to Distinguish a Good Proposal from a Bad One (Checklist)

Crafting a strong proposal is like making a fine piece of art, albeit one which a company uses to convince customers to buy services from it. A proposal can be short but rich with meaning, or full of details but completely lacking in impact. Not all proposals are created equal…

There is no unified tool or solution that might help you as a customer tell the difference between a good proposal and a bad one. Proposals come in various formats and contents. Yet, there are certain things you want to pay attention to while reading any proposal.

In this article, we offer you two “checklists” you might want to use to make sure the proposal in front of you is a good one.

So, the first advice is so important it merits its own list:

  • Double check you have at least one techie on your review board!
    If you have an engineer who knows a lot about software development, project management, team leadership, etc., just have him or her review the proposal. That’s the best option to go with!

In case you don’t have that special someone by your side, you can use the second checklist. It by no means is comprehensive, but should be enough to make a sound judgment about the proposal quality in most cases:

  • Consistency
    A proposal’s information must be consistent across all document sections. There should be no instances of any kind of ambiguity or contradictions.
  • Marketing
    All marketing information in the proposal must be easily provable by:

    1. Internet resources and/or
    2. Certification organizations and/or
    3. Other public sources
  • Business models
    Feel the difference between Fixed Price (FP) and Time & Materials (T&M) models. If the proposal suggests a T&M model, it means that you will be handling most of the project risks by yourself. Search the proposal for sections like “Risks” or “Constraints” or “Assumptions” to see what problems you are most likely to face during project execution. An honest service supplier will always have such a section to make you aware of possible bottlenecks.
  • Schedule
    A good proposal will always come with some kind of a schedule inside. It can be a list of milestones, product releases, project phases, or even a detailed schedule like a Gantt Chart. Whatever the format, you should be able to get vital information from it regarding timing and content of delivery.
  • Project life cycle (PLC)
    Make sure that the PLC (if included in the proposal) makes sense – generally, a product must be analyzed, designed, constructed, verified/validated, deployed, and maintained. If some stage is missing, you must clearly understand why.
  • Methodologies
    Common sense applies to methodologies as well – if the proposal states that a product will be developed according to, for instance, SCRUM methodology but the entire proposal clearly describes a solution based on the Waterfall model, then you are being cheated… The would-be service provider is using fancy words just to convince you to buy from them.
  • Don’t buy a pig in a poke
    If you have no idea what a certain methodology is about, search the proposal for an explanation of what requirements that methodology entails you. If you are unable to satisfy them, then most likely your project will flow in an unpredictable way.
  • Project team
    A T&M-based proposal will definitely provide a project team structure. However, it shows a service provider’s good if they reveal team members for a Fixed Price project. If you see a team structure, even for an FP project, that can be a sign of a quality.
  • Technologies, tools, licenses
    All these things must be lined up in the proposal. Technologies require certain development tools to be used, which in turn can require a license to be obtained. The proposal must clearly state what tools are required for a project and who is responsible for their acquisition.
  • Cost, duration, etc.
    Cost must be accurate. For instance, if you see rates per hour for a T&M project, dust off your calculator to double check that a given project team with provided rates and project duration give you the total cost stated in the proposal. Cost structure must clearly state what is included and what is not. Double check that the total project duration is in accordance with a schedule provided.

In conclusion, whatever proposal you read, at the end you must clearly understand that it describes exactly what you are looking for, whether it’s a service or a market-ready product development.