The Lean approach to proposal production: Can you turn 300 hours of work into 60 hours of productivity?

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Image from the Communication Resources Northwest website

Meg Winch of Communication Resources Northwest writes in the latest Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Marketer Magazine a powerful story about how her practice has managed to dramatically curtail waste and frustration in proposal presentations by applying Lean principles.

The Lean concept, which has caught the attention of contractors seeking to improve their efficiency (and therefore profitability) has usually been associated with job sites — but what happens when you look closely at processes, break them down, and then measure things carefully — for proposal production?

We delivered a client’s proposal this summer that too more than 300 hours; with our revised process, we delivered a similar proposal with complex requirements under 10 hours. We’ve now set a new target of 60 hours.  While difficult proposals will certainly take somewhat longer and simple documents will take les, this is a solid metric for our team to use to evaluate our performance and to continually improve?

So how does the process work?

The first stage is to carefully review the proposal’s requirements, to ensure that everything required is included, and what is not required is not.

Then you look at your processes and inefficiencies. She suggests problems she found include:

Transportation: Unnecessary movement of people and equipment;

Inventory: Unneeded and unused materials or work in progress;

Movement: The movement of people in ways that doesn’t add value to the project;

Waiting: People waiting for work to get to them, resulting in starts and stops that reduce both productivity and morale;

Over-Processing: Doing too much work in too many steps to get the desired outcome;

Over-production: Producing more than what is really needed;

Defects: Mistakes and errors;

Skills:  Misuse of talent, or not using skilled professionals to their highest and best use.

She cites some examples for each category — I won’t go into all of them here, but they included changes such as reviewing the work area so that essential equipment and resources were at hand and didn’t require a lot of walking around in the office, and ensuring information was provided by technical specialists on templated Word documents and not assembled into the final version until it was properly vetted.

She wrote:

So here’s the call to action. Stop. Review how your team is performing work. Map it out. Look for the wastes, identify them, and understand why they exist. Be willing to change anything and everything. Start small, but think large: make incremental changes that will have a big impact on the work and on the people who do the work.

It’s solid advice — and it suggests that businesses should consider sending their marketing professionals as well as site project managers for some Lean instruction.

Winch will be speaking at the annual SMPS Build Business conference, this year in Indianapolis, on July 13 at 3 p.m. with the topic: Doing More with Less: Leaning your BD and Marketing Processes.

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