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This chart shows competence and confidence for proposal management, to show hard it is for Proposal Writers.
The difficult job of being a Proposal Manager or Writer is often underestimated. Why? Because many business professionals do not have enough knowledge of proposal management to understand how hard it really is.

The Dunning-Kruger Chart is a widely adapted illustration of the dynamics between confidence and competence. Based on research reported in 1999*, this chart shows that confidence in one’s ability is inversely related to one’s competence. That is, the less you know, the more confident you are that you do. Nowhere is this principle truer than for Proposal Managers and Proposal Writers.

Climbing Mt Stupid

This image is a subset of the Dunning-Kruger chart. It shows the climb up Mt. Stupid but not down to indicate a problem Proposal Managrs experience.

Proposal managers, you know how this works. The RFP is a Go. Maybe your company was planning for it, maybe not. But now the clock is ticking. You put in the hard work of compliance matrixing, outlining, setting up templates, figuring out an optimal timeline, getting the documents out for review, setting up the question format, notifying the proposal team, and scheduling the kick-off meeting.

And that’s basically in week one.

At that point, your colleagues who are not proposal professionals start the climb to Mt. Stupid. It is the hilly assumption that you know more about proposals than your Proposal Manager. The premise is that managing proposals is no big deal. Basically, all it requires is Outlook and a Zoom link. In the Golden Days of Proposals (BC or Before COVID), Zoom wasn’t necessary because Outlook could schedule rooms AND send emails. The analogy of chasing crickets should be mentioned here. At Strategy Horizon Consulting, we’ve been there, done that, and have the hard-earned best practices to show it.

The Valley of Despair

Sometimes, though, your colleagues have to step behind the Wizard’s curtain of proposal management. The descent from Mt. Stupid to the Valley of Despair is short and harsh. The reality of this complex position is overwhelming. Juggling versions, hand-holding team members, monitoring for RFP amendments, coordinating team reviews, and adhering to a daunting timeline is just the day-to-day job of proposal managing. Until you do it, you don’t get it.

Enlightenment and Professionalism

For Proposal Managers, experience and training bring know-how and capability – competence begins to align with confidence. That is an “aha!” moment – akin to when you actually understand the cryptic lingo of federal RFPs, and know what Section M is and why you have to know it. You’ve reached the Slope of Enlightenment. That sense that you’ve got it, that you’re going to deliver a compliant, compelling proposal on time? Now you’re a Proposal Professional, maybe even Guru!

When we know, we get it.

Seriously, though, Proposal Managers

Here’s what the Dunning-Kruger Effect tells us: people who are unaware of the standards of competence for a task underestimate the difficulty of performing it. Without practice or training, it is easy for people outside the field of Proposal Management to assume it is far easier than it is. Anyone who ever managed a proposal knows this. Many of us have been there and learned the hard way – trial and error, late nights and weekends, work and rework. There lies burnout.

Proposal Managers often learn on the job – but what about others? How do we help executives, subject matter experts, and the rest of our colleagues understand what it takes to do our jobs?

The Time is Now. Here’s How

APMP’s 2021 Bid & Proposal Conference in Denver (BPC Denver) featured a landmark event: the announcement of certifications in Proposal Management and Proposal Writing, sponsored by Opportuni. For the first time, there will be standards of competence for these positions. The existence of external standards of competency means the industry can establish qualifications and performance requirements that build on certification.

For current professionals, this announcement is a watershed. For individuals new to the field, it is a game-changer: transforming recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement – and diversity.

Get ready, Proposal Managers, Proposal Writers. Your future is in sight.

*Kruger, JustinDunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology77 (6): 1121–1134. CiteSeerX 10626367.