How to Create a Project Proposal

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A project proposal outlines your project’s core value proposition. It sells value to both internal and external stakeholders. The intent of the proposal is to grab stakeholder and project sponsor attention. Once you have people’s attention, the next step is getting them excited about the project.

Getting in the heads of the people you are writing the proposal for is vital: you need to think like the project’s stakeholders to deliver a proposal which meets their needs.

We have created a free project proposal template to help structure documents, so you don’t have to remember the process each time.

Questions to Consider When Writing a Project Proposal

There are several key operational and strategic questions to consider, including:

  • Triple Constraint: How can we address the triple constraint of scope, schedule and cost?
  • Core Problem: What is the core problem we’re trying to solve?
  • Resources: What resources will be available?
  • Timeline: What timeline are we working within?
  • Budget: What budget do we have to work with? How does this affect our goal setting?
  • Strategic Goals: What are the strategic goals of our client, and how does our proposal align with those goals?
  • Responsible Parties: Who are the people responsible for the project? What are their goals and motivations?
  • Client Benefit: How will the client benefit from the completion of our project? What is their primary goal?
  • Project Deliverables & Success: How will success of the project be measured? What deliverables do our stakeholders expect to see at closure?

All project proposals have six elements which construct the proposal’s foundation. Let’s take a look at those next.

Project Proposal Elements

These six elements are the foundation of a well-constructed project proposal:

  1. Executive Summary: The executive summary captures the attention of your audience. The goal is to get them excited about the project you’re proposing. It’s essentially the “elevator pitch” for the project. It should be short and to the point. The summary should be descriptive, and paint a picture of what success looks like for the client. Most importantly, it should motivate the client; after all, the goal is getting them to sign on the dotted line to get the project moving!
  2. History: The history section outlines previously successful projects. It also outlines those that could have run more smoothly. By doing so, this section establishes precedents. Namely, how the next project can be more effective using information from previous projects.
  3. Requirements: Requirements are the items, materials and resources needed for the project. This section should cover both internal and external needs.
  4. Solution: The solution section addresses how your project will solve the client’s problem. Accordingly, this section includes any project management techniques, skills and procedures your team will use to work efficiently.
  5. Authorization: This section covers who the decision-makers are on the project team. It also covers which stakeholders have sign-off authority on the client’s side.
  6. Appendix: Information not included in the project proposal is part of the appendix. It’s where many of the more interesting details of a project are located. Also, it’s where team members and stakeholders can do a deep dive to learn more.

Project Proposal Format & Best Practices

When building your project proposal, you should contain a cover letter, table of contents, executive summary, description of the project (including background and objective), the project plan, who is involved and in what capacity, where the project will take place, how it will be monitored, the budget proposal and then other attachments.

Types of Project Proposals

In terms of types of proposals, you can have one that is formally or informally solicited (made in response to a request), unsolicited (like a cold call attempt to gain the project) or a continuation (continuing one already approved). There can also be renewal proposals (after completion you argue for continued support) or supplemental (such as asking for extra resources).

Project Proposal Tips

Whatever proposal you’re working on, there are a few tips that apply as best practices for all. While above we suggested a format for your project proposal that would have a table of contents, meaning it would be many pages long, the best-case scenario is keeping the proposal to one or two pages max. Remember, you’re trying to win over stakeholders, not bore them.

Speaking of stakeholders, do the research. You want to address the right ones. There’s no point in doing all the work necessary to write a great proposal only to have it directed to the wrong people. Whoever is going to read it, though, they should be able to comprehend the proposal. Keep the language simple and direct.

When it comes to writing, get a professional. Even a business document like a proposal will suffer if it’s poorly constructed, has typos or impenetrable. If you don’t want to hire a professional business writer, make sure you get someone on your team to copy edit and proof the document. The more eyes on it, the less likely mistakes will make it to the final edition.

While you want to keep the proposal short and sweet, it helps to sweeten the pot by adding customer testimonials to the attachments. Nothing sells a project better than a customer base looking for your product or service.

Using Kanban Boards to Plan a Project Proposal

ProjectManager.com allows you to plan proposals within our software. You can update tasks for the project proposal to signify where things stand, and what’s left to be done. The columns allow you to organize your proposal by section, creating a work breakdown structure of sorts.

Follow along with this video to methodically go through all the steps of your proposal, ensuring that every detail is covered. After watching, read on to review the key aspects.

Project management training video (cjzo4isnkp)

When building a project proposal, it’s vital to remember your target audience. Your audience includes those who are excited about the project, and see completion as a gain for their organization. Conversely, others in your audience will see the project as a pain, and something to which they aren’t looking forward. To keep both parties satisfied, it’s essential to keep language factual and concise.

Our kanban boards help you think through that language and collaborate on it effectively with other team members, if necessary. Each card shows the percentage completed so everyone is aware of the work done, and what’s left to be done.

Example Project Proposal Kanban Board

As you can see from the board above, work has begun on the Executive Summary. The Introduction, Table of Contents and Company Role sections are completed, and there’s a good start on the Explain the Problem and Recommend a Solution tasks.

The screenshot below shows how you can add files to a card, and leave a comment about the file that was added. In this case Eric Rosario added the Project Proposal Table of Contents, and Kris left a note it had been added on 9/6:

Example project proposal Kanban detail card with file attached and comment

A PDF is then attached to the card, and everyone added to the task receives an email notifying them of the change. This same process can be used throughout the life-cycle of the project to keep the team updated, collaborating, and producing a first-class project proposal.

Developing SMART Goals for Your Project Proposal

Infographic describing the SMART process of decision making.

The best mindset when developing goals and objectives for your project proposal is to use the SMART system:

  • Specific – Make sure your goals and objectives are clear, concise and specific to the task at hand.
  • Measurable – Make sure your goals and objectives are measurable so it’s obvious to see when things are on track and going well, and conversely, when things are off track and issues need to be addressed. Measurable goals make it easy to develop the milestones you’ll use to track the progress of the project and identify a reasonable date for completion and/or closure.
  • Attainable – It’s important every project has a “reach” goal. Hitting this goal would mean an outstanding project that goes well above and beyond expectations. However, it’s important the project’s core goal is attainable, so morale stays high and the job gets done with time and resources to spare.
  • Relevant – Make sure all of your goals are directly relevant to the project and address the scope within which you’re working.
  • Time-Based – Timelines and specific dates should be at the core of all goals and objectives. This helps keep the project on track and ensures all project team members can manage the work that’s ahead of them.

Building a project proposal takes time and careful consideration.

The time spent is worth it, however, when you win that next big project!

Project proposals are just the first step in the project planning process. Once your project is approved, you’ll have to solidify the plan, allocate and manage resources, monitor the project, and finally hand in your deliverables. This process requires a flexible, dynamic and robust project management software package. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that helps all your team members collaborate and manage this process in real-time. Try our award-winning software with this free 30-day trial.

This post was updated on November 11, 2020

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