A project proposal is a core document the helps you sell a potential project to sponsors and stakeholders. A project proposal is unique to each project, of course, but the format is basically the same, if you follow a basic outline.
We have even created a free project proposal template to help you structure your document so you don’t reinvent the wheel each time you’re drafting your proposal. This helps you focus on the substance of the proposed plan, while using an easy-to-follow project proposal outline. But before you begin, you need to get in the mind of the people you’re pitching. They’ll have many questions, and you’ll want to make sure all of those are answered in your project proposal document. Such as:
- What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
- How does the project align with your organization’s overall strategic goals?
- What are the benefits for the user?
- What metrics will you use to measure success?
- What are the deliverables?
- What is the timeframe, what are the deadlines and how do you plan to meet them?
- What are the resources you’ll need to get the project done on time?
- What’s the project budget?
- What are the risks and issues?
- Who are the people responsible for the project and what are their roles?
- How will the project be reported?
Most project proposals (including our template) are designed to help you answer all of those questions as you complete your document. Our project proposal Word template, for example, is broken up into these six basic parts:
- Executive Summary: Think of this as the elevator pitch, it sketches out the project in a way to hook the sponsor.
- History: Put the project in context, note any precedents and how they can help or hurt the project’s success.
- Requirements: Describe in detail the business problem the project solves or what opportunity does it take advantage of.
- Solution: Explain the plan to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity.
- Authorization: Note the people who have authorization throughout the project.
- Appendix: This is where you attach papers supporting your proposal.
That’s the bare minimum, of course. Writing a project proposal is the first step in outlining what the project is designed to accomplish, and our template will help make sure you address all the concerns and questions of your audience. But there are many more ways you can pump up your proposal to make it more effective. Follow these five tips, and you’ll write a winning project proposal every time.
First, think of the proposal as a project in and of itself (albeit a small project). Apply all the project management skills and experience you have towards defining the steps involved in creating the proposal, including how long it’ll take and what resources you’ll need to accomplish it.
The best proposal are well researched ones. Include time for research, as well as some float for delayed requests for data. Make sure you’re also planning for when you intend to have the actual presentation. Be prepared for the eventuality that when bring up the idea to sponsors or executives to meet to discuss the proposal, to actually discuss the project in some detail with them at that time. Some curious minded folks might start asking questions of you at the point at which you’re trying to simply set up a meeting… so be sure to have done some preliminary work on the proposal, at a minimum a solid elevator pitch, so you can speak intelligently about it. You don’t want sponsors to shoot down an idea, before it has a chance to get a fair hearing.
Finally, give yourself time to get peer feedback or even mentor or sponsor feedback while you’re drafting and developing the proposal. Ask trusted advisers to review your idea and drafts, as well as provide feedback on mock presentations. Make sure you leave yourself time to incorporate feedback, too.
Write a Super Executive Summary
If you can’t wow your audience in your opening pitch, it’s going to be that much harder to win them over as you go through the finer details of the proposal during your project proposal presentation. You need to write your executive summary so that the project sounds exciting, addresses a problem that needs resolution or defines an opportunity that can be profitable.
Of course, you want to supply an overview of the facts. What is that problem, need or goal? What’s your solution and how do the numbers support that? But you want to draft this section (and present it) with energy. Avoid being too timid with your words or trying earnestly to “just let the data do the talking.” Numbers are only interesting when presented by humans. If you can sweep up the sponsors in your enthusiasm, they’ll be more likely to follow you as you explain the details of how you plan to achieve your goal.
Be sure to further amaze your sponsors by acknowledging an overview of the risks and issues inherent in the project. By noting them up front in the executive summary, you can address how you’ll mitigate them proactively, and avoid letting your audience stew in a state of worry and what ifs. The best executive summary is a roll up of all the research and due diligence you have put into the rest of your proposal.
Get to the Point!
Good writing is, above all, clear and understandable and intended for a particular audience. That goes doubly so for the body of your proposal. You want to articulate the details without getting lost in the weeds, and in so doing lose your audience.
So, what do you do? You stick to the pertinent facts. Trust that you have wowed them in the executive summary, now make your case step-by-step using relevant data to bring your point home. Most readers will not read every single word you write. They will scan your document, looking for data that validates your claim.
Follow our proposal outline template through the body of the document. You’ll be providing the background and history, as well as detailed synopsis of the type of project it is, its scope, industry analysis and competitor research, where relevant. All of these the details that your sponsor is going to want to know should be laid out following the outline, so that it’s simple and easy for them to read quickly.
Pro Tip: Don’t get creative. It’s not the time or place. Once you’ve given them a stunning executive summary, the sponsors are going to want to get down to the nitty gritty of the project, without any unneeded flourishes, in an easily scannable document so that they can make the best decision possible.
Explain How You’ll Achieve the Goal
Your project boils down to the plan that you’ve formulated to get from point A to point B. There can be no dead ends on this route or you’re not going to get approval.
Know the difference between a goal and an objective. Goals are broad, defining the project overall. But that doesn’t mean you can be vague. Again, you want to write a clear, singular and easily understood goal. Objectives are the details about how you will achieve those goals. To do this, follow the old journal rule of the Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why? These objectives must always support your goal, and they should make logical sense in the order in which you set them up.
Here’s an acronym to help you with your objectives: SMART. Everyone wants to be smart, right? In this case, it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time. Following this logic, you’ll be able to convince decision makers that your project is not just SMART, but also in good hands.
Show Historic Precedent
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s likely historical data that gives your current proposal a solid foundation on which to present your proposed project to sponsors.
Historical data is simply data collected about past events, in this case, prior projects or teams. By connecting your proposal to successful projects of the past that shared similar goals or constraints, you’re able to explain to sponsors that this proposal is viable. Find data to support both why this project is a winner because you’ve analyzed past failure rates or because you’ve analyzed the successes of projects past.