It is interesting how the simplest of ideas takes so long to figure out.
After enduring the stress and frustration of managing multiple teams to write proposals for government grants, I had a sudden insight about working in teams to write proposals (or any large reports).
To reduce team frustration, separate technical content from grammar.
In other words, in the initial stages of the proposal avoid team members providing written content in sentence and paragraph form. Instead, team members provide content in an outline and bullet format, and then their content is added to a storyboard (a team outline). After creating the storyboard, the team can easily arrange and modify the storyboard until there is team consensus.
Achieving team consensus, still requires several iterations and there will be some frustration among team members. However, it is far easier to review and edit a storyboard than paragraphs and paragraphs of technical writing that does not flow and has conflicting grammar.
After the storyboard has been reviewed and there is team consensus, then sections of the storyboard can be assigned to team members and the content can be converted into sentences and paragraphs.
The advantages of using a storyboard are numerous:
- It speeds up the review process by eliminating sentences and paragraphs, which take far longer to read than bullet points.
- It is more effective at creating a “flowing” proposal, since it is easier to rearrange bullet points than sentences and paragraphs.
- It creates a more robust technical proposal, since reviewers focus on technical content instead of debating grammar.
- It eliminates grammar issues, avoiding the touchy subject of critiquing individuals’ grammar and upsetting egos.
- It creates a more cohesive team proposal, instead of typically one individual assuming responsibility for completing the proposal.
- It allows reviews/edits to be done as a group, avoiding conflicting edits done by multiple people.
The first time I used this technique with a team of 9 senior engineers, we won a 4.5 million dollar grant from the Department of Energy, so it really worked.
Have you had similar experiences working with teams to create proposals? Have you had similar experiences? If you have, I would love to learn more about your experiences, please leave a comment. Note: It takes a few minutes for your comment to show up.
Below is a sample schedule for writing a proposal. Notice the storyboard sections in the schedule.