• Deb Yeagle

How to Write "the How" (Approach) - #3 Proposal Development Process Improvement Lesson Learned


(3) When asked for an approach, provide “how” the work will be performed, not just your experience performing similar work.


An approach is defined as a means of attaining a goal or purpose. Writing an approach is one of the most difficult things asked of a subject matter expert, especially one who has never written a proposal before. This is because most people don’t stop and think about HOW they perform their day-to-day tasks, they simply “just do it”, without having to think about how. Performing the job becomes an innate behavior, and this is why it is so hard to write an approach. But it doesn’t have to be difficult, if you understand what is being asked for, avoid the common pitfalls, and use checklists to develop a proposal response that describes your approach to meeting the Government’s requirements.


When asked to write an approach, you should frame your response to state what you are proposing to do and how you will do it to meet a particular requirement. An approach is best expressed as a step-by-step detailed procedure (especially if they use the words “process” or “procedure”). A well written approach:

- Shows you can solve the Government’s problem

- Shows you know what you are doing

- Provides an opportunity to demonstrate low risk, innovation, etc.


There are two common pitfalls to avoid when asked to write an approach:

(1) Capabilities + Experience DOES NOT EQUAL approach!

Avoid coming across as “Trust us, we got this!” without explaining how you are going to perform the work.

(2) Applying “Best Practices” IS NOT and approach!

The Government often includes the following proposal instructions in the RFP Section L:

“Phrases such as standard procedures will be employed or well-known techniques will be used are similarly inadequate.”


For example, if you state you will apply Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) best practices to manage the contract, then don’t stop there: provide some concrete examples of which PMBOK knowledge areas and processes will be used to manage specific aspects of the contract. For example, to provide an approach for schedule management:


In order to meet the Government’s deliverable milestones, our PMP-certified Project Manager will apply PMBOK schedule management processes to develop a well-planned schedule. He will define and sequence the required tasks and subtasks, estimate the resources needed to complete each task, and estimate the time required to complete each tasks based on metrics collected from successfully completing similar projects.


Following are some characteristics of a good approach:

· A good technical approach is clear and direct.

· It provides a response to each SOW / PWS requirement saying WHAT and HOW you propose to meet the requirement.

· When taken as a whole (or by section), it tells a coherent and cohesive story and hammers home your overarching themes.

· After the evaluator reads it, they should have a clear picture in their mind of what you are proposing and how they will benefit.


If you are experiencing “writer’s block” when asked to write an approach, use the following checklist to get started:

· Describe specific processes, procedures, techniques, tools – What are the steps, why are they needed, and what are exit and success criteria for each?

· What are the Inputs/outputs/deliverables and format for results?

· What are the Quality Assurance / Control procedures?

· What are the risks and risk mitigation?

· What are the resources required? (Personnel / Facilities / Equipment / Materials)

· What is the schedule and dependencies?

· What are the alternative approaches, and how you will measure the progress / success of applying these approaches?

· What are other innovations for realizing cost efficiencies?

· Answer the “so what?” for the customer – what specific benefits and goals are achieved?


And if you still can’t write your approach, then develop a graphic instead. A visual representation of an approach – whether it is a workflow, flow chart, process map, swim lane diagram, etc. – is a powerful way to demonstrate your understanding of what work needs to be performed and provides the Government with high confidence that you can successfully meet their requirements.

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