As grant application requirements become increasingly complex, and teams pursuing funding become increasingly diverse, the need for thoroughly planning the proposal development process is critical. Using the tools and templates provided on this website will help keep your complex proposal development process on track, on time and accountable.
This document discusses best practices in applying planning tools and management processes for teams producing a competitive complex proposal. The tools and templates we provide have been developed and refined over a two-year pilot project, funded by the Vice Provost of Research. The tools we discuss have been used in projects as large as $90 million with 20 PIs all the way down to small but complex proposals with 1 PI and a $5 million dollar request. When utilized on proposal development projects, these tools helped to produce a more efficient, less painful proposal development experience and a higher quality proposal, according to 100% of our clients. These project management tools are primarily aimed at the development of large, multiple-PI, multidisciplinary proposals at the University of Washington. However, they may be used to increase the efficiency of any proposal development effort.
Review the timeline and familiarize yourself with the proposal development timeline and the tools and document it specifies. In general we recommend giving yourself a minimum of 12 weeks to develop your grant.
You can start with an analytical tool to help you determine if you should even pursue the grant proposal. The Go/No-Go Decision Matrix provides a set of strategic criteria to be used in making a decision about whether to pursue a funding opportunity.
When determining the likelihood of "success" however, this should not be measured on an outcome of receiving funding alone. Developing an interdisciplinary proposal is a unique opportunity for innovation and an exchange of ideas that could provide the seed for future successful collaborations.
Once the decision is made to go forward, the next step should be to prepare a draft proposal development plan. In our experience, it is best to develop the first draft in an initial planning meeting between the lead Principle Investigator and that PI's primary administrative support. The key components of this plan are the: 1) Timeline/Calendar/Work plan, 2) Roles document, 3) RFA Table of Contents, 4) Review cycle document. These are all communication documents that when completed, are best kept in a folder that can be shared by the entire proposal development team such as Dropbox.
The timeline, calendar and work plan documents each highlight a different aspect of the plan.
Frequently revisit the timeline of choice in weekly meetings and ensure everyone on the proposal team has access to the document.
Draft a roles and responsibilities document before the proposal kick-off meeting so that it can serve as a conversation starter for the group. This document has been useful even in teams that have previously worked together in clarifying assumptions as to which tasks will be completed by which team member and identifying unfilled roles on the team, but will be especially useful in large, interdisciplinary teams working across departments and schools. Revise the document as appropriate for each team, including moving tasks to a different role. In some cases multiple roles may be filled by one team member, in others, tasks from a single role may be divided among two team members. Once complete, this document should be made available for reference in the proposal Dropbox or other shared folder.
The RFA Table of Contents (TOC) mapped to due dates is the most complex scheduling tool, but also the most effective at combining many different requirements and deadlines into a single document. The table should include all proposal elements that will be part of the complete package submitted to the sponsor. This tool can be very time consuming to construct, but frequently proves a valuable reference. In its most basic form, this document records the relevant page numbers from the RFA as well as agency specific proposal guides and policy statements. Other useful information that can be recorded on this document include: section page limits, section team leader name, section due date and a space for status updates and notes. Prior to submission, this document will also serve as a checklist to ensure all required proposal elements are complete.
The review cycle document (sample and template) will help you delineate the number of anticipated proposal drafts, the due dates for each, and the names of individuals who have agreed to review those drafts. Setting these dates early will allow reviewers to plan accordingly, and allow them time to provide meaningful feedback. In our experience, draft deadlines were far more likely to be met when reviewers were given dates ahead of time.
The Proposal Kick-off Meeting should involve anyone expected to play a major role in the proposal development process including the lead PI, Co-PIs, Co-Investigators as well as the department or PI's administrative and budget development specialists. The template agenda includes suggested topics to cover at the kick-off meeting including a portion of time dedicated to reviewing and revising the timelines and tracking documents.
A standing weekly meeting dedicated to status updates on the progress of non-technical aspects of the proposal, and review of the timeline or calendar can go a long way toward keeping the proposal development process on track. It can also reduce time spent exchanging emails and phone calls, as team members will often keep a list of items for discussion during this time. Depending on the complexity of the proposal, a 30 minute teleconference can often be sufficient for this purpose. Discussions may include progress updates on:
Having access to a shared folder space when coordinating the development of a large proposal allows for efficient distribution of the documents associated with the proposal. This will eliminate various versions of proposal documents being emailed back-and-forth, and will keep the most current versions of all documents in one place that all appropriate team members have access to anytime. We have found Dropbox to be an ideal tool for proposal teams to share proposal sections, sponsor information, and project management documents. To use Dropbox, you will need to download and install Dropbox on your computer. You can set up an account at https://www.dropbox.com/. We have typically organized the Dropbox to include the following folders: Technical Proposal (Abstract, Executive Summary, Research Strategy), Budget (Budget spreadsheet, Budget narrative), Supplemental Documents (Appendixes, Past Performance References and Biosketches), Subcontract Documents (Subcontract budget, Scope of Work, etc.), Sponsor Documents (FOA, FAQs, modifications, documents from the prime applicant, etc.) and Project Management: (Timelines, Roles & Responsibilities, Contact list, Primers). Each folder should have an Archive subfolder for old versions; never delete an old version –always move to the Archive folder).
One note of caution when working with documents in Dropbox, we have found it to be a best practice to never move a file/folder from the Dropbox to your desktop or another folder (intending to copy it), as it will delete the file/folder from the Dropbox. The only safe protocol is to copy the document located in the Dropbox and paste it onto your computer. CPMG recommends that you save and rename any file that you intend to edit (see file naming convention recommendations below) and replace it in the Dropbox after you have finished your modifications.