UW Research

Collaborative Proposal Development Resources

Project Management Tools for Proposal Development

As grant application requirements become increasingly complex, and the teams pursuing these opportunities more geographically and intellectually 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 proposal development process on track.

Proposal Development Best Practices


This document discusses best practices in applying project management tools to the research proposal development process.  The tools and templates we provide have been developed and refined with campus over a two-year pilot project, funded by the Vice Provost of Research. When utilized on proposal development projects, these tools will facilitate a more efficient, less painful proposal development experience and a higher quality proposal. These project management tools are primarily aimed at the development of large, multiple-PI, multidisciplinary proposals at the University of Washington. However, they will increase the efficiency of any proposal development effort.

Review Proposal Development Timeline

Review this ideal timeline and familiarize yourself with the tools and documents it specifies. Twelve weeks is the ideal minimum time needed to develop any grant, and multi-institutional grants require even more time.  Utilize the Proposal Development Checklist to get yourself started.

Evaluate the Funding Opportunity

You can start with an analytical tool to help you determine if you should even pursue the grant proposal. The Opportunity Evaluation Matrix provides a set of strategic criteria to be used in making a decision about whether to pursue a funding opportunity.

“Success” however, should not be measured solely on the likelihood of receiving funding. Developing an interdisciplinary proposal is a unique opportunity for innovation and an exchange of ideas that will provide the seed for future successful collaborations.

Plan PI/Admin Planning Meeting

Complex, collaborative grant proposals require a more intense level of project management to prepare. Once the decision is made to go forward the next step should be a meeting between the PI and the lead admin who will be ordering and preparing much of the grant proposal content. Use the PI/Admin Planning Meeting Agenda to guide this discussion.  The key items to cover in this initial meeting are the: 1) RFP/FOA required components, 2) Work plan, 3) Roles and Responsibilities,  4) Review cycles. Once completed, these communication documents are best kept in a folder that can be shared by the entire proposal development team. Tools such as Dropbox or Google Drive can provide team document management environments.

Map RFP/FOA Elements to Deadlines

This complex planning tool is very effective at combining many different requirements and deadlines into a single document. The project PI and/or Admin should carefully comb through the RFA/RFP and develop a list of all required proposal elements that will be part of the complete package submitted to the sponsor. These elements should then be mapped to deadlines. This tool can be very time consuming to construct, but becomes a valuable reference. In its most basic form, this document records the relevant page numbers from the RFP/FOA 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.

Build Work Plan

The calendar and work plan highlight different aspects setting and tracking deadlines.

  • Use the Calendar (sample and template) to track months at a glance and ensure each month’s holidays and all your team member’s “out of office” dates are taken into account when setting up your workplan.
  • Use the workplan templates to assign deadlines to tasks, tasks to people and to track progress updates.

Use the workplan as a touchstone in weekly meetings and ensure everyone on the proposal team has access to the document.

Establish Accountability: Roles and Responsibilities Matrix

Draft an Accountability Matrix 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. 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.

Set Up Review Cycles

The Review Cycles Tracker 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 review deadlines were far more likely to be met when reviewers were given dates ahead of time.

Set Up Proposal Kick-off Meeting

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 meeting 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.

Weekly Team Check-In Meetings

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:

Collaborating through Shared Drives

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. There is no ideal tool, but you should figure out a way for proposal teams to share proposal sections, sponsor information, and project management documents. UW IT offers a couple of different tools/solutions to help in storing and editing shared documents. Read more about using the UW Google Drive and OneDrive for Business on the UW IT Connect website. Also, refer to this tutorial on how to share files using Google Drive.

A best practice for setting up shared drives on which you will store your proposal documents is to establish 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).  Refer to the Version Control Primer for ideas about how to maintain document version integrity when there are multiple people working on a document.

Tips on Using the Templates and Trackers

Subawardee Documents Request
This document provides template for requesting items from subcontractors. The checklist should be modified as appropriate, including instructions for formatting of documents and a copy of the RFA should be provided. Requesting draft documents ahead of the final signed copies can help to prevent delays that might occur when mistakes or omissions are identified at the deadline.
Subawardee Documents Tracker
Example of a simple table with documents required from your subcontractors and dates for tracking their status. Keep in the Project Management folder of a proposal Dropbox so that proposal team members to quickly ascertain what documents are outstanding.
CV-Biosketch Tracker
Used to track receipt of the personnel documents required from Co-Investigators, Partners and Subrecipients. Keep in the Project Management folder of a proposal Dropbox so that proposal team members to quickly ascertain what documents are outstanding. Letters of Support are another document set in which it might be useful to prepare a tracking table.
Budget Justification Primer
A general guide for writing a budget justification.
Leadership and Management Plan
In multi-Pi and multi-institutional proposals the sponsor often requires a leadership plan. This template provides a good model to start with that can be adapted to your specific circumstance.
Letters of Support Samples
There are different kinds of letter of support. Some promise specific deliverables and completion of discrete activities, others simply express support/cooperation from a core player in the field. The most effective way to get your letters from supporters in a timely manner is to provide your contacts with a template they can use to fill in the blank. These letters provide a starting point for those templates.
UW Boilerplate
Organizational Overview
Data Management Plans
UW Libraries offers a Data Resources Guide that overviews sponsor requirements for data management plans, offers templates of plan, and other valuable information regarding the White House mandate on data sharing.