By Anthony Coral
Director of Operations, Project Management Office
As a busy, well-regarded IT consulting firm, Coyote Creek puts out a lot of proposals or Statements of Work (SOWs). Naturally, we have a process for doing this, and a template that we want our team members to use as the starting point for any SOW that they create.
About eight months ago we decided to admit that our existing proposal creation system just wasn’t working well. At the time we were keeping our proposal template in Microsoft Word. The biggest problem with this was that team members were taking the liberty of editing “their” version of this template, and continuity (not to mention some important elements of the contract) was getting lost. Consequently, I was tasked with coming up with a better approach.
I did some research and looked at a variety of options for improving our proposal writing process. Most were not quite what we were looking for, and the ones that came closest were really a bit pricey. Then it occurred to me that perhaps there was something on Atlassian’s Confluence—a tool which we already had up and running in our environment—that we could leverage. I spoke with Dave Theodore, our in-house Atlassian expert, he lent me an Atlassian Engineer, and together we used Confluence to create an elegant solution that is working extremely well.
How the system works
We started by creating a series of Statement of Work templates, each customized for a different service offering. Then we created what we call our “Statement of Work Release Hub.” This Confluence page is a central location where team members can access these templates, communicate with others regarding SOWs in progress and run reports. Once a proposal is complete, the system produces a final document in a consistent, professional-looking pdf format, complete with a title page and index.
Before we did this, though, we took this opportunity to reevaluate all aspects of our process, including rethinking how we wanted our proposals to look and feel. One of the main things that came out of this reevaluation was a change in the way we write the “meat and potatoes” of our proposals. In the past there was one area of the template called “Scope.” Now there are also areas for “Background,” “Objectives” and “Approach” – thus ensuring a more complete and thorough SOW document.
The benefits of using Confluence for the proposal writing process
Within a few weeks of putting this proposal writing system in place, it quickly became clear to all of us that there were significant benefits to using Confluence in this way. This system has enabled us to:
- Keep all SOWs in a central location. In the past, these documents were typically kept on a sales person’s laptop. Now they’re readily accessible, fully searchable and easy to find.
- Lock down certain aspects of the SOW template. Only certain aspects of the SOW template can be changed without management’s involvement. Other sections, such as terms and conditions, and the lists of Coyote Creek’s responsibilities and the client’s responsibilities, remain fixed.
- Use “auto-populate” to make things easier. The first step of the process is to enter some key information, such as the client name. Once entered, this information is auto-populated into all of the appropriate places throughout the entire proposal.
- Work assumptions into the template. In creating a SOW there are always certain assumptions that are made, based on the type of work to be done. Now that our proposal writing process is in Confluence, these assumptions are baked into the template itself.For example, for Atlassian-related projects, our assumption is that the client will provide the necessary hardware, as well as the software licenses, prior to us starting work. Of course, if the client does need to purchase Atlassian software licenses we can handle that, too. But that would be a product order, and it would be addressed with the “product order” proposal template (also available at our Statement of Work Release Hub), not the Atlassian project proposal template.
- Include instructions regarding how to create a proposal. With our Confluence-based system we’re able to add “information” rows to the form that will only be seen internally. This lets us provide tips and reminders to ensure nothing gets overlooked. For example, one of the notes we’ve included is a reminder that all projects over a certain dollar amount must include Project Management—something that with our old system would sometimes get left out.
- Eliminate the hassles of coordination. When we write SOWs, typically the sales person writes some of the document and an engineer writes the rest. With our old system, there was always an issue of timing, documents going back and forth, people not realizing it was their turn to work on the document, etc. The new system eliminates all of this. There’s only one version of the document, and it’s kept in one central location. Once a person does their part, they ping the other person to work on it. All of these communications are automatically tracked, and everyone can easily check on the status and see the progress that has been made.
- Provide a feature request tool. We built a miniature ticketing system into our Confluence proposal writing solution. When team members have a request or idea for improvement, the means for communicating this is right there in the hub.
- Access SOW tracking reports. Although all of the SOWs are saved in one folder, we can easily run reports based on the “owner” of each SOW. This lets sales people quickly see the status of the SOWs that they’re working on, and click through to the SOW itself if they need to access or edit it.
If you’re considering using Confluence for proposal writing, you’ll love the way that Confluence provides so much flexibility in what you can do—especially when you start to explore the many add-ons that are available. In our project we used add-ons to calculate formulas in tables, adjust the widths of tables, and more. It’s all just a matter of knowing what’s available and how to implement it. If these things are not in your area of expertise and you want help implementing a Confluence system for proposal writing at your firm, give us a call. As Atlassian Platinum Experts we can make it happen for you.