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How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge in Proposal Development

Aug 4, 2013
Proposals in General
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How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge in Proposal Development

We live in an age of irony, and one of the great business ironies is this: most of us work in institutions that pride themselves on their ability to identify and access information quickly, but often they have very short institutional memories. As Ron Ashkenas has pointed out in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, although organizations “spend a lot of time and resources developing knowledge and capacity. . . most of it resides in the heads, hands, and hearts of individual managers and functional experts.”

But as time goes by, the second law of thermodynamics takes over and knowledge atrophies as individuals in the organization leave, retire, or take on new positions within the organization. Institutional knowledge also disappears as the organization’s focus and activities change because certain kinds of information no longer seem relevant.

This can be a serious problem in proposal development because of the rapid turnover in the composition of proposal teams and because many companies use consultants as proposal managers and proposal writers. The result is obvious – proposals take longer to prepare or lack important information because institutional knowledge is weak.

But there are ways that companies can institutionalize knowledge in proposal development to create better processes, better content, and more informed proposal team members. Following Ron Ashkenas, I will recommend three approaches to overcoming institutional amnesia:
• Recognize that the preservation of institutional knowledge is an organizational challenge and build an explicit strategy to maintain memory, even within your own proposal team. You cannot assume that proposal team members recognize this problem.
• Identify the most important pieces of information that every member of the proposal team should know and give them easy access to this information. For example, you could provide information from previous proposals, company white papers, previous RFIs and RFQs, and government publications to new team members as part of their orientation process and discuss these documents during stand-up calls and team meetings.
• Use technology to create a simple but effective process where the proposal team can access this information and create new institutional knowledge as the proposal develops. This will make the knowledge living and likely to be used when it is most pertinent. You could use SharePoint to do this or imitate Intel, which has its own internal wiki named Intelpedia. IBM also has an excellent internal Web site with great corporate resources. Small companies could create smaller versions of these internal Web sites.

As we age, we learn that our memories are precious and fragile. Even though companies seem more resilient than any individual, they seem to age even more quickly. As a result, companies need to actively preserve their institutional memories. If they do not, proposal development is likely to become less efficient and effective.

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