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How to write a management summary for proposals in ITStijn Schutyser
“First impressions count.” You’ve probably heard that sentence a million times, and when it comes to proposals, it’s true. You want to get the reader on your side from the get-go, and a strong, captive and well-written management summary is vital for that to happen. That makes sense, but how do you do it? What are some best practices? How long should a management summary even be? And are there things that are specifically best practice for proposals in IT? In this blog post, we give you some quick tips on how to write a management summary for proposals in the IT industry!
Structuring your management summary
There are numerous ways to structure your management summary and everyone’s got a different opinion. In practice though, it doesn’t matter all that much. As long as your management summary contains the following main sections, you should be good.
- Play back the customer’s objectives, key requirements and the benefits they’ll achieve from the project. This shows them that you understand their business and their needs.
- Describe the characteristics of a successful solution and the supplier of that solution, the latter of course slanted in your favour. It’s a great way to set traps for the competition while at the same time showing off your competence.
- Provide an overview of your offer. Not so coincidentally, it happens to meet everything needed for success. 🙂
- Introduce your proposal strategy. Make sure the reader understand why they should pick you and not the competition and introduce each of your themes: the three or four key messages that you want the potential buyer to remember from your business proposal.
- Conclude with a brief summary of the next steps as you see them, e.g. how your team is looking forward to make the project a success and that you’ll keep [date] free in your calendar to personally clarify your approach and the benefits that it brings.
You can easily write down this structure beforehand already and then just fill in the blanks. This also helps if you want other to contribute. Nobody likes to start from scratch, and most people that are expected to contribute put it off for as long as possible or just don’t do it. So, the best way to get contributors to contribute in a timely manner and with a quality response is to already provide a structure that they just have to fill in.
The length of your management summary
It’s a question tons of people ask: “How long should my management summary be?”. The key consideration is that you need to capture your reader’s attention quickly. If you ask me, that doesn’t necessarily translate to how long your management summary can be. It might be 5 pages long and still grab your reader’s attention. If those 5 pages are well-written, it doesn’t matter that it’s 5 pages long instead of the usual 1 or 2.
That said, don’t make your management summary any longer than it needs to be. A short text will always be easier to digest than a longer one, and there’s less chance of you losing the reader’s attention.
When should you write your management summary?
Another question I’ve heard time and time again. When should you write your management summary, before or after you write the rest of the proposal?
Some people feel that you should write a management summary after you’ve prepared the rest of the proposal. This approach gives you the chance to work through the objectives and the solutions first, leaving you with a better idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it in the management summary. Another benefit is that if your solution has changed since you first started the proposal, it’s easy to adjust your management summary to these changes.
Other people feel you should write the management summary first, because it helps you outline your concept and organize your thoughts for the entire proposal. Writing the management summary first is also a way to guide members of your team who are tasked with preparing sections of the proposal.
In a management summary in the IT industry, I suggest you pick a bit of both approaches. Draft your management summary early in the process, after you and your team have decided what the ideal solution for the customer would be but before you’ve written out the entire proposal. Decide on the right technology, the right implementation and the right approach, include and structure them in your management summary and then write the rest of the proposal, with the management summary acting as a guideline.
Some best practices
Avoid overly technical language
Using technical language is something that’s unavoidable in IT, but save that language for in the proposal itself. Management summaries are usually not read by people with extensive knowledge on various IT technologies and approaches. Unless you are absolutely sure that the only person who will read the executive summary is an engineer or a developer or someone who will understand exactly what you’re talking about, don’t get too technical. Remember, a management summary is a persuasive document: you’re selling the benefits, not the features.
Focus on your client
Tell your client what they want to know, not what you want to tell them. Like any piece of copy, you need to write for your audience so make sure you think about them; what turns them off and what turns them on. Also: it’s about them, so not about you. Mention your client’s company name, include their logo somewhere and so on. It makes your management summary, and by extension your proposal, feel personalized just for them.
Review, review, review
Lastly, and this should probably go without saying: always let a few other sets of eyes go over your text so avoid typos, grammatical errors and the like.
A captive management summary is of course no guarantee that you’ll win a proposal, but it does increase your chance. A lot of the tips and best practices in this blog post count for management summaries in general (like keeping it as short as possible or focusing on the client), but specifically for IT I would always make sure
- that the management summary is legible by anyone. That means you should use plain language and avoid technical terms as much as possible. You can get into the technical details in the proposal itself.
- you write your management summary immediately after deciding on the technology, implementation and approach with your project managers and developers. That way the management summary can act as a guideline, while still being flexible enough to include some of the details of the solution in the proposal.
If you want more tips and tricks on how to write a management summary or proposals in general, I highly recommend Proposal essentials by Jon Williams and BJ Lownie.