Whenever you want to present your ideas and give a pitch on why other people should support their implementation, you need to write a project proposal. Regardless of your valuable and innovative ideas, you won't be successful unless you present them well and convince your audience of their importance. So how do you write a project proposal that makes people acknowledge the power of your ideas and trust you to implement them?
A project proposal is a document that defines your ideas and ways to implement them clearly and concisely. The proposal explains the project in detail, from defining concepts and goals to how you plan to transform ideas into reality to how much money the project needs. It has a straightforward structure, a clear narrative line, and well-documented references.
In addition, a project proposal must convince the audience to support your ideas and plans. Therefore, you should always have the audience's interest in mind. Why would they care about your project? Why would they invest in your ideas? A professional project proposal follows a specific format. It details the key elements forming a complete proposal so that the involved parties know the ambition, goals, and plan to achieve it. We will discuss these elements in the outline section.
Project proposals may be helpful in many situations, from proposing a new project to your manager to asking for funds. Here are the main types of project proposals that may come your way:
In addition, project proposals may be formal or informal, include fundraising or ask for investments, follow the strict procedure of a project competition, or include a particular call to action.
Regardless of your project proposal type, you need a format that straightforwardly delivers all the information. The document should be easy to read and follow, allow going back and forth between chapters easily, and provide solid references. It also requires clear headings and summaries.
Although you may have plenty to say and explain, the project proposal shouldn't be overwhelmingly long. People tend to have short attention spans. Especially if the proposal is unsolicited, they don't want to spend hours reading it. Therefore, a smart structure with explanatory headings and constant summarizing may improve your success chances.
The tone should be formal and neutral, even for informal project proposals. It's an official document that doesn't require flowery or metaphoric language. Always keep the audience's interest in mind and try to answer their questions:
A standard outline of a project proposal includes the following sections:
Start your proposal with an introductive summary that answers all the above questions in a few short phrases. The executive summary acts as a statement that clarifies the purpose of the project, the reasons for which it is necessary, who is the beneficiary, what is the project's outcome, budget, timeline, project analytic metrics, and involved resources.
Tip: If you're applying to an open project competition or grant, you might also want to write a cover letter for the project wherein 1 page, you state your ambition with the project and the potential collaboration.
The second section showcases all the research made until the current moment. It explains in detail the purpose of the project and the reasons behind it, the current state-of-the-art in the project's field, who is working on similar topics and what results they have so far, and how the project's topic relates to your team, company, or organization. The background section should include relevant references, data, and statistics, either included in the document or provided as auxiliary material.
The third section is dedicated to practical solutions, planning and scheduling, and a managerial approach. It includes timelines, schedules, roles and responsibilities, analytic tools and metrics, risk management, and all there is to know about how you intend to implement the project. The solutions section clarifies what is already done and what needs to be done in every aspect of the project (e.g., technical, managerial, financial, etc.)
Tip: It is important to highlight the vision and objectives of your project. We do recommend using smart KPIs in this sense. By clarifying measurable KPIs, it will be easier to know when the project has delivered its promises successfully or is lagging in terms of execution. For complex projects, risk assessment together with mitigation strategies, are expected.
Your audience needs to understand what will be achieved at the end of the project. The outcome and deliverables section presents the final objectives of the project, the timeline for intermediary deliverables, status reports, communication tools, and specific project outcomes. It also explains the nature of the deliverables (e.g., patents, articles, conferences, products, etc.) and how they will be delivered. If you have multiple deliverables or the project spans over a long period, you might want to highlight also specific milestones (i.e., after 3 months or after design elements are approved). It is very important that the duration of implementing each major action is clearly highlighted and correct.
Tip: If the project has multiple stakeholders, it is important to outline the responsible teams/members/organizations for each major action.
The resources section lists the requirements needed to implement the project, from manpower and budget to materials, time, buildings and installations, and software. It breaks down the budget to explain why each cost is necessary, lists existing resources and their implication, and provides a timeline for each resource. Here is your opportunity to mention that you need to hire more people (and in which position), acquire new software and hardware, or rent a larger office space. You need to clarify how the payment will work out in terms of billing. If it's an upfront payment, or after the work is done, or if it's split.
Tip: While some of you use dedicated project management software that can generate timelines for you and the project partners, you might also use an excel made Gantt Chart to clarify the timeline actions.
The last section summarizes your project proposal's content, reiterates the project's purpose and impact, and ends on a positive note. It may include a call to action, contact data, or additional information not yet presented. However, keep it short and on point.
Optionally you might need to have a separate section with References and annexes where you list all articles, documents, and information you've mentioned in the proposal. If you have the documents, provide access to a shared folder or attach them to an email. Otherwise, provide links to online resources.
You can use the same simple project proposal template for all your proposals because it's easy to customize. A basic template provides a solid format and helps you structure the information without worrying about fonts and styles. It also keeps you focused, so you don't forget anything. Download our free simple project proposal template and take the first step toward a successful proposal.
Although it may seem overwhelming to write a project proposal, some tips can help you gain confidence. Take your time, thoroughly research, and trust your ideas and potential. Then, all that is left is to write a successful proposal. Check out the following tips to get you started:
Writing project proposals may start with emailing your boss to propose using a new leave management app. It's a small objective, but it helps you understand how to format the proposal, write a statement, and support your idea with arguments and data. From that to sending project proposals to large organizations, potential clients, and much-needed investors is only a step. Successful project managers know it's important to know your audience, provide relevant information, and be honest and prepared to answer any questions. And remember that using a project proposal template gives you a significant advantage since you don’t have to start from zero.