What is a Project Proposal?
A project proposal is a key document that describes an external or internal project. It states details like goals, objectives, important dates, milestones and requirements needed to start and complete the project.
Your project proposal should whet decision-makers' appetites, clearly communicate your ideas while winning buy-in and those all-important resources and budgets you need to make it happen. This article is your project proposal guide; it's filled with examples, project proposal writing tips, tricks, and things to know. We've also created a project proposal template to work from in the future, so you never miss a thing.
Before we dive into the thick of it all, let's fill in the project background a little. A project proposal is your project's first impression with leadership. It's that first handshake that determines interest in your idea—or not—and kicks off a project life cycle.
It's essential that you not only grab attention, but you deliver your project proposal with clarity and confidence. If you don't believe in your project, it'll show in your proposal.
Types of Project Proposals
It's worth noting; there are a few types of project proposals out there. Let's run through them quickly, so you know which type of project proposal is a fit for you.
✏️ Formally/informally solicited project proposals
A formally solicited proposal is in response to an RFP (Request for proposal.) Often initiated by project managers, it comes with pretty specific directions. There's a high chance that if this proposal is well-written it'll be approved.
An informally solicited project proposal is perhaps the trickiest type of project proposal to write. It's the same as above but usually requested verbally or via an informal communication channel.
It means this type of proposal doesn't come with as much context, the writer will need to do a lot of research themselves in order to get someone else's idea approved. It's a tricky one, but manageable with the right template.
✏️ Unsolicited project proposals
Just because no one asked for your project proposal, doesn't mean they don't want it. Perhaps they don't know they need it yet and you're one step ahead of the game. You'll need to do a lot of work to get this type of proposal approved, but it could be a game-changer for your business.
Unsolicited proposals come from those "Aha" moments you have in your everyday work. Perhaps you've identified a problem, a solution, or an opportunity but need resources to build out your idea and get it approved—this is when you turn to an unsolicited project proposal.
✏️ Continuation project proposals
This type of project proposal is usually done on a calendar basis when a project enters a new phase, or new resources/budgets are needed to ensure the continuation of a project.
Continuation project proposals are lower lift as the project itself has already been approved and is running.
✏️ Renewal project proposals
Slightly different from a continuation project proposal. This type of project proposal is for when a project has run its course and needs to start again. The research for this type of proposal usually comes from the success data of the previous project.
✏️ Supplemental project proposals
Have you gone over budget on your project or need more resources than you originally requested? This one's for you. It's not the most positive of project proposals, but if something is in short supply that you need to complete a previously approved project proposal then this type of proposal is the one you'll turn need.
A project proposal outline breakdown
Your project proposal format is the make or break of a successfully proposed project. Despite the different types of proposals out there, key information needs to be displayed in a way that's digestible and expected. We've outlined the running order of winning project proposals.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the importance of a first handshake to make a good impression. Your introduction is your moment to excite readers. Your project proposal executive summary needs to hook the reader. It's essentially your elevator pitch to your project while summarizing what the reader can expect.
Proposed problem and solution
Next up, you'll want to jump straight into the meat of your proposal while you've got the readers' utmost attention. Here you need to explain the problem you've witnessed alongside your proposed solution. Keep it short, concise and try to be data-minded.
Proposed method to fix the problem
After you've outlined your solution, lay out the methodology you've planned to help get there. This is essentially your project itself. You'll need to determine why this method is best, others you've considered, and use past projects as case studies to back up your strategy.
At this point, you'll also want to showcase how you'll be measuring and reporting on the project's success. State which metrics you'll watch, and how you intend to display the results. Get into the nitty-gritty here. If you're going to use a specific graph or measurement theory, then let the reader know—they may have a better solution.
Request for resources
By this point, you've hopefully convinced the reader that your project needs to be implemented and assured them that the method you've laid out is the best way to go about it. Now comes the tricky part, a request for resources. Be clear on what you need, how much you need and why.
When discussing the project budget, include any direct costs as well as those indirect costs that may be a secondary factor to your work.
It's always good to ask for more and use less, than have to ask for more later on with a supplemental project proposal.
Once you've laid out all of your requests, you need to identify those key stakeholders and team members essential to the approval process. Include internal and external stakeholders that are responsible for making this project a success, as well as the time frame they'll have to give the go-ahead for each stage of the project.
Wrap things up nicely; this is your last opportunity to push your project forward. Finish on a positive note and focus on the benefits your project will bring the company. For more information - view our project outline guidelines.
Your project proposal is going to need a lot of data and research. However, to stay on track and keep the proposal short, not all your info needs to be in the body of the proposal. Use references in your proposal and show where you got your information from in the appendix.
How to write the best project proposal?
Whether you're a seasoned pro at writing project proposals or you're about to start writing your first one, there are a few best practices you can use to help make it the best it can be.
Step 1: Understand your triple constraint
Time, scope, and cost—project management 101. Also known as the project management triangle. Know your triple constraint throughout every step of your project and don't be afraid to address them in your proposal.
Step 2: Write for your audience
Your project proposal will resonate a lot better if you know who you're addressing. Know your reader or readers and adjust your formalities and provided information accordingly. Knowing your audience will also help you understand what they already know and what you need to explain in further detail.
Step 3: Use a cover letter & table of contents
Just like a book submission to an editor, no one wants to dive into the unknown. Submit your project proposal with a cover letter. Your cover letter can be something as simple as a few paragraphs via email. This letter, coupled with a table of contents, will help set your audience up mentally for what they're about to read.
Step 4: Use the 5 W's when explaining
If you're ever in doubt on how to explain something within your project proposal, you can always rely on the 5 W's. What, why, who, where, when—and how for good measure. By answering these simple questions, you'll be surprised by the information they prompt out of you.
Step 5: Keep it short
Know your limit. You'll have a reader's attention at first, but even the best of writers can only keep that attention for so long. Try to keep your project proposal to two pages maximum, with only the appendix running onto the third page.
Step 6: Use a template
Maybe you saw this one coming, maybe you didn't. When in doubt, use a template. Establishing a project proposal template or templates within your organization will help everyone's proposals cover the important bits, as well as manage expectations for readers.
Step 7: Proof your work
We cannot stress this point enough. Get a second pair of eyes, or just rested eyes, on your proposal before you submit it. Sure, you're not being graded on your spelling, however, it will help build your trustworthiness and avoid any miscommunication.
Step 8: Reference your points
A good project proposal doesn't shy away from images, or other data points to back up what you're saying. Customer testimonials, customer complaints, user analytics, whatever your reasoning is behind your project proposal; make sure it's coming from informed decisions rather than feelings. You're more likely to get it approved that way.
Step 9: Discuss the core problem and its current state
When discussing the problem you've identified, make sure you cover its current state and why that's failing your business before you offer a solution. By doing so, you allow the reader to see the bigger picture, they can then decipher if your project should be a larger priority if the problem is currently damaging the company's reputation.
Step 10: Outline client benefits
No matter what area of the business your project focuses on, at some point, your project will benefit your current customers or new clients. Whether it's directly affecting them like inclusive pricing. Or, is something that will, in turn, affect them like optimizing an internal process. Be sure to highlight the how and why—no matter how far down the line they will benefit. By doing so, you bring a focus on your customer and add greater value to your project.
Step 11: Deliverables and KPIs
Be strategic when goal setting for your new project. Try to focus on SMART goals to ensure your KPIs cover everything and properly showcase the project's progress. State how often you will share a project report.
Putting your project proposal together
Whether you're a small business with limited budgets, or you're a large corporate with defined process already, don't be afraid to suggest some solid project management software if you don't have any already. Successful projects happen because a project team is set up for success from day one, and everything is accounted for.
The best project management software updates in real-time and most-likely integrate with the SaaS you're company is already using. When in doubt, summarize it in the proposal, it's easier to remove it later than add it in after you've got a green light.
Your next project can greatly benefit from a project proposal that takes into account previous projects and the entire project scope. You're not just proposing a project with this template, you're building a project roadmap.
This proposal is a project documentation tool for you as much as it is for a prospective client or internal stakeholder. Get as detailed as possible when building out your proposal, and then cut the fluff after. Even if research doesn't make it into the appendix, you'll benefit from doing it regardless. Once your proposal gets the green light, then you can proceed to write a project charter or a Statement of Work (SoW) for your project.
Free Project Proposal Template
Last but not least, here it is, what you've been waiting for. Writing a project proposal shouldn't be a challenge, take this project proposal template and make it your own. Implement it into your company's knowledge base tools how you see fit and ensure that your business continues to thrive with each new idea and opportunity that comes.