Having a background in project management is great when you are faced with the task of planning a new project. However managing a bid or writing a proposal is fundamentally different from managing a project.
There are two main differences between bid management and project management.
1) When doing a project you already know what you have to do, by when and how much can it cost. That is called the iron triangle of project management: quality, time and cost. Those are contractual facts. Your goal is to stay in scope, spend available resources and make it in the timeline that is written down in the plan. You can sometimes make exchanges between shorter timeline for more resources, smaller scope for less money to spare, but sometimes not even that because of dependencies to partners or other projects. And if your scope creeps or explodes you will have to look for more money and resources to finalize.
2) When writing a bid or a project plan you basically have no time, no money and no resources – and you have to invent how you would spend it if you had it. The work that results from these constraints is at best fast, lean and collaborative – at worst it is slow, complex and you are all alone. To get it right you have to get attention from technical, sales, legal and business experts as well as other managers and senior level sponsors to get comments or approval. And none of them has any intention of doing your job for you. They are always busy but you have to get their attention in order to succeed. But if you fail, it’s not their fault. Typically the expertise is scattered around the organization and in networked project consortia between organizations and in different countries. When you have these domain experts collaborating it is great, but they are sometimes also negotiating against each other and competing with partner companies. And your job in planning the project is to pull this all together in a very short deadline. And if you make it, the bid will end up being a contract that your project managers have to deliver. I hope it was not messy all the way till the end, right?
There is a fundamental difference in managing a bid and managing a project. In bid writing you have to invent the project that is feasible, winning and profitable. When managing a bid that has been won the project manager has to deliver the plan and manage the risk from day one to keep it going also in real life. Sometimes project plans propose theoretical alternative truths but when the reality hits the fan and it is the project managers job to clean it up. The luxury is that a project manager already has a project plan, funding and timelines to follow – you know what needs to get done at least with the available resources to make dreams come true.