A project proposal is a written document outlining everything stakeholders should know about a project, including the timeline, budget, objectives, and goals. Your project proposal should summarize your project details and sell your idea so stakeholders buy in to the initiative. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to write a project proposal so you can win approval and succeed at work.
All projects have creation stories, but they don’t start with someone declaring, “Let there be resources!” To move forward with a project, teams must submit a proposal to decision-makers within their organization or to external stakeholders.
A project proposal is like a written elevator pitch—its purpose is to present your project in a condensed but efficient manner. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to write a project proposal so you can win approval and succeed at work.
A project proposal is a written document outlining everything stakeholders should know about a project, including the timeline, budget, objectives, and goals. Your project proposal should summarize your project details and sell your idea so stakeholders feel inclined to get involved in the initiative.
The goal of your project proposal is to:
Secure external funding
Allocate company resources to your project
Gain stakeholder buy-in
Build momentum and excitement
Project proposals and project charters serve different purposes in the project creation process, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. While a project proposal takes place in the initiation phase of the project, the project charter takes place in the planning phase.
As mentioned above, a project proposal is a persuasive document meant to convince stakeholders why the project should be carried out. A project charter is a reference document that defines project objectives, and it can’t be created until the project proposal is approved.
People also confuse the business case with the project proposal, but the business case also comes after the proposal. Once the project is approved through a proposal, a business case may be used to secure additional funding for the project.
There are six types of proposals you may encounter as a project manager, and understanding the different formats can be useful as you write yours. Each type has a different goal.
Solicited: You’ll send solicited proposals in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFP announces a project in detail and asks for bids from qualified teams. Because you’re competing against other companies for this type of proposal, you must do thorough research and write persuasively.
Unsolicited: You’ll send unsolicited proposals without an RFP, meaning no one asked for your proposal. In this case, you won’t be up against other companies or teams, but you’ll still need to be persuasive because you have no knowledge of whether the stakeholder you’re pitching to needs you.
Informal: You may have a client send you an informal request for a project proposal, in which case you can respond with your project pitch. Because this isn’t an official RFP, the rules are less concrete.
Renewal: You’ll send renewals to existing clients in hopes that they’ll extend their services with your organization. In this type of project proposal, the goal is to emphasize past results your team has produced for the client and persuade them you can produce future results.
Continuation: You’ll send continuations as a reminder to a stakeholder letting them know the project is beginning. In this project proposal, you’ll simply provide information about the project instead of persuading the stakeholder.
Supplemental: Similar to a continuation proposal, you’ll send a supplemental proposal to a stakeholder already involved in your project. In this type of proposal, you’re letting the stakeholder know the project is beginning, while also asking for additional resources. You should persuade the stakeholder to contribute more to the project in this proposal.
The tone of voice and content of your project proposal will differ based on the type of proposal you’re sending. When you know your project goals, you can write your proposal accordingly.
These step-by-step instructions apply to most project proposals, regardless of type. You’ll need to customize your proposal for the intended audience, but this project proposal outline can serve as a reference to ensure you’re including the key components in your document.
The executive summary serves as the introduction to your project proposal. Similar to a report abstract or an essay introduction, this section should summarize what’s coming and persuade the stakeholder to continue reading. Depending on the complexity of your project, your executive summary may be one paragraph or a few paragraphs.
Your executive summary should include:
The problem your project plans to solve
The solution your project provides for that problem
The impact your project will have
You should only address these items briefly in your executive summary because you’ll discuss these topics in more detail later in your proposal.
In this section, you’ll go into the background of the project. Use references and statistics to convince your reader that the problem you’re addressing is worthwhile.
Some questions to include are:
What is the problem your project addresses?
What is already known about this problem?
Who has addressed this problem before/what research is there?
Why is past research insufficient at addressing this problem?
You can also use this section to explain how the problem you hope to solve directly relates to your organization.
You just presented a problem in the project background section, so the next logical step in proposal writing is to present a solution. This section is your opportunity to outline your project approach in greater detail.
Some items to include are:
Your vision statement for the project
Project team roles and responsibilities
A risk register showing how you’ll mitigate risk
Reporting tools you’ll use throughout the project
You may not have all these items in your proposal format, but you can decide what to include based on the project scope. This section will likely be the longest and most detailed section of your proposal, as you’ll discuss everything involved in achieving your proposed solution.Try project management software for teams
Defining your project deliverables is a crucial step in writing your project proposal. Stakeholders want to know what you’re going to produce at the end of your project, whether that’s a product, a program, an upgrade in technology, or something else. As the stakeholder reads through your vision, this will be the section where they say, “Aha, this is what they’ll use my resources for.”
When defining your deliverables, you should include:
The end product or final objective of your project
A project timeline for when deliverables will be ready
SMART goals that align with the deliverables you’re producing
While it’s important to show the problem and solution to your project, it’s often easier for stakeholders to visualize the project when you can define the deliverables.
Now that you’ve outlined your problem, approach, solution, and deliverables, you can go into detail about what resources you need to accomplish your initiative.
In this section, you’ll include:
Project budget: The project budget involves everything from the supplies you’ll need to create a product to ad pricing and team salaries. You should include any budget items you need to deliver the project here.
Breakdown of costs: This section should include research on why you need specific resources for your project; that way, stakeholders can understand what their buy-in is being used for. This breakdown can also help you mitigate unexpected costs.
Resource allocation plan: You should include an overview of your resource allocation plan outlining where you plan to use the specific resources you need. For example, if you determine you need $50,000 to complete the project, do you plan to allocate this money to salaries, technology, materials, etc.
Hopefully, by this point in the proposal, you’ve convinced the stakeholders to get on board with your proposed project, which is why saving the required resources for the end of the document is a smart strategic move.
Finally, wrap up your project proposal with a persuasive and confident conclusion. Like the executive summary, the conclusion should briefly summarize the problem your project addresses and your solution for solving that problem. You can emphasize the impact of your project in the conclusion but keep this section relevant, just like you would in a traditional essay.
Following the steps listed above will ensure your project proposal has all the right elements. But if you want to impress your readers and win their approval, your writing must shine. In addition to the above, a project proposal includes:
As you write your proposal, keep your audience (i.e. the stakeholders) in mind at all times. Remember that the goal of the proposal is to win your audience over, not just to present your project details. For example, if you’re creating a new editing tool for a children’s publishing house, can you determine whether your stakeholders are parents and appeal to their emotional side when persuading them to buy in to your product?
Persuasion is important in a project proposal because you’re hoping your audience will read your proposal and do something for you in return. If your reader isn’t intrigued by your project, they won’t feel inclined to help you. If you describe your editing tool but don’t mention the many features it will offer, how it will benefit clients, and its positive impact in the industry, your audience will wonder, “Why should I care about this project?”
While you should go into detail on your problem, approach, and solution, you shouldn’t make your project proposal overly complex. This means you can discuss the project plan for your proposed editing tool without discussing what codes the engineers will use to make each feature work.
A successful project proposal includes thorough research. Be prepared to back up your problem—and solution—with reputable sources, case studies, statistics, or charts so you don’t leave your audience with questions. When writing your proposal, put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask:
Why is this a problem?
How is this a solution to the problem?
Has anyone addressed this problem before?
What are the project costs?
If you can answer these questions, then you’ve likely done enough research to support your proposed initiative.
Good project proposals require team collaboration. With the right management tools, your team can communicate, share information, and work together on one shared document.
When you store all your project information in one place, it’s easy to access that data when you need it. Project proposals stem from well-organized and properly planned projects, which is why project management software is a key resource to effectively write a project proposal. Ready to get started? Try Asana.Try project management software for teams