Step 5: SBIR proposal process – work plan

Often an after thought – improving the Work Plan greatly contributes to the success of the proposal.

Most writers scrimp on the Work Plan, spending a lot of real estate describing the significance of their technology, its nuances, and interesting tangents, but hurry through the Work Plan. Dedicate ample space in the proposal to the Work Plan.

Here are some hard-earned tips:

  • Talk Specifics – tell the Government exactly what you are going to do. Answer the following: “who, what, when, where, how and why.” This should be done for every task in the Work Plan.
  • A common mistake is most proposers include WHAT is being done, but don’t talk about HOW.
  • Read the agency instructions, some agencies expect up to six pages but the proposer writes one page.
  • Make sure that the Work Plan tasks achieve your objectives.
  • It does not sit well with reviewers if the proposal says that you will achieve one thing and the work plan does not include tasks that clearly and logically show how you will achieve it.
  • Prove feasibility in Phase I.
  • Remember, Phase I is a feasibility study. State what you have to show or prove to demonstrate the feasibility of your innovation idea, and include all of the tasks needed to accomplish the objective.
  • Include a Timeline (often another afterthought)
  • The agency usually expects you to include a timeline. NSF for example mandates that you include a GANTT Chart.
  • Some reviewers are skeptical that you can achieve all of the objectives in the Work Plan. The timeline shows exactly what will be done.
  • Include a column on the right that lists the personnel (contractor, consultants, Federal labs, and Universities) that will be involved in each task, (e.g. Task 5, Tally results and assess feasibility, will be performed in late month 5, and will be done by John Doe and Jane Doe.

Demonstrate that thought and planning has been directed toward this project:

  • Schedule is directly related to tasks.
  • Strive for quick startup.
  • Show a logical progression of events vs. time: be reasonable; build in time for Murphy’s Law.
  • Discriminator: This is the key place where you set the reviewers mind that: you have a logical, realistic plan.
  • You can pull it off.

Phase I is a Feasibility Study (or Proof of Concept Analysis). Your idea must be both credible and technically risky (can’t be a trivial or evolutionary advancement over the current state of the art).

The Phase I proposal needs to define the innovative solution, and what will be done with the $100k, and six months time to convince the agency that your idea has a chance to succeed.

Most writers do not address the feasibility issue that the Phase I proposal will address. Many don’t even mention the word “feasibility.” Mention feasibility early in the Phase I proposal (see Writing Basics Slides 22 – 24). State what the proposed solution or approach is, and why this is the best possible solution or approach to this problem or opportunity.

Emphasize that you are not certain that your solution or approach will work (the technical risk justifies the Government’s use of SBIR funding). Briefly explain why you are uncertain. State how you will decide whether your solution or approach is feasible, and how you will measure feasibility; and finally-justify your feasibility measure.

E.g., if the problem being addressed is treads that keep falling off of Ml tanks, then the proposal should reiterate the unacceptability of this situation for a vehicle engaged in combat You might hypothesize that the material used to make the pins that hold the threads together is failing due to a combination of extreme stress, and abrasion found in sandy environments. Your proposed solution is a new innovative material that can make the pins stronger. Your Phase I project becomes an effort to determine whether this other material is a solution to the tread problem. Prove feasibility in the middle of the project and not towards the end.

The sooner you know about feasibility, the quicker you can complete strategic partnerships. Early determination of infeasibility enables you to redirect the remainder of the Phase I effort.

Your proposal should state that you will test the new material for appropriate strength and abrasion resistance in this application, and that you will deem that the new material is a feasible solution if the material does not fail in at least 99% of the tests you will conduct.

Finally; you should justify using a 99% success rate, and using stress and abrasion conditions that are equal to combat conditions.

Some agencies only accept Phase II proposals from companies that are invited to submit them. The invitation process begins part way through the Phase I effort. Therefore, not concluding feasibility until the end of the Phase I project may hurt your chances for Phase II invitation.

Many DoD agencies have “Fast Track” programs in which Phase I winners can by pass the invitation process and have a very high chance of Phase II award if they can bring outside funds. The process of starts part way through the Phase I project.

Both SOCOM and DHS want to see Phase I projects completed in less than six months. They have problems that they want solved “yesterday.”

Some DoD agencies (Army, Navy, and MDO) have Phase I options and can provide additional funding to Phase I winners. However Phase I options are not exercised until they have selected the firm for Phase II.

While the goal might be to prove feasibility in less than six months, Phase I projects often involve high risk research and therefore may not go according to plan. Some projects require “no cost extensions” beyond the usual term.

Never sacrifice the quality of a Phase I project just to try to conclude the feasibility in an abbreviated period. If you indicated the questions you must answer to prove feasibility (in the objectives), then the work plan should focus on answering the question(s).

The Work Plan should include a task in which you take all the data and information gathered in the Phase I effort and compare it against your feasibility criteria and conclude whether the feasibility has been proven.

– Eric Adolphe


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