Three reasons why your Horizon 2020 proposal may fail

When I first started writing proposals I failed, quite a lot in fact, and I still sometimes do. Apart from not meeting the eligibility criteria – one of the top reasons proposals fail – I have listed the 3 main pitfalls below.

Starting too late

Everything takes time and effort. For example, a Horizon 2020 innovation action is around 60-80 pages long. A good rule to apply is that each page of text takes about 4 hours to complete. That’s a maximum of 320 hours or 40 days work at 8 hours a day.

Time can be wasted chasing people who don’t meet deadlines. Horizon 2020 projects are big proposals, requiring the management of 5 to 10 partners. In addition, the communication overload arranging meetings can eat up time. It’s possible to submit a proposal in less than 40 days – but everything is a balance of time, quality and cost – spending less time may mean losing quality.

No vision

Great proposals have a vision – a vision of the future that they want to create – they sell that vision and then tell you how and what they are going to do to achieve it.

Most proposals start backwards – focusing on the “what” rather than the “why”. When you first come together as a proposal team, you have to think about your purpose. Why should the proposal exist in the first place? What is your greater purpose? Good proposals are inspirational.

Not building a proposal team

Horizon 2020 is about European collaboration and that means building an effective team. Great proposals come from great teams working together to deliver the best effort they can. All teams go through 4 stages:

  • forming
  • storming
  • norming
  • and performing

Good teams are well led, cooperate and meet face-to-face often to work together to achieve a common goal.

It’s important to bring the right people together and to invest in their skills. Ignore the ‘soft’ side of proposal development at your peril. You may get lucky once or twice – but in the long run you’ll lose more than you will win.

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