October 19, 2011

Length of the Proposal

The length of an innovation proposal has a major influence on whether managers will select the idea for further consideration. The record shows that proposals that are either too long or too short do not get the same level of consideration from managers as those that are the "right" length, given the particular environment. The optimal word length in the company I studied was about 250 words; other organizations will have different norms.

The fact is, the lower level managers who screen proposals are busy and have short attention spans. A proposal that is too long may be eliminated from further consideration irrespective of the potential merit of the idea; a long and turgid proposal frequently suffers from lack of focus. However, a skimpy proposal may also be an indication that the submission is in fact insufficiently thought through and fails to answer the basic questions. Thus, above and beyond perceptions issues on the part of the evaluator, optimal proposal length also reflects objective proposal quality, which increases the chance of the idea being promoted further. Companies looking to tap into the most promising ideas need to communicate the standards for proposals. Otherwise, they may find that some of the very best ideas are being disqualified before they are seriously considered.

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