A project proposal outline can be dynamic, interesting, and — dare we say it — exciting! As long as you know what to include, how to get the most out of each section, and the secret sauce most people forget to layer in, your next project proposal outline can impress stakeholders or even the toughest clients. 

What is a project proposal, really? 

A project proposal is a document that includes the who, what, when, where, why, and how much of any given plan. If you've ever wanted to win over a new client, offer up your services to an organization, or share your ingenious idea with a fellow collaborator, then chances are you've had to make a project proposal (and an outline for it) at least once in your life. 

A great project proposal is informative and persuasive. It relies on data and tells a compelling story. It lays out a vision for the project in question.

Why are project proposals important? 

Not only is this type of documentation widely useful, but it's also often a pre-project requirement for work across all industries. The structure provided in a project proposal outline is what sets a new goal up for success. 

Are there different kinds of project proposals? 

Yes, there are different types of project outlines. Although your approach to writing a business project proposal outline might vary slightly from your strategy for writing a research project proposal outline, the basics are still the same. In the following sections, we'll cover all the major elements you need in order to conquer any kind of project proposal. 

Ready to get started? These seven tips will help you create a solid foundation for your project proposal and stand out from the competition. 

How to create a winning project proposal 

Apply one or more of these tips to your next project proposal draft, and you'll start to see a real difference in reader response. 

  • Understand that a proposal is the first step of any project. Use project management software like Wrike to draft your project concepts and present more detailed visual tools along with your written document to make a more significant impact. 
  • Brainstorm questions you think the person or team you're going to pitch will ask. This includes questions about possible obstacles down the line, how you plan to deliver your project management status update, etc. If you're using Wrike to help with your proposal, you can reassure them with details on how you plan to respond to anticipated challenges and build trust with features like real-time work visibility.  
  • Find your unique hook and boil it down to its essence. Even if the solution or methods aren't new, offering a higher-quality service (like breaking complex projects down into bite-size phases in your proposal) can make all the difference. 
  • Provide relevant big-picture context to the problem you're going to solve. Defining project scope and dependencies from the outset is huge, which is why you should definitely include what resources you plan to track and how you plan to monitor them in your proposal outline. By the way, quality project management software makes this a whole lot easier to accomplish consistently at every stage of the project. 
  • Practice answering questions about your pitch — especially ones that don't seem relevant. You never know what curveballs you'll field during a presentation, but you can bet they'll have something to do with the potential curveballs you'll be thrown during the project itself. Hint: If you make use of visual project management tools, you'll always maintain control of flow no matter what happens. 
  • Go straight to the point in every section of your project outline. Use precise language and avoid jargon.
  • Depending on who you are pitching to, emphasize the project outcomes that will have the most significant impact on the decision-maker. Keep in mind that sometimes the motivations of two decision-makers in one company may differ, e.g., pitching to the Head of Engineering versus pitching to the Head of Marketing will require tweaking your project proposal outline to highlight technical advantages over marketing ROI.

To start writing your killer project proposal outline, follow the rest of this guide, and you'll be all set. 

The 6 most common project proposal outline items

Need a project proposal outline template? We've got you covered with the essentials as well as advice on how to maximize the effectiveness of each section. 

1. The introduction

What it is: Also known as the summary, overview, or abstract (and because of how difficult it is to write, it also goes by a few other, not-so-polite pseudonyms).

How to do it well: Open with a shocking piece of data, your unique problem-solving angle, or a thoughtful hook that specifically addresses your target audience's needs.   

2. The problem

What it is: What you plan to solve, why it's important, and any additional information that provides greater context to the conversation.

How to do it well: Focus on empathizing with your potential client or partner's situation. If you can, do additional research on the industry or interview them ahead of time. Include things like comparisons to other solutions that haven't worked for them in the past or identifying value that they need but might not expect from your solution at first glance. 

3. The solution

What it is: A brilliant idea for how you'd like to crush the problem, along with details on what your goals are, the steps you'd take to accomplish them, and what the proposal reviewer would have to do.

How to do it well: Project proposal ideas are most successful when they include things like a simple yet specific result you actively benchmark, measure, and update stakeholders on every step of the way. 

4. The money

What it is: Your definitive answer to "what's this all going to cost me?" as well as the nitty-gritty on how project finances will be budgeted.

How to do it well: Every budget line should include a clear description of what it is, along with a compelling sentence or two about why it is needed to achieve the desired outcome. 

5. The management

What it is: How will you monitor progress along the way? Are there any success markers you'll use to keep the project on the right path? How long is this whole thing going to take anyway?

How to do it well: Flowcharts and infographics make great supplementary materials (which, by the way, can be planned out in Wrike and serve as a little preview for things to come). 

6. The conclusion

What it is: A summary of all the preceding sections along with an inspiring, time-sensitive call to action that provides a next step for the reader. 

How to do it well: Make sure that you plan for your conclusion ahead of time by discussing an approval date before including it here. 

Think you've got everything you need to start writing a stunning project proposal outline? You're close but not quite there. 

Project proposal outline templates for an efficient project management experience

To help you create the best project proposal outline, Wrike has put together a collection of customizable templates you can use for your specific project proposal outline needs. Your intended project outline will determine which template you choose to make your project successful. 

Writing your best project proposal outline ever 

No matter who you're trying to impress, help out, or persuade, a solid project proposal outline is the first (and most important) step to accomplishing your goal. In addition to being detailed, succinct, and organized, make sure you keep these key ideas in mind when writing your next one: 

  • Know the difference between an average proposal and a successful one. Most proposals are ambiguous and use inflated language to sound impressive. Instead, try to cut to the chase, provide highly valuable information, and find an angle that will interest your audience.
  • Maximize every section of your project proposal outline. You can do it, but can you do it well? Just like your actual project, a proposal outline can be made even more efficient if you review the main objective of each part and make the most out of the space you have available.
  • Comb through your proposal for fluff. Most proposals sound good, but will they pass an executive's sniff test? It's easy to describe a great idea. However, if you want to prove that your great idea is actually going to work, you'll need a little help from project management tools like Wrike to seal the deal.
  • Apply project management best practices from the onset of planning and writing your project outline. How can you make sure that you get every detail right and still meet your deadlines? Simple — you treat the project proposal outline development as a small project itself. While an elaborate project proposal might take longer and have to go through several stakeholders before it is approved, a smaller one is easy to create by just one project manager. 

Ready to get started? Start drafting your project proposal outline in Wrike today with a free two-week trial.