When is the best time to add projects to our tracker, when a client pays or when we receive a RFP (Request for Proposal)?
We are finalizing our project management and service provision policies and although we track work from the moment we have to submit a proposal, we want to make sure we aren't wasting valuable time tracking projects that don't follow through. But we still want to be prepared with assignments and tasks when the bottom line is signed.
The simple answer is to follow your GOAL.
If your goal is to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, everything runs smoothly and quality connectivity is maintained - then you really do need someone to track every step from conception through delivery and deployment (and even afterward regarding maintenance and up-sale opportunities).
Does everyone have to be involved in every step? No.
Should someone be steering the ship throughout the journey? Yes
Should someone be collecting metrics throughout the project? Yes
Do you have to use the same tracker or project plan for every phase? No.
The benefit for tracking everything is that you will be learning how long things actually take, how much things actually cost, etc. Even if the project doesn't go to the end - you have collected valuable information to reuse and improve your cost and time estimates for future projects. You will have collected valuable data for process improvement.
You also have the possibility of the contract being signed, without up-front payment. They may pay on a payment plan OR upon delivery. In those cases, it doesn't help you to start tracking only when the client pays.
You should actually be tracking your time and effort regarding lead-to-sales effort as well (i.e. how long it takes from receiving the lead to actually being able to submit a proposal). Tracking the steps, time and effort in this sales process also provides invaluable data regarding process improvement, need for additional sales tools or training. The overall goal is to reduce that lead-to-RFP time; as well as improve the Lead-to-Sale conversion numbers.
Does this type of sales project management tracking need to be the same as the development project management tracking tool? No. Sales could use their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to track and analyse their effectiveness.
Bottom line - you aren't wasting valuable time tracking projects PERIOD. You can always, always, always use that information to good use. You just need decide the right metrics to collect and make the data useful to you.
I come from a professional services project management background, and now train project managers. The sooner you start tracking a project, the more robust governance will be. The only exception is where it is obvious the project is going nowhere. Of course, 'obvious' must also be interpreted in terms of good governance.
Your response to an RFP can be anything from a courteous decline to bid, to a major investment in time and money in preparing a bid. This needs good decision-making. It must therefore follow a process you have specified to increase your long term chances of success and delivering profitable services. If you aren't tracking opportunities from this stage, two things will happen:
1. You won't be sure you are managing them properly and making accountable decisions on things like pricing, quality, resourcing...
2. Any data you build up will be biased by the projects that do appear on your tracker. Without a full data set, you'll have no robust means to review the decisions you made and learn from them.
So in summary: when you receive the RFP.
Depending on the type of client and Project, we could consider RFP preparation as a "Project", with some costs involved. I recomed to start tracking and getting valuable data in this stage. If, finally, the Project don't follow through, we have data related to proposal preparation and we could improve this process for future cases.
But in any case, tracking must be done from the early staged of the Project, as son as we receive the Order to Proceed (even if formal contract is not yet signed) because we are performing the tasks and we need both, control over performed tasks, and feedback to internally improve our processes.
Without getting more information, it sounds to me like a need to qualify and quantify the client and his/her proposal.... If it is part of the project to get the client interested then I would not charge until the client is committed, you have thoroughly checked their credit and agrees upon the all aspects of the pricing of the project.... Service after the project would be an ongoing benefit that would have to be clearly defined and trust developed.... Without Trust you have very little agreement..... Relationships must work equally well for both parties both in personal and financial terms