Saturday, October 5, 2013

...writing a project proposal

The core objective of the design clinic scheme being to improve manufacturing competitiveness of the MSMEs in the country, design projects form important component of the scheme. And the design outcomes of the projects completed so far with the financial support from the scheme have effectively demonstrated the benefits and  capabilities of design towards achieving this goal. These projects have helped improve productivity and also the market share for their beneficiary  MSMEs. Design interventions have helped reduce materials, weight, product size /foot print area, etc. of the products designed. Product components and manufacturing processes have been optimised. The products have been improved from their usage /ergonomics, functionality perspectives. These design interventions have helped improve product aesthetics and overall brand image for their beneficiary MSMEs.

The scheme secretariat has till date received 240 professional design project proposals and 143 student design project proposals. These proposals have been received from as many as 14 different MSME industry sectors.  The project proposals are first assessed by external experts and then placed, along with their recommendations, to the  committee (Project Implementation Committee, PIC, for the student project proposals and Project Monitoring and Advisory Committee, PMAC, for the professional projects) for their final approval. The project implementation team facilitate the entire process right from encouraging MSMEs to take up project; help identify designers wherever required; guide, advise and facilitate applicant MSME and the designer/s in developing project proposal; scrutinise the application/ proposal as per scheme guidelines; facilitate  external experts for project proposal assessment; present the proposal and the recommendations to the committee and finally  informs committee's decision to the applicant MSMEs. Thereafter the implementation team facilitate the awardee MSME and the designer complete the required formalities to start the project, process their requests for payments etc., and constantly monitor the progress at every stages of the project.

Implementation team's association with each project and with it's main stakeholders, i.e the MSME and the designer/s, thus ranges from minimum of 8 weeks to more than about a year. This close association with the projects submitted to the scheme, have helped the team understand the concerns and expectations from each of the stakeholders of the scheme - the MSME unit owner; designer; subject experts, designers and/or academicians as project evaluators; industry apex bodies as members of the committee, and that of the government. Each proposal is thus scrutinised from different perspectives, reviewed and discussed in detail, before arriving at the final decision for its approval or rejection.

Financial support, as can be availed only once and by the first time users of design, majority of the applicant MSMEs may not be aware of the design process followed as well as the expectations from the design project. For  majority of the MSMEs, even though financially subsidised, their part of contribution for the design project and the subsequent investments required to take the new design further to the market becomes a major investment and commitment. Thus, while developing the guidelines and formats for the projects, we were conscious in retaining the required flexibility and scope for the MSME unit and the designer to develop terms and conditions suitable and agreeable to both; their commitments and project deliverables; as well as the approach to be adopted for the project. The objective being to reduce the financial burden and the risks involved in exploring design, through reimbursing part of the design cost and providing assurance of deliverables through detailed scrutiny of the proposal, comparative assessment and supervisions are avoided and kept to a minimum, only to monitor  the progress of the project.

The Design Clinic Scheme is one of the ten components of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness programme (NMCP) of the ministry of MSMEs. The scheme thus expects design to be used as a tool to improve the manufacturing competitiveness of this crucial sector of Indian industry. The criteria of assessment are developed accordingly (, and thus include productivity improvement; processes, components, material optimisation etc., as part of the expected project outcomes. The project that assists industry move up the value chain, reduce import substitute, increase export potential  are some of the important scheme criteria. The project evaluation team - the external experts and the members of the committee, thus face difficult task, starting from gauging the experience and capabilities of both the MSME and that of the designer to undertake the proposed project; scope  for design intervention and for the introduction of new design in the market; as well as to gauge the design fees and the project duration proposed; besides assessing the project from the perspective of the the scheme criteria mentioned above, and the basic expected design criteria.

From the project proposals received, 135 professional projects and 77 student projects have been approved and are at various stages of their progress. Over 35 professional projects and 30 student projects have already been completed from these approved projects. However, as far as the design projects are concerned, we have not been able to achieve the targets at the speed we had expected. And as mentioned earlier, design project outcomes are important to create the much required interests in design among the MSMEs. The slow response, as is understood from the analysis of the projects and their progress, is due to variety of reasons, some of which can be listed as..

(a)  Slow response from MSMEs in taking up projects - As new user of design and with substantial investment (even though subsidised) from the point of view of MSMEs, they do not find themselves to be ready to explore this option of design projects. MSMEs would like to be convinced of the benefits through demonstrable outcomes.
(b) Delays of completing approved projects - The approved projects are getting delayed during different stages of their progress for the reasons ranging from differences of opinion between MSME and the designer; reduced level of interest and motivation from MSME while the project is in progress due to  their other commitments, new priorities and/or changed situations; non availability of funds, materials for prototype; etc.
(c)   Slow response from the Indian design fraternity - The scheme is yet to be embraced  by the Indian design community at the level expected, and for them to be its ambassadors to take the message of design to the needy MSMEs of the country. Though the projects have been approved at a fairly good overall rate of approval at about 60%, the rejection of the project proposals do create disappointments, especially considering the small design community in the country.

Though various new initiatives such as field executives visiting individual MSMEs to explain the scheme and it's benefits; actively participating in various industry expo, exhibitions, conferences etc.; setting up a webpage for interested MSMEs on scheme website, etc. have been implemented by the team, the conversion of MSMEs'  interests into project proposals is still low.

Design projects are normally generated by the designers /design firms through their personal contacts and personal repo developed with the industry /client. The proposals are thus discussed at individual level, clarified and negotiated before its approval by the client. As a normal practice followed, the design task/design process for the proposed project is  initiated by the designer only after the contract /agreement is finalised and the advance amount of the design fee is released. Unlike in architecture, where the architect pitches for the project with the proposed design direction /design concept, thereby providing required clarity for its client to understand the expected outcomes from the project  before entering into the contract, design projects are normally undertaken on the basis of the project proposals developed based on initial discussions. Such proposals, developed with limited information and within short time, would then comprise of generalised statements within a common proposal format developed based on individual experiences. These proposals lack the much required clarity and specificity, in terms of its detailed scope of work, process to be adopted, as well as the expected deliverables of the project. MSMEs expect handholding support from the designer till the product is launched in the market. And in the absence of any R&D department /activity within the industry, designer is expected to develop all the necessary details and if required, help develop new vendors for their new design. These proposals would thus leave scope for unexpected situations, misunderstandings, conflicts in the process.

Over and above these, in the case of the scheme, though all the efforts are made to get the clarifications wherever required before its final decision by the committee, largely distant /remote evaluation process leaves limited scope for further addition, clarifications and/or corrections in the proposal once submitted. Sketchy proposals would fail to create that much required clarity, transparency and confidence among its evaluators. These proposals would fail to communicate and reflect the purpose, vision and understandings of the designer and that of the  client. It is important to note that for the scheme and the distant evaluation process thus followed, it is the project proposal that is being assessed, and not the capabilities of the designer/design firm, which is normally the case for the projects undertaken at individual level.

The expectations of the committee normally is to see the project creating measurable, significant and demonstrable difference from the one already exists in the markets. And these improvements are expected to be in the context of the NMCP criteria. The project proposal is thus expected to clearly highlight, and as far as possible in a tangible form, the opportunities / gaps identified, scope for improvements/ changes, and the expected outcomes of the project. Inclusion of background study, product and business audit, market analysis, other related references, thus form important support document / information to clarify, convince and justify the scope for the project and thereby help substantiate the proposal. Detailed project specific terms and conditions, considering variety of factors effecting each stages of the project would help plan required resources well in advance.

Little investment of time and efforts from the designer at the stage of developing the proposal, would  help create the much required clarity for all the stakeholders involved, that is the MSME, the designer and the evaluators. Avoiding undue delays, conflicts and disappointments, this would help complete the project in systematic, timely and professional manner. Specific, detailed and contextual project proposals, would certainly help address majority of the issues for slow response mentioned earlier. While offering better clarity to the client and the evaluators, thereby reducing its chances of rejection, and once approved, increasing chances of their timely completion, the clarity developed at the initial stage of the project forms crucial parameter towards achieving the success of each of the projects and thereby  the overall objectives of the scheme.

The implementation team, based on the experiences gained over these last three and half years, is constantly improving and refining the proposal format to assist the MSME and the designer to include all the necessary information and thereby help effectively communicate their views and objectives of taking up the project. Though proposal writing and especially detailed description of every steps may not interest most designers, it is felt most necessary for establishing the clarity and confidence among the evaluators. As a broad-based scheme covering so many industry sectors (scheme has covered 28 industry sectors through seminars and awareness programmes and received proposals from 14 different  industry sectors of MSMEs), from such varied enterprises as micro, small and medium enterprises, and from across the country, specific and contextual details of the proposal would help evaluators and the committee members better understand the MSME's and that of the designer's perspectives and intents for undertaking the project.

The project proposal, especially from the point of view of the scheme, can thus be divided into the following sections ..

Background /context - Especially as the proposal is being submitted to the scheme (a third party) for financial assistance, it is critical to establish the background and the context for the project to be part of the scheme. The purpose for undertaking this project, therefore needs to be clearly established upfront. Also important will be to establish the capabilities and availability of resources to undertake the project and subsequent efforts thereafter to bring the product into the market. Providing details in terms of MSME unit's (including the owner/s) historical background; experience, capabilities and interests; range of other products/ components produced by the unit; market share and unit's current position in the market (may include list of few of it's clients); competitors and competition faced in the market; technology and market trends; etc. will help develop the much needed confidence among the evaluators and the sponsors (in this case the government) to support the project. As a formal requirement, the scheme guideline expects the MSME to be profitable for the last three years. These, and any other supporting documents for the information/details provided in the proposal as suggested above, would help better communicate the intent and seriousness to undertake the project.

Scope of the project -  Detailed product description at this stage of the proposal, would help bring the reader/evaluator and the designer/author of the proposal to a common ground/level of understanding. The description should cover all the different aspects of the product, including its technology and operational details, functionality and features, usage, areas of application, etc. It will be advisable to consider that the reader/s of the proposal may not have experience /knowledge of the product being discussed, considering the vast range of products and the industry sectors the scheme covers. Coupled with this, providing reference of competitors' products would help reader understand the status of the product discussed and the need for its improvements/design.

Mapping the opportunities /gaps to develop specific scope of work forms the core of the project proposal. This calls for systematic, detailed and holistic product, processes and business audit.  Investment of little time and efforts at this stage will help clearly identify areas of improvements leading to developing possible directions for project in consultation with the client. Detailed criteria for project assessment developed for the scheme and uploaded on the scheme website as guideline may be used for carrying out this audit. While helping narrow down the scope of work for specific and focused design intervention efforts and avoiding over ambitious commitments, these would also help quantify (provide tangible form) the level of improvements proposed for the project. Each of the areas of improvements identified and quantified (as is expected as part of the project proposal, as per the format) can then be clearly justified through  proper visual documentation and description. While providing the much required confidence to both the client as well as to the evaluators, the clarity thus developed will help develop concise project proposal with clear deliverables. It will also help plan and arrange for the resources required at different stages of the project.

The scheme objective being to improve manufacturing competitiveness of the products  thereby focusing majorly on their redesign, the format thus developed will be applicable for most of the projects proposed. And visual documentation of the audit process would form  major support to contextualise, clarify and justify majority of the improvements proposed.

Design Process - As mentioned earlier, most MSMEs would be new to design. The proposal should help explain the quantum of work and efforts involved. Every steps of the design process to be undertaken by the designer, therefore need to be described in detail. By their very nature, most MSME's would be impatient as far as the outcomes are concerned. Projects of longer duration may reduce their level of interests and motivation. The project therefore should be tightly scheduled with clearly defined phases and tangible deliverables at the end of each phase. Lack of communication can create doubt. The MSMEs therefore need to be constantly engaged, informed and involved in the project.

Deliverables -  It will be easier for both the MSME client as well as for the scheme secretariat to monitor and gauge the progress of the project, if clear deliverables are identified and agreed for each steps, for each phases and for the entire project. These deliverables should be in tangible form and as far as possible should be quantified, to avoid any dispute, misunderstandings or conflicts at a later stage. Design project specific terms  used in the proposal should be well described and clearly defined (design drawings, mock-up models, renderings etc.) The scheme expects prototype of the new design as the final deliverable for every design projects supported.

The MSME needs handholding support from the designer up to the time the newly designed product is launched in the market.  And the scheme expects the designer to be involved with the MSME/ with the project at least up to the completion of the first prototype. However in most cases, the responsibility of making the prototype as would be left on the client/MSME and with its/his largely unorganised approach, it becomes difficult to complete the tasks in time. It is therefore important to plan this activity well in advance, right from the beginning of the project, with well defined tasks and schedule. The closure report of the project should include detailed guideline for the MSME, in case of any further development work  required.

The scheme reimburses 60% of the total approved design project cost (max. up to Rs. 9.0 lakh for individual MSME unit and max. up to Rs. 15.0 lakh for group of four or more MSME units) covering the design fees, and prototype and project related expenditure (travel, documentation etc.) on actual basis. Detailed description of the steps /design process and that of the deliverables along with the list of resources (including human resources) helps develop and justify the project fees quoted. Detailed break up of the involvement of human resources including their duration of involvement/ engagements with the descriptions of the tasks/responsibilities, rate of their payment, etc. and similarly, break up of the deliverables in the form of materials /resources, estimated quantities, labor and processing costs, etc. will help estimate the project cost on fairly realistic level. This will also help better explain the fees charged, to the client MSME and the sponsor (evaluators and the committee members). Though prototype and other project related expenditure are reimbursed by the scheme and thus also charged by the designer, on actual basis, it will be important to help MSME /client get the overall and realistic estimate of the project cost.

Well developed project proposal would thus help clarify most doubts and  help instil confidence among the client MSME unit and the sponsors. While increasing chances of its approval,  it will help successfully complete the project within the specified time duration. Such detailed and contextual proposals will help designers deliver projects in transparent and professional manner, thereby helping MSMEs gain the much needed confidence to compete in today's fast changing markets and plan their future progress to move up in the value chain.  


Guidelines, proposal format, project assessment criteria, list of approved projects etc. can be found at

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