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Creating a happy RFP

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Leo Tolstoy‘s book Anna Karenina, begins: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I believe that is also true with RFPs.

One of my responsibilities within the Strategic Advisory Team is to respond to RFPs. I am a contributor and in some cases coordinate the responses. When coordinating, I need to understand the entire RFP and ensure that the individual sections roll up into a comprehensive response that addresses the customer’s questions. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a number of responses, which prompted this post.

Companies invest time in creating and evaluating RFPs, vendors invest time in analyzing and responding. All involved parties have a lot riding on a good RFP. To be clear, a good RFP doesn’t mean one that Perficient wins. A good RFP is one where Perficient understand the customer’s requirements and expectations and determine we are a fit. Also a point on my background, I spent my formative career years in a large international company, eventually leading international teams of technologists. I understand structure and process and see the value of a well-crafted RFP and have been involved now on both creating and responding.

Below I have categorized some challenges I have seen:

Information embargo – In many cases the written response to Q&A are terse and do not provide additional information. If the purpose of the Q&A is to allow respondents to clarify the RFP in order to provide a better response, then the answers need to enhance understanding.

Too specific –RFPs that consist almost entirely of very specific technical questions and very few questions about usability/user experience, testing methodologies, team composition and other factors that make a project successful. I’ve also seen a question asking if the proposed system supports DNS. In 2015 the question is about DNS? Ironically IPv6 support was not asked.

Aspirational – This is the evil twin of the too specific RFP. The requirements section of one RFP listed: a dashboard of business activities, mobile access and intuitive content authoring system. Unfortunately there was no additional details or clarification. We can make assumptions based on other projects but the odds of our assumptions and the customer’s requirements being identical is pretty low. If your requirements have the same level of detail as a mission statement, you probably need to revise.

Misaligned expectations –This category covers a variety of topics. Requesting specific names of resources with a start date of “TBD” is common. Another one I like is cost of running the servers and storage, often without specifying a preferred server platform. I understand the goal, calculate TCO, and I can calculate number and specification of servers and estimation of storage, but not your cost.

A comment on format. I understand that Excel might be your preferred tool to gather and maintain your RFP questions. Asking for narrative answers in a spreadsheet is difficult. Unless there is a strong reason, allow the response to be in document.

Hopefully this list helps you when preparing your next RFP; make it a happy one.

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