The Request for Proposal is a lot like a first date. It becomes the first impression for a relationship we hope will be valuable for both parties. Like any relationship, communication is the key to success. That is probably more evident in the RFP than anywhere else in the project.
It is here where we are defining exactly what we’re looking for in the potential partnership. The RFP (or RFQ, or Request for Quote) can be challenging–even more so with highly specialized industries, such as geospatial information systems. A good RFP will invite participation and competitive bids, and a poorly written RFP could get bids that completely miss the mark or get no responses at all. Even worse, a poorly written RFP could result in an award that creates an adversarial relationship with both parties contending against each other.
Creating the Request for Proposal
The most important thing before writing an RFP is to know exactly what you need and are looking for. That sounds self-evident, but it’s surprising how many RFPs I run across from organizations who understand they need something but don’t know what it is they need. Then the RFP is just as confused. An organization that is new to a technology or lacks personnel with reasonable knowledge will be much more successful by teaming up with someone who can assess their needs and clearly define their requirements.
In my experience, it’s very difficult to effectively purchase services when you don’t know what you’re looking for. This is often much more of an issue with geospatial projects, as there is still a considerable knowledge gap – both in organizations needing the services and some who would provide services. With the knowledge gap, there is a lot of ambiguous language in our industry.
The first step is to do your homework. Understand the market and the industry. Find out what’s available in the industry and know what’s possible. If necessary, trim the requirements or plan on breaking a project into segments. It’s much easier to find a horse than a unicorn. Completing an assessment project before implementing a solution can make the final solution much more effective.
Define Your RFP Needs
At this point, it’s critical to identify what your needs really are. Distinguish between needs and wants. Often there are nice-to-have elements that can kill a projects budget and schedule, so peel off those unnecessary layers. The nice-to-haves should be included, but in a different section of the RFP and clearly identified as wishes.
Next we’re going to discuss several things that are critical in a well-written RFP. Having these specific headings or sections is not so important as actually having the information there, and it needs to be presented in a logical and easy-to-read fashion.
Providing details about the organization and its needs gives the RFP context. It establishes the why and answers many questions the bidder might have. A comprehensive overview of your organization helps potential bidders understand why you want the work and can deliver results that meet your needs. Along with the organizational overview, identifying the problems you are trying to solve is also important and anything you may have already done to mitigate the issue. Remember, this is where you start to establish the relationship.