Writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new software system can be complex, time-consuming, and—let’s face it—frustrating, especially if you don’t often write RFPs. The process seems dogged by endless questions, such as:
- How specific should the problem statement and system requirements be?
- How can the RFP solicit a response that proves the vendor is qualified?
- Should the RFP include legal terms and conditions? If so, which ones?
- Is there another strategy that can help cut down on size without forfeiting a quality response?
The public RFP process can be onerous for both the issuer and the respondents, as they can reach lengths upwards of 100 pages. And, while your procurement department would probably never let you get away with developing an RFP that is only one page, we know a smaller document requires less labor and time devoted to writing and reading. What if you could create a lean, mean, and focused RFP? Here are some tips for creating such a document:
Describe the problem as simply as possible. At its core, an RFP is a problem statement—your organization has a particular problem, and it needs the right solution. To get the right solution, keep your RFP laser-focused: adequately but briefly convey your problem and desired outcomes, provide simple rules and guidelines for respondents to submit their proposed solutions, and clarify how you will evaluate responses to make a selection. Additional information can be white noise, making it harder for respondents to give you what you want: easy-to-read and evaluate proposals. Use bullet points and keep the narrative to a minimum.
Be creative and open about how vendors must respond. RFPs often have pages of directions on how vendors need to write responses or describe their products. The most important component is to emphasize vendor qualifications. Do you want to know if the vendor can deliver a quality product? Request sample deliverables from past projects. Also ask for the number of successful past projects, with statistics on the percent deviation to client schedule and budget, including explanations for large variances. Does your new system need to keep audit trails and product billing reports? Rely on a list of pass/fail requirements and then a separate table for nice-to-have or desired functionalities.
Save the legal stuff until the end. Consider including legal terms and conditions as an attachment instead of in the body of an RFP. If you’re worried about compliance, you can require respondents to attest in writing that they found, read, and understand your terms and conditions, or state that by responding to the RFP they have read and agreed to them. State that any requested deviations can be negotiated later to save space in the RFP. You can also decrease length by attaching a glossary of terms. What’s more, if you find yourself including language from your state’s procurement manual, provide a link to the manual itself instead.
Create a quality template to save time later. Chances are your organization has at least one RFP template you use to save time, but are you using that template because it gets you the best responses, or because you’re in the habit of using it? If your answer is the latter, it may be time to review and revise those old templates to reflect your current business needs. Maybe the writing style can be clearer and more concise, or sections combined or reordered to make the RFP more intuitive.
Qualify providers in advance and reduce the scope. Another time-saver is a pre-qualification, where solution providers propose on an RFP focused primarily on their experience and qualifications. Smaller statements of work are then issued to the qualified providers, allowing for shorter drafting, response, and award timelines. If procurement rules allow, break the procurement up into a request for information (RFI) and then a smaller RFP.
Need Additional RFP Assistance?
A simplified RFP can reduce long hours needed to develop and evaluate responses to RFPs, while vendors have more flexibility to propose the solutions you need. To learn more about how BerryDunn’s extensive procurement experience can help your organization develop effective RFPs, email me.