5 Best Practices for Government RFP's
July 16, 2019 – David Jones
Let’s face it. The common procurement practice of going through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process is probably something you already dread. RFP’s take lots of time and money to write and curate, not to mention all the resources who need to be consulted within your organization in the development stages. Even after RFP’s are issued, it can take several months before an award decision is reached.
Despite the undeniable pains of issuing an RFP, it is often the recourse that governments fall back on when entering the procurement process. Much like legacy technology and systems can cause governments to struggle with being as accountable and effective as possible, outdated and sluggish processes like many RFP's put a strain on government operations that serve citizens. The reasoning of “this is the way we’ve done things for 30 years” is no longer sufficient justification for lack of productive practices. As governments look for ways to improve efficiencies, they often turn to RFP’s as a way to find the best solution.
When entering the RFP cycle, here are five best practices for crafting RFP’s that will help ease the process for both you and the participating vendors:
1. Focus, Focus, Focus!
You probably have lots of needs within your organization. Don’t assume that any single vendor can satisfy all of them. We have seen many RFP’s that have a long list of requirements within the scope of work to be completed, which disqualifies highly experienced and competent vendors because they don’t meet just a couple of those requirements. Tighten the focus of your needs to one specific area, and adopt a best-of-breed mentality. You don’t want to miss out on an amazing business partnership simply because your scope was too wide. Sometimes it is better to issue two or three separate RFP’s rather than trying to bundle all your needs into one.
Similarly, when it comes to drafting questions for vendors in the RFP, focus on broad, goal-oriented questions so you can see what vendors can bring to the table. Many organizations limit themselves by asking very specific questions that are not always compatible with an out-of-the-box approach that many newer vendors with cutting-edge technology employ. Approach the RFP process with an open mind, and you just might find the perfect vendor to meet your goals.
2. Anticipate what questions vendors will ask.
Be direct with your requirements, and look for areas where vendors might ask questions. It is standard for RFP’s to have a Question and Answer period before the RFP response is due, giving vendors the chance to clarify requirements, ask for more information, or anything else that would help them construct a winning RFP response. It is common for the sheer volume of questions to cause governments to issue an extension to the RFP timeline, thereby prolonging the award of the RFP and the implementation of the winning solution.
Another way to decrease the number of vendor questions is to provide all the relevant information that is needed for vendors to accurately scope their proposal and the level of effort needed for the project. To illustrate, if you want an estimate for how much it would cost you to remodel your home kitchen, you would need to provide the contractor with all the specifics - dimensions, models, illustrations, etc. A good rule of thumb is the more information, the better.
3. Proofread for clarity and grammatical errors.
This may sound like an obvious one, but we’ve seen so many government RFP’s with organizational and grammatical issues that make it very confusing to read. Make sure that your timeline listed in the RFP is consistent throughout. Conflicting due dates is a common error that can be easily avoided.
Knowing how to organize your RFP may vary, depending on the type of RFP you are issuing. However, one very important thing to keep in mind is having a single area dedicated to the list of vendor requirements. Do not have multiple areas that list what should be included in the RFP response. This can become very confusing for vendors, and you may receive incomplete responses as a result.
4. Understand that negotiation is a positive thing.
Oftentimes government RFP’s will include a stipulation saying that the terms and conditions in the document are final and that vendors who participate in the RFP are automatically agreeing to these terms. While a clause like this may seem like it makes things easier on your team, it may actually be detrimental to the procurement process in the long run. The vendor with the perfect solution to your problem might be disqualified, simply because they cannot agree to all of your terms and conditions.
If you must include terms and conditions in your RFP, make sure that they are relevant to whatever service or solution you are looking for. Don’t issue a standard on-prem services contract for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deal. This kind of error makes it less likely that you will have the right vendors responding to your RFP, and it will also save you time on all the questions and exceptions your team will have to parse through.
5. Do your research.
Know what your needs are and how to communicate them. Investigate which vendors can help you achieve your goals and what sets them apart from each other. This is where it may be helpful to issue an RFI (Request for Information) or an RFQ (Request for Quotation) to get a sense of what vendors you would like to work with and how much they would cost. It may even be helpful to bring in a third-party consultant to advise on how you should build your RFP and what areas you should focus on.
With these practices in mind, you’ll be on your way to creating a professional and compelling RFP that will cut down on the time and resources it normally takes to develop an RFP, driving you to a more effective and accountable government.
Category: Product Advice