At the Association Technology Conference in December, I facilitated a session to discuss what was working and not working with the traditional Request for Proposal (RFP) process. With a group of association professionals and vendors participating, we developed some guiding principles that should help anyone who is considering sending out an RFP, whether or not you work for an association.
1. Work within a cross-division team of major stakeholders (including project sponsor) to define the project objectives. Be clear about the outcomes you desire and have the buy-in of everyone who has a vested interest in the project.
2. Develop detailed business requirements for the RFP. It will be difficult to judge vendor proposals if not based on specific capabilities and it is impossible for vendors to give you an accurate estimate for the level of effort that will be required. If unable to define requirements, limit the scope of Phase 1 to researching business and end user needs and requirements gathering.
3. Narrow the number of vendors with a call for capabilities. A Request for Information (RFI) is a good way to narrow the field by examining vendors expertise and experience relevant to your project. Ask them to explain their approach and methodology. Some of the best potential firms will not respond if they know they are one of many asked to submit a detailed proposal and you will have a lot of work to fairly review the ones you do receive.
4. Allow for Q&A with potential vendors and give the same answers to all vendors. Participants felt strongly about this one. To be fair to all, they said it is important to send out answers to all questions submitted so that everyone is working on a level playing field. However, keep in mind that some firms may not ask certain questions for fear of divulging a competitive advantage to other vendors.
5. Prepare RFP to send to 4-6 vendors. Tell vendors:
- Why they are on the list to receive the RFP
- Budget range or maximum (so vendors can design an approach to fit within your constraints)
- The full process and criteria for selection
6. Consider asking for presentations rather than written proposals. Ask vendors to highlight their experience with similar projects, the depth of skills for areas that will likely be needed, and their proposed approach.
7. Check references for similar clients and projects. In the end, you want to select a firm in which you have confidence that you can work as a team to meeting or exceed your objectives.
I hope you will find these guidelines helpful the next time you seek a technology partner. Here are some additional resources that you may also find useful. I welcome your comments regarding these or other practices that you believe are effective.