Writing an Effective Request for Proposal (RFP)
In my career, I have been on both sides of the RFP process. I have written them as the owner, and as a consultant in the owners rep role, and I have received/responded to them both in my role as head of an A&E office and as a consultant. RFPs come in as many formats as there are people writing them. The quality of the RFP will often dictate the quality of the proposals you will receive from them, so it behooves the writer to provide a well written RFP.
First, let’s discuss terminology. RFPs are also sometimes referred to as RFQ (request for quote), but RFQ can also mean request for qualifications in the design or construction industries. You may also see the term RFI (request for information), but that term is mostly used during the construction process when the construction crew has questions on the design. My recommendation is to use RFP to mean request for proposal or quote and RFQ to mean request for qualification. RFI should be used as described above.
All RFP’s should have some basic information included, like:
The name and description of the project
To whom the proposals should be sent
A schedule showing when questions are due, when they will be answered, and the deadline for responses (including a time, not just a date). NOTE: It is important that all questions asked by any respondent should be answered, and ALL of the questions and answers be sent to ALL of the respondents.
A schedule for the project that is being proposed on is also very useful. If a firm is given a week to do something or a month, the price and staffing will most likely change.The same thing holds if you are getting quotes on equipment. If you want something by a certain date, you should state it in the RFP.
A detailed description for the work or equipment you are requesting proposals for. This is very important because the goal should be to get apples to apples proposals that all include the same information so that they can be compared easily to each other and to the request.Writers of RFP’s should also consider dictating the format of the response, again to make comparison easier.
A description of the level of detail expected in the responses.If you don’t want to read hundreds of pages in each proposal, you should let the respondents know that upfront.
Consideration should also be given to what items in the proposal are most important and how the decision of who will be awarded the project will be made. There should be a clear statement that if the most important elements are not met in the proposal, it will be considered non-responsive and will not be considered. Missing the deadline may also be a reason to reject a proposal and if so, should also be stated in the RFP.
For more complex RFP’s there may be many different things that need to have a cost assigned. The RFP should make it clear how the costs should be broken out and what should be included in the base cost and what should be listed as additional services or options. To make comparison of the responses easier, consider providing a template for the respondent to fill in.
For RFPs written for large complex pieces of equipment with numerous components, it is especially important that you have an easy way to compare quotes from the different vendors. One way to accomplish this is to create a template that you will use to create the bid tabulation (usually a spreadsheet with the requirements down the side and the vendors across the top where you can then fill in how/if that requirement is met by each vendor, whether it is in the base price or if it is an option, and possibly even the cost.) This spreadsheet can be included with the RFP so that the vendor can fill it out. This strategy makes your job of response comparison much easier. For equipment RFPs, I would also include:
References (call these and ask questions about quality, timeliness of responses, did the vendor meet their agreed upon schedules, etc.)
Shipping methods and costs.This is especially important if you are ordering something from overseas and part or all of the order will need to be shipped via air freight to meet an accelerated schedule
Shipping terms.This will dictate where the vendor’s responsibility ends, and the owner’s responsibility starts.Consider making the vendor responsible until the truck arrives at your dock and ensure all of those costs are included in the response
Penalty and/or incentive for delivering early or late
For RFPs written for services (e.g. design or construction), there is often additional information that you might request like:
Names and backgrounds of the individuals that will be involved in the project
Safety record (for construction firms)
Insurance requirements and proof that the respondent can meet those requirements
Examples of similar projects that the firm has completed successfully in the recent past
RFPs and the response may become part of the contract documents, so it is very important to get them right. Work with your purchasing, receiving, safety, and other stakeholder departments to make sure everything you need to include is in fact included.
Finally, it might be a good idea to have an educated, but uninvolved 3rd party to read the RFP to ensure it is clear, concise and unambiguous as to what is being requested. This will avoid some questions from the respondents.