Dealing with Dinos: Weighing the RFP
One of the best ways to evaluate the RFP is to pit its benefits against its shortcomings. While the RFP isn’t known for friendly water cooler interactions, it can be credited with several achievements. Wearing a respectable tweed sweater and reading glasses, the RFP can benefit organizations in the following ways:
· It allows a company or organization to gather a great depth and breadth of information from numerous potential contractors in a uniform format. This enables hard metrics (such as up-front costs) to be compared from one vendor to the next.
· An RFP can help a company sort through various vendor options without requiring time intensive one-on-one meetings and demos for both parties. Ideally, such meetings follow once the candidates are narrowed to a small group, generally called a “shortlist.”
· An RFP provides a clear, tangible way to measure for desired outcomes and metrics. Because of this, RFPs offer a more direct path toward project approval from higher-ups.
Unfortunately, when things go awry, the RFP can be found slurping from the company coin jar, creating silos between departments, and generally disregarding any advice ever uttered by such business legends as Peter Drucker or Jack Welch. In these cases, the RFP has usually realized and acted upon at least one of its less-than-stellar personality traits, several of which are below:
· The RFP can be highly time and labor intensive to create. The combination of legal jargon and technical requirements alone may be quite an endeavor, and planning, formatting, and writing an RFP with all of the necessary information and questions for vendors can balloon into a monumental task.
· The RFP is often created by a team who may not have the full scope of the project ahead. In some cases, the team may not know the best questions needed to find the right solution. In this way, many RFP questions are often focused on the wrong thing, and the most beneficial questions are given little weight, or worse, they aren’t even asked. The RFP leaves little room for the experts who will eventually provide the solution to weigh in with constructive comments and suggestions.
· The RFP will occasionally show his dark side, grinning as he asks vendors to jump through odd and antiquated hoops. In the age of smartphones, tablets, secure email clients and FTP sites, the RFP often requires a hard-copy document as well as the expected and normal electronic documentation. The RFP gets a particular kick out of asking for cover pages, as though vendors are submitting a high-school history report instead of an information-rich business document.
· Evaluating and sorting vendor submissions can be time and labor-intensive for those who create the RFP. The opportunity cost can also be significant if a senior member or team is tasked with evaluating the RFP.
· The RFP is often unnecessarily verbose, and may require a herculean effort from those who respond. In a best-case scenario, the RFP can be tackled by underlings who know their business and products well enough to answer any nuanced questions. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the RFP to be deep and technical. This means that valuable senior members from each vendor must often shoulder the brunt of the burden when others do not have the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to fill out the RFP.
One would hope that the RFP’s benefits are commensurate with its shortcomings. Unfortunately, while the RFP may become an efficient, well-targeted fount of information in a perfect scenario, many RFPs fall short of serving as a useful tool for all involved, asking stunted questions when open dialogue would prove more fruitful for all parties involved. The most unruly RFPs run around gnashing their teeth as they chew on blank checks, promising lofty results while secretly dreaming of ruined(profit statement, tax form from public companies) while reading the RFP-favorite magazine, A Project Deferred.
Join us next week as we delve further into the role of the RFP in modern business. We’ll take a look one company’s modern approach to the RFP process, then we’ll evaluate common alternatives and workarounds used by business leaders. Lastly, we’ll tackle the prognosis of the stalwart RFP, evaluating its place in today’s society.