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The 6 Most Common RFP Pitfalls

        posted by , March 21, 2011

These common RFP pitfalls reduce the quality of responses. Worse, they increase vendor uncertainty — leading to higher bids.

1. Unreasonable Timelines

Many companies seem to feel that the golden rule of vendor management is to push, push, push.

It never ceases to amaze me how often companies will spend 6 months creating an RFP and then expect vendors to complete their proposals in 2 weeks. It does not make a lot of sense — proposals are one of the few things that vendors are willing to do free of charge.

When vendors are rushed major decisions are deferred. This often leads vendors to propose a discovery phase. When given more time they are likely to complete much of the architectural groundwork — for free!

Best Practice
Establish reasonable timelines with regular milestones.

2. Lack of Reference Information

Proposal teams are often willing to read voluminous information. It is useful to include any reference materials you have — enterprise architecture, designs, data models.

Reference information can improve the quality of proposals and help to reduce uncertainty.

Best Practice
Provide sufficient reference information. It help those vendors who are willing to do their homework to stand out from the crowd.

3. Open Ended Questions

There are two problems with open ended questions:

i. Answers are difficult to compare.
ii. Answers may contain weasel words and be non-committal.

Open Ended
We require a high performance application. What performance can we expect from your solution?

Close Ended
We require that the application support 1,000 requests per minute without degradation of service. Will your solution comply with this requirement?

Close ended questions should be used to confirm vendors understand and comply with requirements.

Best Practice
Include a questionnaire with the RFP that lists all functional and non-functional requirements and explicitly asks — is the proposal in compliance (yes/no)?
RFP questionnaire

4. Jargon, TLAs and Corporatese

A good glossary goes along way — explain acronyms and terms even when they seem obvious. I don't know how many times I have seen proposal teams wasting time deciphering acronyms and corporatese.

5. Lacks Appeal

You are the customer — in the RFP you will make plenty of demands on the vendor. However, it is also important to look at the RFP from the vendor's point of view.

You are asking the vendor to invest (often considerable) resources in a proposal — vendors need to know there is a good chance of payback for their investment.

i. How serious is the business about the project?

ii. Is funding approved?

iii. What is the time frame for the decision?

iv. Are there opportunities to up-sell services, software or hardware?

Including information that vendors want to see will increase the response rate. It will also improve the quality of responses. There is nothing less motivating than working on a proposal everyone thinks is dead in the water.

6. Lack of Communication

There is much more to the procurement process than sending out a RFP document and waiting for the responses to role in.

Staying engaged with vendors is key to RFP success. Provide plenty of opportunities in the schedule for vendors to ask questions and bounce ideas around.

Best Practice
Plan regular question / answer sessions and publish the schedule in the RFP.



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Every project creates knowledge. Every project depends on knowledge. The following knowledge management best practices are critical for projects.

Quality planning, control, assurance and improvement.

Managing processes that span an extended network of partners.

It is no fun to pay employees who are detached, remote and disinterested.

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