The basics of RFP writing
Since establishing Future Processing over 10 years ago, I have responded to countless requests for proposal – some better written than others. But what I have found is that often companies worry about their RFPs and many ask for feedback.
Since establishing Future Processing over 10 years ago, I have responded to countless requests for proposal – some better written than others. But what I have found is that often companies worry about their RFPs and many ask for feedback. For companies making their first foray into offshore development, writing the RFP can be daunting, and understandably so.
Projects that don’t go well, or relationships that go bad, are often due to a lack of precision in the RFP, resulting in mismatched expectations between supplier and customer. Poor quality RFPs also put suppliers off bidding as they can feel unsure of what exactly they are bidding for and whether competing is worth their time.
Bearing this in mind, here are a few tips I have picked up over the years on what makes a good RFP to understand to a supplier.
Clarity and detail in the requirements section
Unsurprisingly, the most important part of the document for all concerned is the requirements section. The more detail you can provide on what you would like your offshore partner to deliver and how, the more accurate a proposal that can be written. Likewise, the more we know about exactly what you want us to deliver to you for this project, the better able we are to decide whether we really are best placed to do the job. Just as much as we don’t want to waste our time, we don’t want to waste yours either.
An explanation of the selection criteria is vital, particularly if there was no pre-qualification stage. Offshore companies need to know if there is something we cannot meet or that rules us out. For example some customers with large projects often like to see several years of audited accounts to ensure their supplier is unlikely to go bankrupt, or require a certain level of liquidity. However, some smaller outsourcers may be unable to provide this, ruling themselves out.
While it may seem like a way to test the keenness and competence of your potential offshore partners, giving short deadlines for the RFP is more likely to backfire. Reasonable timescales mean that the outsourcer can put its best people to work on the RFP and other stages of the bid. It also means that you receive a more considered, and possibly detailed, proposal. Overly short timescales can simply put off some very capable suppliers from responding.
Well-defined bidding process
Coupled with the timescales for the procurement, it is very helpful for the outsourcers to have details of the bidding process. This means we know up front what would be required of us, and when and therefore whether we can meet this. It also means that if there are key meetings we can ensure our employees are free. An organisation with a well-defined bidding process creates the impression of competency and consciously, or sub-consciously, this attracts suppliers.
The role of the project in the organisation
If you are looking for a long term partnership with your outsourcer, they will need to understand your business right from the start. If you can explain how the project it is bidding for fits into your overall strategy, then the outsourcer can provide a more relevant proposal, perhaps with new ideas on how to deliver the project.
Well structured document
This may seem like a basic point, especially when there are so many RFP templates available, but we do often receive poorly structured RFPs. At worst this makes it difficult to ascertain which points are requirements and which are wants, and best the document is confusing and gives a poor impression of the company that sent it out. By following a template, or a structure of your own, outsourcers can easily check they have met requirements, deadlines, criteria etc. In short, we are less likely to waste your time with irrelevant information or sending in proposals which don’t meet your selection criteria.
There are many, many other tips for good RFP writing and I am certainly no expert. In fact, if you have other pieces of advice pertinent to offshore software development RFPs that you’d like to share, please do comment.