I have helped law firms develop RFPs for about 15 years and I have also worked to respond to RFPs from firms for just as long. But for this session, I spent the time to interview many other people who are involved in RFPs – whether they are vendors, consultants, firm leaders or IT leaders. While they confirmed my feelings and provided insight into new issues, they were quite consistent in their general dislike of the RFP process. Today, I will frame the key issues with the RFP process and review the practices from my experience and from those I interviewed that can improve the selection processes. I will also briefly walk you through some case studies that are examples of what can go wrong and what go right in RFPs.
Four themes emerged in complaints with usual RFP processes. I’ll review the top four here in reverse order. 4. While RFPs require great time and energy, firms and vendors alike realize that little of the paperwork and discussions become part of the final formal agreement between the two parties. This often establishes a gap in expectations and throws aside much of the invested effort. 3. The timeline for an RFP process is often longer than the process of actually making the desired changes. When we added up the time to consider the issues, write and agree a document, find vendors, wait for responses, etc., we found that the entire selection process often takes 6-9 months. While this varies greatly by subject matter, any efficiencies we can find in the timeline can offer considerable payback. 2. An RFP often puts you in a working relationship with the Marketing team of a vendor rather than the team that is standing by to actually solve your problem. 1. The most meaningful issue in an RFP process is that it often doesn’t actually solve your problem. The sponsors of the project often become separated from the detail of the RFP. The vendor reads a hundred priority needs and doesn’t understand the overall objectives of the firm. An RFP will eventually help get the job done, but the discussions and work around the RFP provided high payback. Today, we’ll focus on how to use this to your advantage.
While the use of RFPs has diminished, they will always serve a useful purpose in many situations.
Let me quickly step back and define some related terms. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. A Request for Information is a vendor pre-qualification document. It seeks information on the vendor’s company, services and experience to know if they should be considered to help the firm. It does not ask them to propose a solution to your problems. A Request for Quote is seen least often and generally only in commodity areas. In an RFQ, a firm provides very specific purchase information, such as 10 copiers of a particular model, and seeks pricing information. A Request for Proposal is the most comprehensive in that it frames the business issues you expect a vendor to resolve and provides the supporting information for them to provide a specific feedback on approach, timeline and costs. An Invitation to Tender is popularly used in England as an alternative term to RFP.
When considering how to make an effective RFP, it is necessary to consider the entire selection process. Since most vendors feel RFPs do not help them deliver better services despite the investments by the law firm, let’s explore how to improve the selection process whether or not RFPs are used. First, it can help to either eliminate the RFP or simplify the RFP in certain situations. From our experience and discussions with others we believe RFPs are most useful to specify long term service delivery, product customizations, RFPs are least beneficial in situations where the firm is using it as a way to learn about products or services. They are also not of great value when selecting well-known mature solutions or solutions which are results-based (like a search engine). Not using an RFP doesn’t mean that you don’t identify and document your requirements. Clarity of your processes and expectations is key, but using an RFP to
Perhaps as importantly as identifying the right situation for an RFP is how it fits as a part of the overall selection process. Let’s look at four approaches for selections, two of which use RFPs. The emphasis here is that the RFP does not replace a quality selection process. In most situations, the work you do before and after the RFP is much more important.
This timeline shows a familiar process of discovery (what are the problems and the implications of these problems), the analysis of these problems and the recommendations for a solution. In this example, a firm does some discovery and some analysis and then establishes an RFP based on this information. The responding vendors’ scope is to do some further analysis, propose a recommended solution based on their products and services and to propose the costs to put this solution in place.
As the selection process continues, the firm and one or more favored vendors may work through the requirements by revising the proposal documentation until the firm is satisfied with the approach. The benefit of this scenario is that the firm seeks the vendor’s approach in solving the firm’s current problems. This approach is used in an area where the firm has limited experience with the solutions and is therefore leaning on the vendor to provide answers. It would not be unusual for the selection process to significantly deviate from the original specifications of the RFP. The RFP served an educational purpose, while not becoming part of the final agreement between the firm and the vendor.
In areas where the firm has expertise or where the change affects the business processes of the firm, it is most effective for the firm to undertake its own work to identify the desired future state. If an RFP is to be used, it can be most effective by describing the desired practices of the firm rather than just the functionality of the new product. In this manner, the RFP still challenges the vendor’s best practices. Rather than have them provide the same generic product information they provided in past responses, it gives them the challenge to meet the firm’s specific way of working. It should also engage the vendor in understanding the firm’s business and culture.
In this case, we have used an RFP but in all but the most structured situations we don’t want to rely on just the documented response to move forward.
In this manner, you treat each step as a milestone. The firm or vendor proves their ability to meet the firm’s requirements in the proof of concept. While the RFP served an important role to define overall requirements, the firm’s needs will inevitably evolve. This process is to be managed carefully, as in some cases the RFP documentation is abandoned. Ideally, the expectations and requirements are evolved. The effort to create the RFP, select a response and then evolve the requirements leads some firms to modify this approach further.
Law firms sometimes represent a unique opportunity. Law firms represent a relatively small niche market so in many areas, the range of solutions or qualified (or interested) vendors is also small. In these circumstances, establishing a full blown RFP which attempts to chronicle all desired capabilities is largely a wasted exercise. Examples can include
Business Process Change: An RFP is often written to replace a resource (whether a copier, IT software or service) and to specify how that tool should do what the existing resource does, only better. Discovery RFP vs. Solution RFP Although every law firm is unique, it is frequently the case that most of the requirements in a selection are over 80% in common with other firms. The firm should help the RFP be clear by focusing it primarily or exclusively on the 20% that is indeed unique. This will not work if your internal staff is learning the area via the RFP process. The role of a subject matter expert is important to an effective RFP. An RFP that is used to educate the responsible team on a topic or solution will cause considerably extra effort since the RFP itself will not include the relevant needs. A subject matter expert can be an internal expert, a representative of others who are experts or a third party. Probably the most effective combination is to use internal people as much as possible while using an expert, independent third party to coach the process. This is usually better than completely turning the RFP over to an expert third party because…
There are many best practices to discuss in relation to writing the actual RFP. I want to focus on some of the key decisions that can really steer the direction of the RFP. Encourage a collaborative effort or maintain a structured written Should you provide specific instructions or seek the vendor’s best practice? Include implementation - collaborative exercise - include terms
Example 1: Very detailed about functions of IT disk drives. Sponsors of the project didn’t understand technical detail so were separated from the solution. Didn’t consider a service over equipment purchases. Example 2: Example 3: Example 4: Used third party expert but still created a comprehensive RFP. Sent the RFP to six vendors even though some are not qualified or being strongly considered. Holding a bidder’s conference. Timeline is 6-9 months overall.
Ala 2005 rfp best practices by dave cunningham apr 2005
Practical RFPs A More Effective Process in Less Time ALA 34 th Annual Educational Conference April 18, 2005 Dave Cunningham Baker Robbins & Company
Request for Proposal Issues <ul><li>RFP documentation is often not part of the final solution </li></ul><ul><li>Timeline is long; effort is high </li></ul><ul><li>Working with vendor’s Marketing team, not Engineering </li></ul><ul><li>RFP often does not effectively communicate the business issues </li></ul>
Request for Proposal Benefits <ul><li>Fits a law firm’s consensus nature </li></ul><ul><li>Provides discovery up-front </li></ul><ul><li>Reflects an open, fair process </li></ul><ul><li>Identifies timelines and expectations </li></ul>
Terms <ul><li>Request for Information (RFI) </li></ul><ul><li>Request for Quote (RFQ) </li></ul><ul><li>Request for Proposal (RFP) </li></ul><ul><li>Invitation to Tender (ITT) </li></ul>
An Effective Selection Process <ul><li>Use RFPs sparingly </li></ul>
An Effective Selection Process <ul><li>Use RFPs sparingly </li></ul><ul><li>Identify new processes or business practices </li></ul><ul><li>Make designs and selections interactive </li></ul><ul><li>Phase the selection and implementation </li></ul><ul><li>Get to the “proof” stage </li></ul>
Selection and Implementation Process - Firm Design
Selection and Implementation Process - Firm Design and Phased Milestones
Selection and Implementation Process - Firm Design and Phased Milestones
Selection Process (No RFP) - Proof of Concept for well known or unstructured solutions
Selection Process (No RFP) - New business processes
Practices to Improve RFPs - Framing the Issues <ul><li>Incorporate business process and role changes </li></ul><ul><li>Describe problem (not just product or service functions) </li></ul><ul><li>Have a realistic scope – appetite vs. budget </li></ul><ul><li>Identify unique aspects of the firm </li></ul><ul><li>Consider identifying roles </li></ul><ul><li>Involve subject matter experts </li></ul>
Practices to Improve RFPs - Establishing the RFP <ul><li>Collaboration vs. structured formality </li></ul><ul><li>Specific instructions vs. seeking best practices </li></ul><ul><li>Phased vs. comprehensive </li></ul><ul><li>Contract terms within vs. after RFP </li></ul><ul><li>Part of contract </li></ul><ul><li>Standardized pricing </li></ul><ul><li>Supporting information </li></ul>
Practices to Improve RFPs - Executing the RFP <ul><li>Structure the demonstrations </li></ul><ul><li>Drop the bidder’s conference </li></ul><ul><li>Follow-up with all vendors </li></ul><ul><li>Be professional and timely; it reflects the quality you expect </li></ul>
RFP/Selection Examples <ul><li>IT Storage </li></ul><ul><li>Outsourcing Services </li></ul><ul><li>Financial System </li></ul><ul><li>Telephone System </li></ul><ul><li>Firm Planning </li></ul>
Case Study: IT Outsourcing <ul><li>Strong in filtering unqualified suppliers </li></ul><ul><li>Specific expectations allowed quick selection </li></ul><ul><li>Allowed supplier to specify terms </li></ul><ul><li>Exhaustive </li></ul><ul><li>Shot too high </li></ul><ul><li>Overran vendor best practices </li></ul>
Questions <ul><li>Dave Cunningham </li></ul><ul><li>Baker Robbins & Company </li></ul><ul><li>www.brco.com </li></ul>