The key to a good RFP is brevity

This is a guest post by James M. Spitze, Executive Director (emeritus) of the Fisher Center for CIO Leadership at the Haas School of Business, UC-Berkeley.

In my 30+ years as the Managing Partner of an IT-focused management consulting firm, I oversaw many RFP projects, sometimes working with the issuer and somewhat less frequently, working with the respondent/vendors.

The most common thing my firm was asked to provide was a process. If the client already had one but it wasn’t working, we’d help them clean it up. That typically proved fairly easy: simplify and clarify … a few hours at my desk and it would be done.

Popcorn RFP has a clear, brief, and simple built-in process that’s also easily adaptable to its users’ special circumstances. It gives the procurement team the ability to work together and collaborate in order to ensure all requirements are met in a simple, straightforward manner. As I think back, I would say that most if not all of my RFP issuer clients would have benefited from Popcorn RFP, many to the extent that they would not have needed my firm’s services (no comment).

The key to a good RFP is brevity. The longer it is, the better the chance that it will be ignored. It must also be easy to follow and well focused on the objective of actually buying something and not spending endless hours in meetings evaluating selection criteria – far too often a large and murky swamp.

One of our larger clients had developed well over two-hundred criteria for an RFP that they had issued to twenty-three recipients. The good people in the Procurement Department had been working to assign a one-to-five ranking on each criteria response. When a respondent had not provided an answer to one or more criteria, they were contacting that firm and getting an answer. At the current rate of progress, this was going to take several months. The objective was an item that was essential to the company’s growth, and the CEO and CFO were getting more than a bit impatient.

To compound the problem, no priorities had been assigned to the 200+ criteria. They were just going to total the evaluations independent of the fact that some were essential and that others were “nice to have” at best.

Working with the Procurement Department, we helped to to select ten “top level” essential criteria, after which a quick pass through the twenty-three vendor responses eliminated all but five. An hour or so later, we were down to three with one of those proving to be a subsidiary of one of the other two. So, now we were down to two – both well known and respected firms.

The head of Procurement, the CEO and the CFO met with our consultant and decided to invite each firm in to make a presentation. The attendees for our side would be the head of Procurement, the CFO, the firm’s legal counsel, and our consultant. The meetings proved informative. As a group, we strongly favored one vendor and just didn’t feel at all comfortable with the other. Our lawyer had taken good notes and had a draft contract ready for the CEO to sign the next morning (yes, really!).

Though Popcorn RFP’s initial focus is on the RFP issuer marketplace, it could also be a useful tool for consulting firms like my own. We would certainly have used it in the above case – especially if it had a loud gong that sounded when you exceeded some relatively low number of criteria.

I’m off to submit a feature request!

— Jim Spitze, July 2020

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