Saturday, September 29, 2007

How do I get the most out of an RFP?

Writing an RFP - What a Conundrum!
All the articles say that a crucial part of the LMS selection process is writing a quality RFP, but nobody goes on to tell you how. In my own interest, I am going to attempt to answer the question of how to write a quality RFP. Oh yeah, it took me a while to figure it out and you may be wondering the same thing; RFP means "request for proposal."

What is an RFP?:
Let's get the basics out of the way. An RFP is a document created by an organization that outlines detailed requirements of the goods or services that the company is looking for. In my case, it is for an LMS. The RFP is then distributed to prospective vendors who will create a proposal based on the criteria specified in the RFP.

Why write an RFP?:
The biggest benefit I have seen for writing an RFP is that it forces us to think about what we really need in an LMS. Do we really need all those bells and whistles? Do we really need an LMS at all? It also increases the competition between vendors for your organizations business, therefore driving down costs. From the vendors perspective, a well written RFP allows them to draft a proposal customized to the organizations needs.

How to write an RFP?:
This is where the rubber meets the road and the most difficult information to find. A great source that was a big help in getting started is Geo Learnings RFP Template. Not only is this an editable template but it goes over some of the guidelines for writing the RFP. Something that I found to be helpful is Geo Learnings Top Five Things to Include in your RFP:
  1. Your overall training goal - Within your RFP you should include the general business goals which need to be met by the proposed e-learning program. This includes measurements of success—how your organization will determine whether your e-learning initiative has been successful.
  2. The Trainees/Audience - Your RFP should also include a brief summary of the roles/jobs of the trainees. This information should include details regarding how job roles and processes are currently taught, and how trainees’ responsibilities will change as a result of the introduction of the proposed e-learning program. Be sure to include the number of people—by job category and geographic location—expected to be trained. This type of information will assist vendors in understanding your target audience for whom the program will be developed.
  3. State Your Objectives - The objectives within the RFP should describe exactly what the trainees will be required to do as a result of going through the e-learning training program. Each objective should be detailed within the RFP so vendors can better understand the training goals of your proposed e-learning program.
  4. Project Details/Specifications - An effective RFP should also include specific details about the project such as:
    · Information about your organization’s technical infrastructure, end-user hardware, etc.
    · Details regarding the training program content required.
    · Anticipated project team organization and implementation schedule.
    · Budget/schedule criteria.
  5. Request for Vendor Suggestions/Input - It’s always a useful idea to include a request for feedback from vendors when there are specific needs you aren’t sure how to address.

What not to do:

How can you go wrong with an RFP. It's great for the shopper and the vendor, right? That's not what all the vendors say. Rick Nigol expressed his hatred for poorly written RFP's in his blog Breakthrough E-Learning. Rick advises avoiding the following pet peeves if you don't want your RFP's to be ignored:

  • Information Extremes - Some RFPs expect you to base an entire proposal on two or three pages of ill-defined generalizations regarding project purpose, goals, deliverables, etc. On the other extreme, some RFPs outline project deliverables, submission rules, bureaucratic procedures and associated legalities in such infinite and prescriptive detail that it takes you the better part of a day just to read the document, by which time you have lost focus on the actual purpose of the project.
  • Project Vaporizes - Twice in the last couple of years we have put many days work into responding to RFPs only to find out some time later that the projects were not going to go ahead. No apologies, no sorry you wasted half your life, nothing.....urgh.
  • Unreasonable Expectations -You know the story....they want learners to develop and demonstrate 10 key competencies, but they only have a half hour per person to devote to learning. Oh, and by the way, they want this online course up and running by Tuesday.
  • Code of Silence - You are not allowed (under penalty of death) to talk to anyone "on the inside" about the project, or to toss around ideas with them about approaches that might work. It is very hard in such situations to meet client expectations when you can't even talk to them. The reason stated for such rules is that this may produce an "unfair" advantage. Well, if someone shows that kind of initiative maybe they should have an advantage.
  • Transparent Evaluation Criteria - RFPs often do not have clear and transparent criteria or processes by which they will judge proposals. This means that it is based entirely on the whims of whomever is making the call. This makes it difficult to know what points to stress in your proposal. Worse yet are those situations when they say they will be judging proposals on A, B and C, and then say you didn't get it because you didn't have X. When did X enter the equation? If I knew you needed X, I wouldn't have bothered.
  • Moving Goal Posts - We responded to an RFP for an eLearning development project not too long ago and were told we were the only ones to have sent anything in. We met all the stated criteria, and were within the budget of $X that they had set for the project. I thought great, the project is ours. Not so. This organization re-issued the RFP with a budget of $X + 160% (not kidding). We thought, fine, they want something a bit more elaborate, so we will included many more Flash animations in our second proposal and pegged our budget at $X + 140%. Needless to say, we didn't get the job and, to top it off, were criticized for increasing our budget to such a degree over the first proposal. Huh? They could have had an excellent product for $X if they had given us the job in the first round. This led me to think that the "fix" was in (see below).
  • The Fix is in - I have no hard evidence, no smoking gun, but I am pretty sure that a lot of RFP competitions are fixed. The client knows exactly which vendor they want, but because of internal purchasing rules, they have to get X number of bids. This is really frustrating if you are one of these sacrificial lambs. If ensuring value for money is the goal, why don't folks just find another way to do this without wasting every one's time? For example, why not submit your preferred vendor's quotation to some disinterested third party expert review?

This is my first RFP and I am sure it won't be my last. Please post a comment if you can add to what I have started here. Thanks.

1 comment:

Joe Deegan said...

Here is a link to a lot of great information about RFP's