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Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development

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Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development


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  • Copyright 2002
  • Dimensions: 7-3/8" x 9-1/4"
  • Pages: 336
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-201-77575-1
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-201-77575-4

When done right, RFPs enable businesses and government agencies to fairly evaluate competing proposals while reviewing the broadest possible range of potential solutions. All too often, however, RFPs fail to meet these goals, because their creators simply don't understand how to create them effectively. In this book, the world's leading RFP consultant offers realistic, specific, start-to-finish guidance for every professional called upon to write RFPs. Bud Porter-Roth covers every step of the RFP process, offering specific language examples that demonstrate both best practices and worst practices to avoid. He shows how to ensure that RFPs contain information that is sufficiently accurate and detailed; how to ensure clarity of presentation, structure, and organization that encourages productive responses; and how to avoid the most common pitfalls of the RFP process. The book includes detailed coverage of writing each section of the typical RFP, including administrative, technical, management, pricing, and evaluation sections; as well as extensive practical guidance on planning and preparation. Appendices present complete RFP examples, preparation instructions, analysis tools, calendars, and other resources for jumpstarting RFP development.

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Introduction to Writing RFPs

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Writing RFPs.


What is Presented in this RFP Book?

Different Types of RFPs.

Request for Information (RFI).

Request for Proposal (RFP).

Why Write an RFP?

RFP Development and Preparation.

RFP Project Development.

Evaluation Criteria.

Reviewing the RFP.

Anatomy of an RFP.

Project Overview and Administrative Information.

Technical Requirements.

Management Requirements.

Supplier Qualifications and References.

Suppliers' Section.

Pricing Section.

Contracts and License Agreements Section.


RFP Activities.

Pre­RFP Activities.

Identifying Suppliers.

Qualifying Suppliers.

RFP Activities.

Post­RFP Activities.

The Importance of the RFP from a Contract Perspective.


2. RFP Planning and Preparation.


Pre­RFP Planning Considerations.

Project Organization.

Project Organization.

Project Schedule.

Technology and Supplier Education.

Budget Development.

The Project Acquisition Budget.

Post-RFP Planning Considerations.

Project Development and Implementation.

Additional Post-RFP Activities.


3. RFP Administration Requirements Section Introduction.

How to use this Chapter.

Anatomy of an Administration Section.

RFP Overview.

Supplier and Supplier Reference Information.

Company Confidential Information.

Intent to Bid.

Proprietary Information Notice.

Supplier Confidential Information.


RFP Contacts.

RFP Questions and Answers.

Responding to Supplier Questions.

RFP Reference Library.

RFP Schedule.

Pre­Proposal Conference.

Proposal Format Requirements.

The Cover Letter or Transmittal Letter.

The Executive Summary Required in Proposals.

Pricing Section (Cost Section).

Best and Final Offers.

Alternate Proposals.

Compliance Matrix.

Informational Paragraphs in the Administrative Section.

Definition of Requirements.

Production Environment for Hardware and Software Products.

Errors or Omissions in Proposals.

Proposal Evaluation Criteria.

Proposal Costs and Expenses.

Product Demonstrations.

Notifying Winning and Losing Suppliers.

Proposal Debriefing.

What Should Not Appear in the Administrative Section.


4. RFP Technical Requirements Section.


Writing Requirements for the Technical Section.

Definition of a Requirement.

Who Writes Requirements?

How Do Suppliers Recognize Requirements in Your RFP?

What Is the Difference between Specifications and Requirements?

Requirements can Be Written as Questions, Statements, or Narrative Description.

Qualities of Well Written Requirements.

Requirements Must Reflect Real Products or Solutions.

Requirements Must Be Unambiguous.

Requirements Must Not Use Subjective Terms.

Requirements Must Be Measurable.

Requirements Must Be Meaningful.

Requirements Must Be Complete.

Requirements Must Not Include the Solution.

Requirements Must Not Include Unnecessary Characteristics.

Developing Technical Requirements.

Illustrating Requirements.

Anatomy of a Technical Section.

Current Business Environment.

Current Technical Environment.

Proposed Technical Environment.

A Note on Hardware Requirements.

A Note on System Software Requirements.

Application Requirements.


Suggested Readings.

5. Management Requirements Section.


Writing Requirements for the Management Section.

Examples of Poorly Written Requirements.

Anatomy of a Management Section.

Project Plan.

Project Schedule.

Site Preparation Plan and Personnel Responsibilities.

Project Staffing Requirements.

Roles and Responsibilities.

Design, Development, and Implementation.

Project Change Control.

Delivery and Installation.


System Maintenance and Support.




Project Cutover.

Supplier Issues and Concerns.


6. Pricing.


Anatomy of a Pricing Section.



System Software.

Application Software.

Custom Software Development.


Project Implementation and Management Services.

Maintenance and Support.



Other Costs Not Specifically Requested.

Organizing the Price Section.

Validating Prices.

Other Pricing Notes.

Contracts and License Agreements Section.

Fixed Price Contract.

Time and Materials (T&M).

Associated Contract Considerations.

Evaluation of Price Proposals.


7. Evaluation Guidelines.


The Evaluation Team.

Evaluation Considerations.

Evaluation Criteria in the RFP.

Getting Started Evaluating Proposals.

Requests for Clarification.

Other Considerations for the Evaluation Team.

Anatomy of an Evaluation Section.

Technical Evaluation.

Management Evaluation.

Price Evaluation.

Oral Presentations and Demonstrations.

The Evaluation Process.


Preliminary Evaluation.

Second Round of Evaluations.

Detailed Evaluations.

The Shortlist.

Developing the Scoring Methodology.

Evaluation Report.


Appendix A. Administrative Information.

Appendix B. Supplier Information.

Appendix C. Proposal Preparation Instructions.

Appendix D. Budget Planning and Investment Analysis.

Appendix E. Nondisclosure Agreement.

Appendix F. Proprietary Notice.

Appendix G. Notice of Intent to Bid.

Appendix H. Questions and Answers.

Appendix I. Compliance Matrix.

Appendix J. Preliminary Evaluation Checklist.

Appendix K. RFP Reverse Planning Calendar. 0201775751T12102001


For many years, I wrote sales proposals in response to a request for proposal (RFP). As a vendor, I responded to both well written and poorly written RFPs and found that there was no consistency among them either in the structure or the quality of information. Several times I was stumped as to what the subject of the RFP was, and after several rounds of questions and answers, I determined that the company issuing the RFP was also stumped—they had neglected to do their homework properly and could not properly define their requirements.

After becoming a consultant, I began writing RFPs on behalf of my clients. As I wrote them, I tried not to make the same mistakes I had seen as a vendor and began to develop a structure and organization methodology for writing RFPs. I began to write and speak to customers and at conferences about writing RFPs and what makes a good RFP. Time after time I was approached by people in the audience who asked if I had additional material. Frequently, I was asked to recommend a book that would provide some guidance. But the literature is very slim on this subject, and I could find no “general” guide to writing RFPs.

This book aims to fill that gap, bringing order and stability to the process of writing RFPs for those who are new to it, as well as reaffirming effective practices for veterans. I have included ideas from the best RFPs and share what I have learned from poorly written RFPs. Three major themes run through this book:

  1. Quality of information is paramount to getting good proposal responses. Only if your requirements are well formed and complete will suppliers have enough information to write quality proposals.
  2. Presentation, structure, and organization are all necessary if suppliers are to understand how to read your RFP and respond to it in a productive manner. Without a structured and organized RFP, vendors will find it difficult to write proposals, and you will find it difficult to evaluate them.
  3. An RFP is much more than a request to buy a product; it is an offer from the supplier to form a team with you and to jointly solve a problem.As a team, both sides stand to benefit from the relationship, but the project itself is the real winner.

An RFP is not the end of the project, but rather the start of a new phase in the project. While the general requirements for a project have already been defined, quite often the real requirements are not understood until well after the RFP is released, a contract is awarded, and the project development begins. Sometimes it takes two or three iterations of the requirements development process before both companies fully understand the problem they are trying to solve or the products they hope to use to overcome these difficulties:

We can only shape the path as we are cutting its course through the forest.Many requirements of a system become known only as the system develops. This is especially true for a system that makes use of multiple commercial products, since their interactions will have a substantial influence on the systems eventual design.
—David J. Carney.Quotations from Chairman David. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 1998. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

While this book is directed toward the computer system project, the disciplines of gathering requirements, organizing and writing an RFP, and interacting with suppliers during and after the RFP has been issued can be applied in many other contexts. The material in this book can therefore be used, with some adjustments, to write RFPs for many industries. However, this book does not cover every type of application for every project; some parts may not apply to your specific needs.

A Word of Encouragement

All of the following material, including the sample RFP paragraphs, should be considered as a starting point and guideline for your own RFP. While the book provides you with a general format and general language, it is up to you to build upon this base of information and these examples. In the commercial world there are no rulebooks or laws that force you to write an RFP in a certain manner, and the federal governments Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs) still leave room to be creative.

So within reason, be creative and include the requirements in your RFP that will make your project successful for both you and the chosen supplier.

A Word of Caution

Vendors do not have unlimited time and resources. When your RFP is complete, take a moment to look at it from a vendors point of view and consider whether it is fair or if you are asking for too much. Remember that if you succeed in your bid, the vendor will become your partner. Successful business relationships are built on foundations of fairness and mutual respect. To bully or cajole a vendor into reducing pricing or including free services is to impair your relationship from the beginning. As Andrew Carnegie once said about J. P. Morgan, “Mr. Morgan buys his partners; I grow my own.”Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Who Should Read This Book?

In my experience writing RFPs, I have worked with all kinds of people from all types of companies and departments. I find that many companies do not have RFP writing guidelines, procedures, or support and rely on company history and previously written RFPs as source materials. If there is no previous history in writing RFPs, a company may turn to consultants for help or ask vendors for copies of RFPs that can be used. I have been asked many times if I could send someone a “good” RFP as an example.

People who have been assigned to write an RFP but have not written one before and, perhaps, have little history and support to draw upon will find this book invaluable. A suggested outline, a wealth of examples, and good solid advice will guide you from starting the project to signing the contract.

People who have previously written RFPs will find that this book adds to their existing knowledge by providing some fresh examples for developing technical and management requirements.

Request for Proposal has been written for people in many different commercial industries as well as federal, state, and local government workers who need guidance, procedures, and direction. People who should read this book include the following:

  • information technology (IT) managers asked to write or manage an RFP
  • business unit managers who may not have dedicated IT support and find that they need to write an RFP
  • purchasing managers who provide RFP oversight for their company
  • federal, state, and local government IT and business managers who need to supplement their internal guidelines
  • consultants who are responsible for writing RFPs or helping their clients write RFPs
  • university and college professors looking for primary or supplemental course material

    After reading this book, the reader will be able to do the following:

  • organize the RFP project effort
  • outline each RFP section
  • develop, write, and review requirements&8212;technical, management, and pricing
  • pre-screen a vendor list selecting only the best vendors for the project
  • set up the evaluation criteria for evaluating vendor proposals
  • select the best solution based on objective evaluation criteria
  • prepare for the post-RFP activities such as site visits and reference checks, plan and schedule implementation activities, and put in place project management plans

    There is no prerequisite for reading this book&8212;you do not need to be a senior IT manager or a certified purchasing agent. The text provides a standard format for the recommended sections in an RFP and


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