How to Write an RFP for a Successful Digital Partnership

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study suggests that out of 10,640 projects done by 200 companies across the globe, only 2.5% managed to complete 100% of their IT projects. Lack of planning, resources, and activities are some of the reasons for this rate of failure. However, organizations are now working towards reducing the rate of project failure. According to a report by Project Management Institute the project failure rate has substantially reduced from 70% to 55% in 2017. Some of the factors that have contributed to the reduction of failure rate are using a strategic approach to project management and adopting an Agile approach.

RFP is the first step towards starting the journey towards a successful project. From repeated delays in software releases, exceeding budgets to development issues these predictable obstacles can be avoided by writing a succinct request for proposal (RFP).

In this article, we have collated more than ten best practices to follow while writing an RFP that can build a successful digital partnership.

Looking to craft compelling digital experiences for your enterprise? Here’s a handy RFP template you can refer to. Download now.

Project Overview

The first step to creating a quality RFP is to introduce the purpose of your proposal. Clearly state the goals, metrics, and ROI the RFP is designed to address. Be brief and to the point in this section, as more details about the project will follow in the subsequent section. The overview should provide a   view of your business objective, baseline goals, and proposed solution.

Company Background

Clearly articulate your business and the services or solutions your enterprise provides. Chances are that the service provider is unfamiliar with your organization and has questions even after visiting your website. You should talk about what makes your company unique and why the project you are working on matters.

Project Goals & Target Audience

Clearly explain your goals and what you intend to accomplish with the project. Prioritize the goals so the vendor will understand the relative importance and can respond accordingly.  Describe the end user or the target audience of the project. If there are multiple users clearly define each as this will help the vendor understand the overall scope and reach of the project.  For example, the main target audience may be “consumers”, but be sure to define other user groups such as “administrators, content providers, suppliers, etc.” The clearer you are, the better the responses will be to the RFP, which in turn will allow you to make better decisions and produce more quantifiable outcomes.

Scope and Deliverables

This is the part where you will elaborate on the scope and key deliverables for the project. Describe the features, functions along with the associated deliverables with as much detail as possible. If you can, provide examples from other projects or describe how the end user will use the feature.  If there is a specific technology you require, include that in the scope description. Don’t forget to define ongoing support requirements and SLAs (Service Level Agreements) as part of the scope. These are often overlooked at the beginning of a project and can cause cost overruns in the end. Include any documentation that supports the scope such as wireframes, technical architecture or user personas.

Project Timeline

Even though you may not know the actual timeline to complete the project, you should provide the desired dates for critical milestones. This will allow the vendor to provide reasonable estimates for the duration of each project phase.  If there is a hard deadline to be met, be upfront about it.

Technical Requirements

This is one of the most critical section of an RFP. This will lay out all the technical and complex requirements of the project. This section should clearly outline both technical and functional requirements for the project. For instance, if your project requires a design solution to be done, then the details and the expectations like user-friendliness, accessibility, compatibility with multiple devices, etc. should be mentioned here. Some other key points that can be included in this section could be:

  • Infrastructure requirements and guidelines – details of the infrastructure like a requirement of a cloud platform details of the deployment environment, etc. should be captured here.
  • Operating model requirements – This should capture the dependencies and the expectations from the operating model from the vendor.
  • Functional requirements pertaining to both front-end and back-end should be added in this section.

Main Point of Contact

Generally, there should be a single point of contact that the vendors can reach out to with questions and comments. It is also useful to provide the names and contact details for critical members of the client project team. For example, the technical and UX lead, project sponsors and SMEs. Allowing access to these people will improve the accuracy of the vendor’s response.

Budget and Selection Criteria

Be open about your budget, even if it is only an estimate. Providing  the service provider with a target budget is a part of setting clear expectations and ensuring you get a quality response. Some clients do not provide a budget target in RFPs, assuming that the vendors will provide lower estimates. In actuality, the result is usually budgets that vary widely by the vendor which makes it difficult to accurately compare scope, effort, and cost.

You should also include the selection criteria you will use to award the project and evaluate the vendors. Vendors that do not meet those requirements should be excluded at the beginning of the RFP process, not at the end.  This will save everyone time and effort.

Finally, in some industries (government, education and financial services), there are legal and regulatory requirements for selecting a vendor for a project.  Be sure to address those in the preparation of the RFP.

Ongoing Support

One of the questions you must answer when preparing an RFP is, will the project require ongoing support post-launch?  Some clients have their own in-house support team for bug fixes, maintaining uptime, providing reporting and analytics.  For these clients, it is a best practice to include a “transition period” in the RFP that allows the vendor time and budget to educate the in-house support team on how to support the project long term.

If you will need the vendor to provide ongoing support, establish clearly the expectations around SLAs (Service Level Agreements), escalation and communication channels.  Some vendors are not set up for long term ongoing support, and knowing that could be a critical decision point in selecting a vendor.

Provide Example and Samples

If your project has been inspired by other products in the industry, provide a few examples of it. Whether it is the design, the overall experience, or any other specific, discrete feature, explain what you like about them and why. When you give samples of the things you want, you are able to better explain your vision and clarify any doubts that the vendor may have.

The Format of your Proposal

Are you supposed to submit the proposal in a set PDF or an MS Word format? Are you required to sign and notarize the hard copies? Is there a specific font and format to be used (single or double space)? These are some of the questions that you need to keep in mind while writing an RFP. While all these may seem to be standard questions, it is often overlooked by the writers.

Final Thoughts

Great RFPs are easy to write provided you know what to include in them. These are some of the essential elements of an RFP that can help you forge lasting relationships with the vendor. Even though these points may appear overwhelming, but chances are that you already know about them and are including it in your RFP. But, this isn’t an exhaustive list of things that can be included. If you know where to put what content then you can make the vendor’s life easier in deciding whether to respond to the RFP or not.

An in-depth RFP shows that you have invested time in thinking through the details and are serious about the completion of your project. After all, the better the RFP is articulated, the better will be the vendor response.

An exhaustive, in-depth RFP is critical for selecting the right vendor and ensuring that there are no mismatches between the expectations from a project and deliverables. As they say ‘well begun is half done’, a well written RFP is the first step to ensure successful on-time project completion.

At Robosoft, we believe in simplifying lives through delightful digital experiences. Across enterprises, digital product owners and IT Services teams are responsible for initiating, overseeing and executing mission-critical software projects. All of these involve decision making which can impact the success of the project – from selecting the right digital partner to the writing a comprehensive RFP. Through a series of blogs, we will attempt to provide useful guides for such digital journeys. Our first one is about writing an effective RFP. We hope you find it useful. Got a suggestion? Write to us.

Brad Hill Brad is our business development director for the Central & Mountain regions of the US. He is based out of Dallas, Texas. In a career spanning 20+ years, Brad has crafted Services and SaaS solutions with a focus on large account sales, account management, and enterprise software development. With experience across retail, CPG, financial services and technology, Brad believes there is a vast ocean of opportunities for enterprises in Design Thinking, UX/UI, Analytics and emerging technologies.

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