Category Archives: Better Government and Corporate RFPs

Improve government and corporate RFPs by applying the experience of RFP-response experts.

Page Limits: Tip #2 for RFP Issuers

If you’re going to use page limits, either to manage your proposal evaluation timeline or to force bidders to think about what really matters, here’s the second tip on how to do them better.

Align your page limits with the content required to answer the questions you ask, by doing a sanity check on the number of elements and the number of pages.

How do you do that? Consider these tactics:  Continue reading

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Page Limits: Tip #1 for RFP Issuers

OK, we get why you use page limits. They make life easier for evaluators, and help to separate the sheep from the goats, procurement-wise.  After all, those who are best at delivering a service or designing a product or building or software system are also best at explaining themselves succinctly, right?  Well, maybe.  Maybe not. But if you’re going to use them, here’s the first tip on how to do them better.

When is a page not a page?

When the pieces that comprise it are not defined.

Huh?

Here’s the deal.  You don’t really want to limit pages: You want to limit content.  To do that fairly across all bidders, you have to define what can go on a page.  Here’s how you do that.

Size of page – In North America, say it’s 8.5 x 11 inches.  An 11 x 17 page (useful for big organization charts and designs and drawings) should also be defined – will you count it as 1 page or 2?

Single-sided or double-sided – Me, I hate trying to read and evaluate double-sided text, but if you want to save paper (and can’t go with an entirely electronic submission), then state whether a page printed on both sides counts as 1 page or 2.

Margins – Specify minimums for margins, including the header and footer.

Font type – It’s not enough to state the font size.  Fonts of the same nominal size differ widely in actual size: Think Arial versus Calibri, for just one example.  Just specify the font you require.

Font size – It’s not enough to state the font size for text. Specify a smaller one for tables and figures.  Tables in overly large fonts are hard to read.

Character spacing – Take a look at the Advanced options under Fonts in Word, and specify all those options.

Line spacing – Specify the minimum, whether that’s single-spacing or some multiple.

Paragraph spacing – Specify the minimum space before and after paragraphs.

And those are just the tricks that I know.  Give your draft rules to a Word expert in your organization to see if they can think of anything else.

Complicated, eh?  Well, yes.  But at least you’ll get comparable bids.  And if you’ve chosen wisely, you’ll also get bids that are easy on your eyes.

 

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Advice to Procurement Professionals: Be clear

It’s a simple question: Do you want bidders to respond to every line item of your statement of work and/or draft contract in their technical proposals?

Yes, Please

If you do, then say so somewhere in the Instructions to Bidders, maybe like this:

Bidders shall respond to every SOW and/or draft contract line item somewhere in their technical proposal. We recommend cross-referencing these line items against the response instructions (and submitting said cross-reference with the Table of Contents) so that topics are addressed where they make sense, so that nothing is missed, and so that evaluators can quickly look up responses to specific SOW and draft contract line items.

You might even give them a cross-reference table to be completed with the appropriate proposal references, just so that everyone does the same thing.

Good God, No!

If you don’t want to see responses at this level of granularity – if, instead, you want to see high-level management or operational plans and examples of relevant experience that demonstrate bidders’ ability to do similar work – then say so, maybe like this:

Bidders shall provide the responses specified in the Instructions to Bidders.  For greater clarity, bidders shall NOT respond to every SOW and draft contract line item.

Whether it’s Yes or No, Be Precise

Don’t give hand-waving instructions like this:

Bidders shall follow RFP numbering exactly in their responses and responses shall be complete.

For bidders, the RFP is the whole thing: the actual RFP and all its attachments, including the SOW and draft contract.  So some folks on the proposal team are always sure that this sort of vague instruction is code for “Address every line item of the whole RFP somewhere in your proposal.”  If what you mean is that the response should be numbered in accordance with the RFP’s Instructions to Bidders (a perfectly reasonable requirement but one that should actually go without saying), then say just that:

Bidders shall number their responses in accordance with the numbering in the Instructions to Bidders.


 

Don’t say this either:

Show how your solution addresses SOW requirements.

For bidders, the obvious and safest response to such a requirement is to address every SOW line item in painstaking (and painful) detail.  If what you mean is that the response should show how some specific objective or deliverable is satisfied, then specify a meaningful objective or deliverable for every section of the response.

 

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Advice to Procurement Professionals: Test Your Instructions

Bidders are highly motivated to do well: to submit, on time, a compliant proposal that will score well and offer the lowest price they can. So why don’t they do better? A major reason is the complexity of bid documents.  Simpler documents will lead to fewer questions during the process, and to better responses at the end of the process, where “better” means closer to the requirement, easier to evaluate, and more competitively priced. Herewith, one final practical suggestion for keeping it simple.

Where Bidders Start

One of the first thing bidders do with an RFP is to “lay out” the required response.  That is, they review the RFP so they can set the table of contents for the response, complete with volumes, tabs, sections, and appropriately numbered writing outlines:

  • To be sure everything required will be included, in the expected location, both for compliance and to facilitate evaluation
  • To assign responsibility for completing each section and for obtaining all required documentation

However, this essential first step comes off the rails in any of these situations:

  • When response instructions are incomplete (e.g. failing to specify where mandatory documents should be included in the package)
  • When response instructions are internally inconsistent (e.g. content instructions citing different volume names and numbers of copies from the packaging/submission instructions)
  • When response instructions are inconsistent with related sections (e.g. evaluation criteria citing different sections in different orders, or using an entirely different framework)
  • When response instructions appear in unexpected places (e.g. in the draft contract or in the statement of work)

Following clear, consistent instructions is relatively easy:
Writing clear, consistent instructions is harder than it looks.
Much harder.
What to do?

Test Your Instructions

Bidders usually review their proposals before they submit them, looking for answers that are incomplete, unclear, or inconsistent with other sections. Go, thou, and do likewise: Before you issue bid documents, go through them as if you were going to respond, looking for instructions that are incomplete, unclear, inconsistent with other sections, or just in the wrong spot.

Don’t just read what’s been written: Actually try to design a table of contents that follows it.  This simple step will save untold hours on both sides, by allowing you to clarify the requirement, eliminating all kinds of questions.

 



This post is based on an article I wrote for the National Institute of Government Purchasing, Canada West Chapter.

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Advice to Procurement Professionals: Get Visual

Bidders are highly motivated to do well: to submit, on time, a compliant proposal that will score well and offer the lowest price they can. So why don’t they do better? A major reason is the complexity of bid documents.  Simpler documents will lead to fewer questions during the process, and to better responses at the end of the process, where “better” means closer to the requirement, easier to evaluate, and more competitively priced. Herewith, three specific examples of one practical suggestion for keeping it simple.

This week’s advice can be summed up in two words: Get visual.

Use a Picture

Schedules are best communicated visually. To ensure your schedule is feasible, lay out the dates or durations on a timeline. To ensure it’s clear, name the milestones and periods/stages, and then remove any terminology variants from the document.

Use a Form

When you want data, not lengthy narrative, design a simple form for bidders to populate. Whether it’s details on experience, or equipment/product specifications, a form helps ensure that answers are complete, and simplifies both the bidder’s job in organizing the information, and the evaluator’s job in assessing it.

Use a Spreadsheet for Bidder Questions

Give bidders a spreadsheet to submit questions. That gathers all the necessary information in a standard format, allowing you to easily combine questions from different bidders, and saving bidders the bother of designing a readable format.



 

This post is based on an article I wrote for the National Institute of Government Purchasing, Canada West Chapter.

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