Better RFP Responses & Management
Advice to Procurement Professionals: Test Your Instructions

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.