Better RFP Responses & Management
Better RFPs: Are They Mythical Beasts?

Better RFPs: Are They Mythical Beasts?

Today, Seth tackles fuzzy-wuzzy specifications. Arguing that a clear spec is clearly (hah!) the best way to get what you want, he asks why so many specs are not clear: vague, murky, and even contradictory.

If you write a great spec,
we get to blame you if it doesn’t work out.

Maybe that’s why so many SOWs and even proposal instructions are, to quote the master, “vague, murky, and even contradictory.” Maybe it’s fear of blame and/or accountability.

Maybe it’s also because, to quote George W. Bush, it’s hard.

It’s hard to clearly specify the work we want. We must first know it well enough to define the outcomes we want and then distinguish those from the methodology used. We must be able to fairly evaluate methodologies that are not the same-old way we’ve always done things. It requires a high level of domain knowledge and some ability to think outside the box.

It’s hard to sensibly specify the response we want. We must first know how we’re going to distinguish between proponents: what we need to know about them or their plans to help us make a high-confidence selection. Otherwise, we’ll just keep asking for the same-old plans that drive immense work for bidders and that our in-house evaluators might not even be able to assess or to differentiate.

Professionally risky + hard = ???

It doesn’t look like an equation that would add up to success, does it? Usually it doesn’t. Recognizing that fact is the place to start on doing better.



  1. Jim Taylor

    My comment is about your phrase “the work we want.” When I think back to my limited experience in management circles, the danger was always of having a pre-defined notion of what we wanted. In a manuscript. In a prospective employee. Etc. The Miss America pageant offers another example — the selection process was flawed by a predisposition to slim, blonde, white. Specs can be too narrow.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Oh, for sure they can be. Seen lots like that. But seen more where the spec is sloppy – unclear, not thought through, incomplete. In government procurement there’s a need to establish a level playing field for all bidders (partly for fairness, partly so you can compare apples to apples), so asking folks to think outside the box has to be done outside the bidding part of the formal procurement process or it starts to look corrupt. “I’ll ask all bidders for this but I’ll whisper something else to you so you can bid with inside knowledge.” I agree 110% that more time should be spent upfront looking at alternatives and asking the market to surprise you.

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