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Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development [Paperback]

Bud Porter-Roth
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 21 2001 0201775751 978-0201775754 1
The expert guide to writing successful RFPs -- from the worlds leading RFP consultant!
A systematic guide to constructing RFPs that encourage productive, useful vendor responses -- and avoiding the common pitfalls of RFP development.
Detailed example language, analysis tools, and practical resources for jumpstarting RFP development.
An invaluable resource for everyone creating RFPs in business or government for any purchase. 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 dont understand how to create them effectively. In this book, the worlds 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.
Bud Porter-Roth is a high-technology consultant who specializes in helping clients define their technology needs, writing RFPs for technology acquisition, reviewing and evaluating vendor proposals, and providing support through implementation. A frequent speaker on the topic of writing effective RFPs, he is author of Proposal Development, Third Edition- How to Respond & Win the Bid.

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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 system's 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 government's 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 vendor's 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 includes examples for each section, as well as examples of how to write the technical and nontechnical requirements for each section.

    The text also provides guidelines for evaluating proposals and selecting a winning vendor once proposals have been received. Evaluation guidelines include evaluating technical and management content as well as pricing.

    Acknowledgments

    As with any endeavor this large, many people have provided help, constructive criticism, encouragement, and support. I would like to thank all of the reviewers who took the time to review and comment on the manuscript. The finished book is much better as a result of their efforts.

    Ralph Young has been especially helpful in providing detailed suggestions and encouragement and in graciously agreeing to write the foreword. Thank you, Ralph.

    Special thanks go to Addison-Wesley for publishing this book and to my editor, Debbie Lafferty, for her professionalism, great suggestions and attitude, and lots of behind-the-scenes hard work that I will never know about.

    Finally, my wife Anne and daughter Lizzie endured many early mornings, late nights, and missed weekends as I toiled away writing and revising the manuscript. Their support helped make this book possible.

    Bud Porter-Roth
    Mill Valley, California
    bud@rfphandbook.

  • From the Back Cover

    Praise for Request for Proposal

    “Bud Porter-Roth is an expert in the field of preparing RFPs, and we could not have successfully completed our project without his skill and knowledge. This book is a clear guide to an otherwise complex and difficult process. If you can’t hire Bud Porter-Roth to write your RFP, then you should buy this book.”

             —Lori Deibel, Manager, Library Services

    “This book is priceless. It is a must for a novice writing an RFP.”

             —Doris Lopez, Senior Systems Engineer, O-Cedar Brands, Inc.

    “This book brings a structure to a process that is too often unstructured. There have been no standards (outside of government) that I know of that apply to RFP preparation. I also believe that vendors (sellers) would welcome a more uniform and consistent style of RFP.”

             —Frank Tillman, API Systems Group

    “This book provides overall coverage on a subject that deserves some real guidance. I like very much the sentiment concerning the RFP as the basis for a team and the idea that the RFP is the beginning, not the end. His emphasis on the need for clarity in the RFP and for measurable requirements needs to be heard and understood by many within the target audience. He takes an excellent position on ‘Why Write an RFP’.”

             —Patricia Oberndorf, SEI

    “This book is well written and insightful. It provides good information on what makes a good requirement, how proposals are evaluated, and what precautions to take to prevent early elimination.”

             —Linda Fernandez

    “Just a note to tell you thank you for providing some tips on how to structure an RFP. I work for a small company who does not have a specific template for this purpose and found your guidance a very useful starting point.”

             —Dan Salo

    Despite its importance as an initial step in the development of major technical projects, the Request for Proposal (RFP) process rarely receives the professional attention it deserves. Used by government agencies and by private corporations to solicit proposals from contractors and vendors, the RFP document is the foundation for a successful project. A clearly written and properly organized RFP clarifies technical goals, communicates administrative and financial expectations, and sets the tone for good communication and a trusting and productive relationship between customer and contractor.

    This experience-based handbook offers a systematic, comprehensive, and professional approach to writing RFPs. It guides you step-by-step—from initial planning to selecting the winning proposal—through the RFP process, demonstrating the most effective ways of structuring the document and expressing technical, administrative, and financial requirements. Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development focuses on the major goals of the RFP process—to elicit high-quality responses from potential contractors and promote effective communication between the client and the chosen vendor.

    You will be able to:

  • Plan and organize the RFP effort
  • Outline each RFP section
  • Develop, write, and review all requirements, including those that are administrative, technical, and managerial
  • Set realistic pricing requirements
  • Pre-screen a vendor list to select appropriate vendors
  • Set up objective evaluation criteria for selecting the best solution
  • Prepare for post-RFP activities such as site visits, reference checks, and implementation activities

    In addition, this book includes several templates you can adapt for your own organization’s RFP efforts. Request for Proposal gives numerous examples of both effective and poorly-written RFP requirements that illustrate the author’s points and provide solid advice to help you avoid common pitfalls and implement best practices.

    For anyone with the responsibility of writing RFPs or responding to them, this book is are source you will want to keep close at hand.




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    Customer Reviews

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    Most helpful customer reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars Resource and guidelines with a coherent approach Feb. 29 2004
    By Mike Tarrani TOP 500 REVIEWER
    Format:Paperback
    There are literally hundreds of good books on proposal writing, but only a tiny handful on writing RFPs. From among the handful this book stands out for a number of reasons:
    (1) It clearly described the RFP process from start to finish - and RFP development is a process with a defined life cycle.
    (2) The author goes well beyond the immediate objective of writing an RFP and managing the process by including thought-provoking material on post-award vendor management. This material sometimes escapes the RFP development team who is more focused on getting to the award milestone without thinking about the post-award ramifications.
    (3) It's not boring - the writing is lively, and the material is presented at a fast pace. The pace, however, does not leave gaps. Every facet of the RFP process is covered in sufficient detail.
    In addition to the above, the approach set forth in this book is consistent with best practices in RFP development. I especially like the copious checklists, the RFP roadmap, and the way illustrations are skillfully used to reinforce concepts and advice.
    Note that the focus of this book is information technology and software acquisition. Some of the material is unique to those domains; however, the basic principles and RFP process can be used for virtually any type of RFP, from office services to purchasing furniture.
    Overall, this is the one book I recommend for RFP development. If you are an IT professional, regardless of role, the chances are you will be involved in this process at some point in your career, making this book a valuable addition to your library. If you have recently been assigned to an RFP team you should get this book as soon as possible, and use it as your compass and blueprint if your organization does not already have a formal RFP process in place.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    Format:Paperback
    Any organization that outsources development projects, buys package solutions, or contracts for other services will find "Request for Proposal" valuable. Filling a significant void in the literature, this book provides a wealth of practical guidance to help buyers describe their needs clearly and completely. In turn, these descriptions enable prospective vendors to prepare comprehensive and meaningful responses that will let a buyer get the best solution for its money. The book emphasizes writing RFPs for software-related projects, but the principles and practices apply to any acquisition activity.
    The book addresses the process of developing RFPs and evaluating proposals. It also describes in detail the sections of a well-constructed RFP and offers guidance as to how to prepare each section. Instead of presenting a simplistic prescription, the book addresses both sides of issues that are not clear cut, such as whether to include the details of the proposal evaluation criteria in the RFP. These discussions help readers understand the various points of view so they can select for themselves the appropriate course to take in each situation. The book includes many checklists, forms, examples, and practical tips. It is clearly written, easy to read, and comprehensive.
    I found this book very helpful as I developed a software subcontract management process recently. Every time I pick it up I spot another tidbit to consider adding to the process. "Request for Proposal" is a gold mine of useful ideas for anyone who has to ask vendors to describe how they propose to satisfy a buyer's requirements.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable book for any RFP endeavor Sept. 5 2002
    Format:Paperback
    Mr. Porter-Roth's book is an invaluable resource for anyone challenged with the development of an RFP or responding to one. Having been involved many times on both the user's side for developing RFPs and evaluating responses and on the vendor's side responding to RFPs, one of the most valuable statements is that the RFP process is a partnership between the user organization and the responding vendors. Mr. Porter-Roth's advice for adhering to a well-defined structure of the RFP and the mandatory requirement on the vendor to respond according to the structure can save hours of confusion and frustration for purchasing and the users when evaluating RFP responses. The payback on an investment in this book will be manyfold.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    Format:Paperback
    I was in charge to define the RFP for a big imaging system project and this book gave me the tools to plan, supervise and create the RFP that point out the requirements, so the providers can easily develop the correct solution in their proposal.
    This book is ahead. Has very good explanation (easy to read and understand), well structured and the examples are good to have a clear idea of the content that should have all the topic of the RFP. It gave me the tools to map the plan, the definition of the requirements and the development of the RFP document.
    This book must be in any library.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    5.0 out of 5 stars RFP Request for Propoal Guide - Excellent April 12 2010
    Format:Paperback
    I purchased this book as I wanted to refine our RFP process here at the company and ensure that our template covered what was required from a business perspective no matter the type of RFP you were writing. I found this book very well laid out and informative even for those of us who do RFPs all the time it had new items and ideas in it. I would recommend this book to anyone who is involved in the development of RFPs, it is like having a bible beside you. Simple to follow, read and of great value. And for the price, you can't beat it.
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