In this series of articles, we discuss a couple of steps that
customers can, and should, take to improve their RFP process when
sourcing complex services, such as business process outsourcing or
In the previous instalment, we looked at the different types of
RFP processes and the varied approaches to terms and conditions. In
this piece, we discuss two additional factors that impact on the
success of an RFP process: timing and staffing.
Timing — Less is not More
Your executive sponsor has approved the project and wants the
RFP awarded and the project underway in 90 days, with an update for
the next quarterly board meeting. Three months sounds reasonable,
but do resist the temptation to commit to any firm timelines until
you have a few planning meetings with the deal team and have turned
a couple of drafts of the RFP. You will then have a good sense of
the complexity of transaction and the potential timelines required
for proponents to submit responses and navigate the negotiation
Our clients consistently remark that getting to the final
contract seemed to take longer than anyone anticipated —
and there are a variety of reasons for this:
business needs were not properly identified at the beginning
and the scope was modified throughout the RFP process;
the customer realized that it had not given proponents
sufficient time to prepare and submit quality responses, so had to
extend the RFP submission deadline;
the proponents raised valid questions about the RFP that needed
to be answered, so the customer had to extend the RFP submission
key stakeholders in the RFP process were on vacation and
another unanticipated delay was encountered.
Investing, and accounting for, sufficient time during the
planning phases of your RFP process is perhaps the best thing you
can do to help ensure the success of your project. And meeting or
exceeding a realistic timeline will be better received by your
executive sponsor than failing to meet an overly ambitious
Build in appropriate time for each phase of the RFP process to
avoid multiple delays — each extra week added to the
process adds significant cost to the project, both from your
organization's perspective and that of each participating
The more time spent at the front end, establishing business
requirements and defining scope, the higher the probability that
you will attract the right vendors and receive responses that meet
the stated requirements of the RFP.
Establishing the Team — Getting Participation from
Business and Legal
It goes without saying that the participation of key
stakeholders is required throughout the RFP process. This is easier
said than done with multiple demands on everyone's time. All
key stakeholders should be identified during the initial planning
phase, and their commitment (along with the commitment of their
bosses) to the RFP process, which may be full-time for long
periods, should be secured up front.
Important participants include the business and technical people
who will own the project, as well as the legal team who will
support the RFP process and ongoing contract management functions.
It is difficult to make meaningful contributions to a complex RFP
process where a key player is jumping in and out of the planning,
assessment and negotiation phases.
It is critical that the business people who will be charged with
the day-to-day management of the project be present at every
contract negotiation session so that they can pass along essential
deal knowledge to the contract management team going forward.
As well, your executive sponsor needs to be available for
certain sessions, to be an escalation point for unresolved items,
and to enable her to "buy in" to and support the project
as it unfolds.
Your legal advisor(s) offer valuable insight into whether
certain terms will be acceptable from a risk management
perspective, and their input will help temper enthusiastic
technical team members who may not have the experience to know
whether an innovative idea is workable from a legal
It is also important that there are a number of participants
from each key area to ensure the RFP process is not delayed in the
event of a vacation or job change.
Allocating the appropriate time and resources to the RFP process
can be the difference between the success and failure of your
project. Having discussed staffing and timing, we'll look at
the budget in the last instalment — and the importance of
accounting for all the costs of carrying out an RFP process.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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