A Request for Proposal is an all-too-common mechanism for purchasing goods and services. When an organization is in need of something — from paperclips to highly-skilled problem-solving consultation — they issue an RFP and receive bids. RFPs almost always require submitting a sealed bid that includes cost estimates, a written summary of the bidder's qualifications and usually some examples or references. This process works well for buying commodity items like washers or even bigger items like transformers, where the requirements are not the least bit subjective. The product either meets the need and works or it doesn't. It's that simple. The RFP process, however, is the worst possible method for choosing services that are supposed to solve problems, think creatively and perform at a high level of innovation.
By definition, an RFP defines the scope of the services being purchased and by getting a price proposal puts a ceiling on outside-the-box thinking. Problem solvers should not be constrained.
By definition, and RFP puts the major emphasis on price even though there may be a disclaimer that says price is but one of the considerations. Sorry, folks, but the mindset behind the issuance of the RFP in the first place is "tell us how cheaply you can do the project."
Do you take your children to the lowest-priced doctor?
No, of course not. You want someone with extensive experience who knows more than you about diagnosing and treating illnesses.
Selecting highly specialized and talented professionals to perform exceptional work is not what the RFP process was created for. The irony is the sealed-bid, provide-a-price-for-what-we-think-we-need model puts the purchaser at a disadvantage. It doesn't give the prospective service providers a chance to shine, to solve the problem at hand, to demonstrate their expertise.
So what is the solution? It may take longer, but the best way to choose a professional, creative firm is to sit down and talk. You have to get to know them, their approach, their skills and expertise. Almost all of the professional firms I know (and compete with) really care about doing great work, providing innovative solutions and working as a partner. In fact, with Mikula-Harris, anything less than a genuine partnership with respect and open communication is unacceptable.
Despite our lack of confidence – to put it mildly — in the RFP process, we work in an industry that sometimes requires them because of the use of government funds. We’re quite selective about responding to RFPs. If we choose to submit a proposal in response to an RFP it is because we see enormous potential for the success of the project and believe it is an ideal fit for our expertise.