The Request for Proposal Handbook
Asner, Michael, Government Finance Review
The following article presents excerpts from a sourcebook of guidelines, best practices, examples, laws, regulations, and checklists from jurisdictions in the United States and Canada. The Request for Proposal Handbook was published in 1995. The excerpts here are reprinted from Chapter 4, "The RFP Document," with permission of the author.
Sample Tables of Contents
There are many sources for good ideas which can improve an RFP. The table of contents of another organization's RFP may help you to identify some areas or issues which you have not considered. These tables offer insights into how organizations structure their RFPs and identify some of the critical issues; they can be useful as checklists for items and topics. Exhibit 1 illustrates the table of contents of a simple RFP.
RFPs take many different forms. Each form reflects a different organization; culture; and set of priorities, skills, and requirements. In reviewing a variety of RFPs, you will see that many of them have four sections in common: ground rules, system requirements, evaluation criteria, and format of the proposal.
Ground Rules. This first section typically identifies the purpose of the RFP, the name of the person to contact for further information, and the number of copies required. This section may include a timetable of dates relevant to the project. It may also address a wide variety of other issues and contain statements such as "A corporate officer must sign the proposal," "The issuer is not liable for costs," and "The proposal will be incorporated in any resultant contract."
Requirements. This section deals with the specific requirements. It attempts to define the users' needs or problems. For example, if the RFP deals with acquiring a turnkey system - computer equipment, software, and applications packages from the same supplier - this section would contain a description of each of the current systems. It also may identify any known shortcomings or required enhancements. It would include a table of the volumes of each type of transaction both now, at the peak season, and for several years in the future.
Evaluation Criteria. This section identifies how the decision is to be made: how the best or most appropriate supplier and product will be selected. Many factors can influence the selection: cost, goodness of fit, support services available, and contractual conditions. At a minimum, this section should identify each of the factors which will be utilized. Some organizations only provide vague descriptions of the evaluation criteria; others go much further and identify not only each factor but its weight and the selection process itself.
Proposal Format. The final section of this simple RFP structures the proposal. It is important that each supplier provide its information in a comparable form. Imposing a sequence on all suppliers saves many hours of hunting through hundreds of pages of text.
A common organization for proposals is: 1) letter of transmittal; 2) executive summary; 3) our understanding of the requirements; 4) proposed equipment, software, and services; 5) costs; 6) physical requirements; 7) training; 8) conversion plan; 9) reliability and backup; 10) project plan and timetable; and 11) standard agreements.
Exhibit 2 shows the table of contents of a request for proposal prepared by a state agency. This RFP reflected the investment of large amounts of time, money, and experience. The approach to identifying requirements was especially well-done. In the requirements section, more than 100 specific technical features were addressed. An accompanying compliance table listed each of the technical features and provided a space for the supplier to enter "yes" or "no." In addition, the compliance table identified whether each feature was mandatory or desirable or whether the question was simply for information purposes only.
Incorporation of this table in the RFP simplified the work of the evaluators and made it easy to highlight major weaknesses. …