When corporations or public institutions are preparing large-scale development projects, one common way of finding partners is to put out an ‘RFP’, or ‘request for proposal’. The idea is to ask potential vendors to submit business proposals for realizing a project, effectively bidding for the job in a way that will showcase how each one balances cost and quality over the competition.
Because of the nature of the process and how these requests work, knowing how to write an RFP well can make a huge difference to your business, making you stand out to potential vendors and very probably netting you higher-quality proposals as a result. And to help you get them right, the Mooncascade team have put together a handy guide on how to write an RFP that we’re going to present to you today.
Before we get started though, it’s important to recognise that RFPs vary from project to project, and as such the demands of ‘how to write an RFP that will be successful’ will be slightly different each time, That said, RFP’s will typically include some ‘common’ or ‘standard’ elements – such as an outline of what the client wants to build, their business goals in doing so, a list of technical requirements, and an explanation of what they expect the vendor to include in their proposal. Although this might sound like the easy part from the client’s perspective, getting an RFP right is a critical step that isn’t always as clear-cut as it seems.
So, to learn why RFPs are important and how to write an RFP that will shine, read on.
How to Write an RFP: Why do They Matter?
More often than not, RFPs have a fixed price they ask vendors to meet. From the vendor’s perspective, this means that the proposal has to include some kind of buffer to account for any potential overhead costs in the project. So, the more informative your RFP is, the more your vendors will know what to expect and how to budget for it, increasing both the accuracy and quality of their proposals.
Plus, once you know how to write an RFP well, it will make the proposals you receive more comparable. If you’ve laid out everything you’re looking for clearly, you’ll know that your vendors aren’t having to guess about what needs to be accomplished. You won’t have one offer for an in-house hosting solution, and another for a cloud solution, for example. Clearly explaining your needs in an RFP will also highlight your company’s professionalism, attracting more experienced or successful vendors who are more likely to increase the value of your project down the line.
How to Write an RFP: What Should You Include?
As a general rule, vendors are eager to go the extra mile to make their proposals stand out from the competition. For your part as the client, knowing how to write an RFP well can help them do this as well as possible. You want to provide them with the right balance of information, and go into enough detail for your potential partner to understand what you’re looking for and what needs to be done to accomplish it, without overwhelming them either. An overview is a great place to start.
1. Project and company overview
This doesn’t need to be too long—one to two pages is plenty. Cover your project’s business goals, what you want to achieve, why it matters, and where the idea comes from. Also, be sure to say a few words about your company, including which markets you’re present in, which industry you lead in, and how many people you employ. Although this kind of information is often publicly available, it’s a big part of how to write an RFP that will stand out to vendors. Why? Because highlighting such information in your request will allow those vendors to see what you want to emphasize about yourself, and pave the way for more unique, thought-through proposals.
2. Project scope
Knowing how to write an RFP’s scope is one of the most important steps to receiving good, comparable offers. Being too vague here will almost certainly result in vendors coming back with additional questions, especially if you’re requesting fixed-price proposals.
Thankfully though, this is where a few of the standard elements that we’ve mentioned earlier in our ‘how to write an RFP’ guide come into play. To make your scope sufficiently detailed, you’ll need to cover project management, content strategy, UI/UX design, front-end and backend requirements, hosting, platform requirements, and any existing environments and technology. If you need a mobile presence, specify whether a mobile app is necessary or if responsive web is enough.
You should also include any specific requirements for which technology you’d like the vendor to use, as well as accessibility requirements, SEO requirements (if applicable), testing and quality assurance, performance and SLAs, documentation, analytics and support, and maintenance. It’s always beneficial to add user stories, visual representations of your current architecture, and any design mockups to the RFP documents, too.
Another key element in how to write an RFP that will shine is communication, and more specifically, communication regarding your timeline. Your vendors need to know how and when the vendor selection process will happen and, as much as possible, how you expect things to move forward during actual development. So be sure to clarify the various steps of the RFP phase (due dates, presentations, assignments for short-listed vendors, etc.) and as much as you can about what will happen next.
A timeline will give the vendor a chance to see if your project is doable within their time and resource limitations and allow any important questions to be asked early on. This will also help the vendor judge how realistic your idea is: if you’re planning on building an entire system from scratch and you ask for the project to be done two months from tomorrow, this might raise a few eyebrows—or a red flag.
4. Technical requirements
The fourth ingredient in our recipe for how to write an RFP that will receive the quality service offers that you want, is another very important one – the technical requirements. Having these listed in your RFP is clearly going to facilitate finding the right development team for your project. To ensure you’re not forgetting anything, here’s a checklist of key points to cover:
- An overview of the project’s architecture, including languages, frameworks and platforms that need to be supported, as well as any existing systems that need to be integrated or taken into account.
- If possible, include any external APIs you’ll be using, with documentation and diagrams included.
- A list of components with all of the features you’ll require.
- A clear set of expectations regarding availability and support (e.g., 24/7 support on standby), including desired response times.
- A description of non-functional requirements like security and performance.
- Any pre-existing mockups of the work that needs to be done.
This is an important part of how to write an RFP that works well, because if you don’t include these points in your proposal, vendors will likely end up asking about them anyway. That being the case, it’s wise to prepare in advance and avoid having to answer these questions repeatedly. Take the time to cover this section in detail, working with an architect or lead developer to give you as much insight into the process as possible.
In the public sector, most projects state their budget explicitly. Though this is less common in the private sector, it’s helpful to give vendors some idea of what to expect, and for that reason it’s one of our tips for how to write an RFP well. A ‘budget’ section can be really helpful to vendors, especially regarding the type of pricing you prefer (fixed price vs. time and materials), and this will allow potential partners to improve the quality of their proposals, in turn ensuring that their design solutions are tailored to your needs.
6. Design examples
Design is another element that a client often expects the vendor to provide them with. However, it forms part of our guide on how to write an RFP because again, any information you have about your expectations in this area can increase the quality of the proposals you’ll receive. Even something simple like low-fidelity wireframes will go a long way toward helping vendors understand your project in detail and asking more meaningful questions about it.
7. Selection criteria
Finally, in this section of our ‘how to write an RFP’ guide, we’ll cover selection criteria. You’ll certainly want to let vendors know what you expect their proposal to include and how you plan on judging it. Include information about what kinds of references you’d like to see and whether they should match any size or form specifications. Some clients even ask vendors to fill in a premade spreadsheet template, which isn’t a bad idea either. This makes it easy to compare the different vendors and their previous experiences.
The same goes for specialist resumès. If you have any specific requirements as regards to the team’s seniority, technical skill or other aspects, highlight them here.
As far as your selection process goes, highlight what’s important to your company. If you can, let vendors know how they’ll be scored. This will help them know where to put the emphasis in their proposals: if price is most important, they’ll focus on optimisation, if references are, they’ll know that experience is, and so on.
The RFP: early communication for long-term success.
Knowing how to write an RFP well won’t just help your vendors. It’ll lead to a set of better-focused, higher-quality, and more comparable proposals for you to benefit from. A solid RFP will also increase your attractiveness as a client, drawing in the best and brightest developers to share their know-how with you and make your next idea a world-class success.
Here at Mooncascade, we’ve answered plenty of RFPs – it’s actually one of the ways we learned how to write an RFP well too – and so we know the important role they play in founding strong partnerships. The more we have to work with, the more we can offer the client in our proposal. And the earlier we know what to work with, the faster we can start brainstorming exciting ideas around their request. Want to see how we can help your next development project shine? Have a look at our client portfolio or get in touch with us today.