Quality starts here

What is an RFP and how do you get one right?

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 their project, effectively bidding for the job in a way that will showcase how each one balances cost and quality over the competition.

While RFPs vary from project to project, they typically include 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. 

To learn why RFPs are important and how to make yours shine, read on.

Why does an RFP 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, a good RFP 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 doing guesswork 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. 

What should an RFP include?

As a general rule, vendors are eager to go the extra mile to make their proposals stand out from the competition. To help them do this as best as possible, you want to provide them with the right balance of information. You should 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, highlighting it in your RFP will allow vendors to see what you want to emphasize about yourself and pave the way for more unique, thought-through proposals.

2. Project scope

The scope is one of the most important parts of the RFP to receive 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. 

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.

3. 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 technical requirements listed in your RFP are 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.

If you don’t include these points in your RFP, vendors will likely end up asking about them anyway. So 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. 

5. Budget

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, especially regarding the type of pricing you prefer (fixed price vs. time and materials). Here too, this will allow potential partners to improve the quality of their proposals and design solutions that are tailored to your needs. 

6. Design examples

Design is another element that a client often expects the vendor to provide them with, but 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, you’ll 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 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.

Getting an RFP right 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, and 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 corporate portfolio or get in touch with us today.

Published by Hanna-Mari Kirs

. Hanna-Mari is our Business Lead for European Markets. Previously part of the team at Monese, she has varied experience working in a rapidly changing startup environment across different roles and responsibilities. At Mooncascade, she helps our clients to stay on top of the competition and achieve their business goals.