Archive for May, 2008

Provider centred RFPs

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) can be awful, appalling, lengthy documents which strike weariness and a sense of the inevitability of an arduous and adversarial process into even the most hardened solution provider.

I was therefore most heartened to read Optimal Usability‘s latest newsletter, in which they talk about writing usable RFPs. Apparently they’ve been asked to respond to a lot of usability RFPs recently. They’ve been in the game longer than anyone, and up until now their business has largely come through direct relationships with clients. RFPs are a sign that usability is becoming a mainstream phenomena, which I think is a great thing.

But not if they increase the cost of sale for the solution providers without adding extra value, and get engagements off on the wrong foot.

Optimal puts the challenge with RFPs beautifully:

“The biggest problem is that organisations tend to precisely describe the usability services that they require, but only vaguely describe the problem they want solved. It’s like going to the doctor, giving them a loose description of where you’re hurting, and telling them the exact type of antibiotics you’d like them to prescribe”

They go on to give a set of recommendations on how to write a good RFP for usability services. These include:

  • Know your own mind
  • Consider how you will use the research
  • Explain the background of the project
  • Indicate when there is flexibility in the deliverables, services, budget or any other aspect of the project
  • If possible, accept proposals in different formats

To me many of these apply just as well to software development and product/solution RFPs as they do to usability. I’ve long been an advocate of using narrative approaches to improve RFP processes. Thinking about how an RFP could add value rather than just tick the compliance box and/or get the best price can significantly improve a project’s chance of success.

You can sign up for Optimal’s newsletter on their web site. It wouldn’t surprise me if they keep coming up with similarly excellent articles.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.
Albert Einstein