To most businesspeople, RFP stands for Request for Proposal. This is when a company submits requirements and specifications about a project to multiple companies to bid on. The company will then award the job to the most appealing proposal based on price, time, quality, and adherence to their requirements. Notice I said that RFP stands for Request for Proposal to most businesspeople.
An RFP typically comes in to a salesperson. Eventually, they get around to looking at the details, but it may sit in their inbox for a day or two or even up to a week before they start taking it seriously. Only when they open the RFP do they notice that it has a deadline! Instead of the full three weeks it may have initially had, it has been pared down to two weeks because it sat in their inbox. Panic ensues.
Next, the nature of an RFP means that it’s usually a big project. Companies don’t go to the trouble, effort, and expense to put an RFP together for a project that’s small or inconsequential. No, these are projects that could bring in hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to a company’s bottom line. Often, they are the type of projects that keep people employed and on payroll for a long time, perhaps years. It’s important to the commission-based salesperson, as well as to the company for the sake of its employees, to respond to RFPs. Panic ensues.
Finally, RFPs have a tendency to require new technologies or are somewhat complicated in nature. The solution for this company’s problem is not something that can be bought off the shelf; that’s why they put out an RFP. Companies responding to the RFP need to think of creative solutions, and quickly.
Panic ensues…and, we all know who gets pulled into situations with sudden deadlines out of nowhere. That’s right, a project manager. Project managers are pulled in to quell the panic and bring some order to the chaos. You’ll typically get invited to an RFP meeting about 10 minutes before it’s about to occur, and are told to clear your calendar for the rest of the morning.
It’s a fire drill you’ve been in before: the mad dash that lasts two weeks as samples of this and that are pulled together, long questionnaires are answered, company references are provided, and so many hoops have to be jumped through.
How to Manage the Request For Proposal Mayhem
•Throw Conventional Project Management Out the Window – The runway to takeoff Full length portrait of a busy businessperson running late is so short that you have no time to set an RFP up as a “real” project.You won’t have time to create a Work Breakdown Structure, communication or risk management plans, or even set up a project in the time management system to track time against.
It’s not that these things aren’t important, but in the 2 weeks you have to put your company’s proposal together, you have to make the decision to be working on the project itself or working on the components that support the project. These are all well and good for longer-term projects, but they just won’t work for such a short runway.
•CLEARLY Identify Deliverables – Remember that meeting you were called to about 10 minutes before it started, the one where everyone met in a conference room and the RFP was put up on the wall for all to see? The most important thing to get out of that meeting is a crystal clear identification of the deliverables that are expected at the end of the sprint. Obtain an extremely tangible and non-ambiguous list of what is expected to be completed and when, and most importantly, who is responsible for each task.
•Use Excel to Track Progress – No need to put together a full-blown project schedule here. Just assume that everything is on the critical path, there’s no float or lag time, and everything is dependent on everything. That’s why Excel is the best place to monitor the progress of an RFP project. A simple spreadsheet with Task, Owner, Date Due, and Status is all it’s going to take to keep an RFP from crashing and burning. Keep this task list updated to the minute, and accessible and visible for all.
•Bi-Daily Communication – I don’t know if there’s such a word as bi-daily, I’ve never heard anyone use it, but the bottom line is that everyone should be apprised of what is going on with the RFP at least twice a day.
The best way is to have an all-hands-on-deck meeting first thing every morning with everyone that is associated with the project. You may end up with 10-12 people at these meetings, and that’s okay. Tasks and activities are moving so fast that there will always be something for everyone who attends these daily meetings to accomplish.
Then, that afternoon, email the highlights of tasks you are tracking in the Excel spreadsheet to the entire team. You can attach the entire spreadsheet, but do include a screenshot in the email of the plan that includes what was just accomplished (so anyone can disagree if they don’t believe it’s done), and the next immediate steps and who is responsible.
These next immediate steps will undoubtedly need to be done the next day, but the screenshot will put people on notice that they may need to step it up a bit to get it done.Repeat this schedule of communication every day for the next two weeks; quick meeting in the morning, email update in the afternoon.
•Throw the Culture out the Window, Possibly – Some companies Throwing culture out windoware extremely siloed in their approach to projects. Their people are conditioned to only pick up the ball when everyone else has done their part to the point of perfection. Or, they may only help with those areas that are directly in their department to assist with.
Make it clear to everyone that this type of behavior is not going to fly on this project; that they may have to temporarily defenestrate their routines and processes for their own sakes. This is an all-hands-on-deck project that is good for the company and everyone involved. Everyone is going to have to dig in, go above and beyond, and get out of their comfort zone to make it happen.
Yes, responding to an RFP is a frantic time in many companies. There’s never a good time for an RFP to come in; at the same time, there’s never a better time for an RFP to come in. If you’ve been given the privilege of managing a short-term RFP project, go ahead and embrace the opportunity and make the most out of it. Then, sit back and wait as the client mulls over the responses they received and hopefully picks your company to complete their Really Fun Project!