June 25, 2018
Top five tips for government agencies to craft Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that attract top-notch, innovative partners.
Civic
Thought Leadership

In a recent webinar, 5 Tips to Modernize your RFP Process, Ashley Meyers from San Francisco Digital Services and Zach Berke of Exygy shared their top five tips for government agencies to craft Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that attract top-notch, innovative partners.


1. Be Modest – Show Only What You Know

While it might be tempting to start listing out exact product features within the RFP, making assumptions without proper research can bar you from innovative ideas. Start by defining the project plan based only on research-backed insights and be clear about the areas where more discovery work is needed.

Key questions to answer:

  • Will you be interviewing users or do you need your vendor to do all user research and discovery?
  • What aspects of your project are “off the shelf” and what aspects require a custom build?
  • How much staff will you need during the design and build phase?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, consider doing a Phase I (“Discovery” or “Research”) procurement first.

2. Be Cool – Emphasize Impact

In order to get the best vendors excited about your project, you need to sell them on your overall vision by highlighting how the project will positively impact others. “Not every project is going to be pulling at the heart strings and affecting the lives of the underserved,” explains Berke, “but every project has a set of challenges that are interesting.”

Impact-focused questions to answer:

  • How many lives are going to be affected?
  • How will the local community be transformed?
  • How is the government going be more efficient and effective?

Additionally, reach the most modern vendors by streamlining the process. Remember to:

  • Promote the RFP through a landing page, a blog and on Twitter
  • Allow proposals to be submitted digitally
  • Provide ample time for an RFP response (typically four weeks after Q&A)
  • Be flexible about what work needs to be in person and what can be virtual

3. Be Smart – Go Modular

Set your project up for success by breaking down the overall project into smaller project modules, such as by database, APIs and user interfaces. “The reason to do that,” according to Meyers, “is because those things are going to require different skill sets and there are very few vendors that are good at all of them in-house.”

Tips to set your project up for success:

  • Budget to include user research and testing throughout the development process
  • Allow for flexibility as new user insights emerge by writing your requirements in pencil
  • Inform vendors about your dedicated staff, including their skill sets and commitment levels

4. Be Picky – Evaluation Methodology is Critical

When choosing a vendor, focus on past evidence of high quality work rather than high quality narrative. “You’re not hiring us to write copy for you,” states Berke, “so why would you select the firm that does the best job of writing copy in the RFP?”

Instead, focus your evaluation on a vendor’s ability to showcase original thought and creativity.

Evaluate vendors by:

  • Setting up a challenge much alike the tasks of the project – for example, a coding challenge or a mock user interview
  • Finding out if they also work commercially – they are more likely to be up to date on best practices
  • Asking how they recruit, vet and retain the talent you’ll be working with
  • Learning about their work process – what’s it like to work with this vendor?
  • Test driving things they’ve built

5. Be Thoughtful – Plan for the Future

Building custom software is much like gardening – it requires dedicated care and maintenance. Because of this, having a long term staffing plan for when the partner rolls off is critical for the long term success of the project. Leverage your vendors’ knowledge and experience by having them help you source, vet, and hire the perfect team for the maintenance of the project.

Examples of Proposals to Emulate

  • DAHLIA – San Francisco’s Affordable Housing Portal
  • Broad, flexible requirements
  • Structured for an agile iterative delivery model and a human-centered design process
  • Child Welfare Digital Services
  • An enterprise statewide system rebuild
  • Modular iterative release
  • Agile pre-qualified vendor pool
  • Alaska Child Welfare
  • An open procurement, easily and transparently managed on GitHub

By applying the above tips to your RFP writing process, you’ll be more successful in finding the perfect partnership and delivering the exceptional product your constituents deserve.

For more tips about crafting the perfect proposal, watch the webinar and view the slides.

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Chief of Staff

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