MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Weeknotes 1/4/14 – Parsing RFP's

Almost all of the team's energies this week were spent on developing a proposal for a new project. The opportunity is a big one, both in the scale of the project and in the potential impact it can have on both client and community.

Our first reaction is to carefully read the RFP to discern what the project is all about and why our client is doing it. Our purpose, of course, is to develop a an approach, a process, a scope of services, and an explanation of capabilities and capacities that will be most appropriate to deliver differential value in the accomplishment of the client's goals.

As in many cases, the request for the proposal came in through an agent of the end client. I laugh a bit over our typical, next, reaction to these. We tend to almost immediately reject the underlying premise of the RFP, believing that the role of the agent is to prove their own value and not to legitimately comprehend and communicate the intentions and values of their client. The signals of this are usually in the type of agent the client has engaged, and certainly in the matrix the agent generates into which the fees for the services proposed must be entered. That is, transaction-oriented agents seem to care mostly about acquiring professional services for their clients through least cost selection rather than best value delivered. We'll then spend a considerable amount of time grousing, developing should-have-been approaches, and admiring our cleverness and commitment. Once this is out of or systems, we then reread and carefully parse the RFP, seeking the way to deliver (usually disappointingly) just what the client is asking.

What was unusual in this case, however, is the nature of the request. Typically, in order to get reasonably comparative fee proposals, the agent will carefully describe the scope of the project and, if nothing else, the expected "deliverables." In this case, however, the RFP explained the context for the project but then rather than defining the services requested said, instead, "We don't now what to ask." Setting aside our concern that the typical approach to commercial terms is still embedded in the RFP, we were very pleased with the candidness of the client's agent saying, in effect, "Here's a problem we have and a desire to something quite different to solve it. We don't know what the scope of the effort should be, nor the services we'll need to achieve our aims. You tell us how you'll go about understanding the problem and proposing an innovative way to solve it."

Pleased, mostly, with the nature of the request, we've assembled a great national consulting team and spent the week putting together what we think is a compelling approach. More later.