Software selection teams are prone to issuing lengthy requests for information (RFIs) or requests for proposals (RFPs), with page after page of check boxes for so-called requirements. Vendors stay in contention by dutifully checking off each box as either “available now,” “available in next release,” or “available with customization.” (Checking “not available” to anything risks disqualification from the selection process.)
Unfortunately these RFIs/RFPs, sometimes running 50 pages or more, can be focused on minute and largely irrelevant details, and used to simply screen out vendors that weren’t liked anyway. A savvy vendor that already has relationships in the company will write (or at least influence) the RFI/RFP content to its advantage. Also, knowledgeable vendors will often decline to participate in the RFI/RFP process, aware that the selection is already “fixed,” and that the costly effort of submitting a response would be a waste of time.
A lengthy and detailed RFI/RFP can also reveal the customer selection team’s lack of understanding of their own problems, or how to go about solving them. Listing something as a requirement, for example, “Software must include Neural Network (NN) models,” presupposes that the feature or capability is necessary to solve their business problem. But do they really know this? Have they actually utilized NN models and found them to be a huge benefit in forecasting their demand? Or is this just a buzzword or fad that the author of the RFI/RFP recently heard about?
Instead of mind-numbing lists of feature, function, and capability requirements, it may be more effective (and much less time consuming!) to solicit vendors with two simple and open-ended questions: What is your understanding of our business problem? and How do you propose to solve it? Encourage each vendor to makes its case, demonstrating their knowledge and creativity in addressing your particular issues. You can obtain answers to feature/function/capability questions (that were eliminated with the dropping of specific RFI/RFP requirements) as part of a further discovery process that includes product demonstration and proof-of-concept. Discussion of pricing, references, vendor viability, and other factors essential to the selection can follow.
[Source: The Business Forecasting Deal (Wiley, 2010), p. 154.]
May the RFP RIP