I received several calls and emails last week asking me to elaborate on my comments related to winning government contracts in last Tuesday’s column.
When I stated it is not always the most qualified contractor that wins government RFPs, but the contractor that knows how to respond specifically to the questions asked in the RFP, this comment generated the most response from the readers.
An RFP constitutes an invitation to proponents describing the intent and concerns of the organization issuing the RFP and prescribing how proponents are to respond.
The project description will usually set out a general description of the organization’s requirements including location constraints; information on space requirements; performance requirements and other technical specifications; warranty and maintenance requirements; and other factors that the organization intends to consider in the award of the contract.
The performance and service requirements set out in the project description will usually constitute the minimum requirements. Proponents will be invited to bring forward base-level proposals that address these minimum requirements.
In addition, proponents will be encouraged to investigate and recommend enhanced value options, including optional features or higher-grade products that will result in improved performance, a more cost-effective solution or that otherwise better meet the stated requirements.
At this point in the process, the difference between having an expert procurement person (versus in construction) that can interpret how to get full marks on each section of the RFP being evaluated is critical to winning.
The procurement expert, working with the contractor on completing the RFP document, is the difference between having a 25 per cent win rate or a 90 per cent win rate on any given RFP, for construction or for that matter, goods and services.
Over the years, working with contractors and owners, related to responding to government RFPs, I was able consistently maintain a 90 per cent win ratio when the contractor/owner had the basic qualifications to be able to complete the project in question.
These numbers were based on scoring as close to 100 per cent on each section in the RFP by giving detailed answers to each question in way that the purchasing people evaluating the RFP would understand, and be able to assign full marks.
The main mistake that contractors/owners make in the scoring process is giving non-specific, generic answers that don’t fully answer the exact criteria in the proper manner that will capture the total points available.
When awarding the contract, a properly structured RFP, using purchasing language combined with the technical aspects supplied by the contractor, allows the issuing organization to consider the full range of options, amenities and enhancement features offered by the proponent.
The organization will reserve the right to award the contract based solely upon the evaluation criteria set out in the RFP, even if the effect of doing so is to cause the contract to be awarded to a contractor other than the one that submitted the lowest proposal.
Thus, proposal evaluation is the most critical aspect of the award of the contract. The cost of hiring the expert purchasing consultant is minuscule in the overall cost of the project. How much time and money is wasted by responding to RFPs when you only win 25 per cent or less of the proposals you submit?
The theoretical goals of the proposal evaluation process itself can be summarized simply enough in the following two statements:
- The process should be transparent. It should be possible for an objective third party to see how decisions were made.
- The process should be fair. The proposals should be evaluated on the criteria that were established when the proposals were solicited (subject to such modifications as may have been properly brought to the notice of the proponents). Unless such fairness prevails, the organization has no certainty that the proposals it is evaluating will offer the best possible combination of price and functionality.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.