How to Understand a Request For Proposal (RFP) Or Request For Tender (RFT)

Steven Spielberg

The task of understanding and interpreting a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Tender (RFT) for the procurement of goods or services can be daunting for companies that have not had much exposure to this sort of procurement method. You may have read through hundreds of pieces of paper a few times and still be trying to work out what is being requested, and what you actually need to send back in your proposal or bid. The layout and language used in an RFP/ RFT document can often be confusing or ambiguous. It may be difficult for you to understand why certain documents are included and also difficult to even decipher the actual technical products or services being requested.  So how do you go about understanding and interpreting a RFP/ RFT document for you to appropriately plan your bid or response?

Unfortunately, there is no standard formula for how a company issuing a RFP/ RFT constructs their document. However, we have outlined some general themes and features that should be present in any RFP/ RFT that you need to look for to help you assemble your response. We have also provided some of the reasons why these features are included and what they should mean to you as a responder. Given that the use of RFP’s and RFT’s are used in many domains, this article is equally applicable to a variety of industries such as information technology (IT), business products or services, or construction and engineering products and services.

A typical RFP/ RFT package could include the following components:

  • Summary information that outlines the products or services being called for, and the general information such as closing dates and time, and place that the bid is to be lodged
  • General Conditions of tender that detail the overarching conditions, such as:
  • Tendering or bidding conditions – these are normally a stock-standard set of conditions imposed by the requesting organization that details the conditions to which you must comply in placing a bid. They can include the specified tender validity period, their right to negotiate, their right to accept or reject bids, the required tender format and the tender’s timings, ownership of the tender documents, just to name a few.
  • Evaluation criteria – these are the areas that your response will be assessed against. There will be a list of technical areas and financial and pricing requirements. Generally, you will see criteria that loosely match against the response schedules. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see what weightings these criteria are assigned in the overall evaluation.
  • The “Brief” or Specifications that detail the scope of work required to be met in your submission. This could include:
    • A description of the products or services required
    • Business and Technical Requirements, or Systems Requirements Specifications, particularly if it is an IT project
    • Analysis and design requirements
    • Warranty requirements
    • Operations and support requirements
    • User training requirements
    • Testing and implementation requirements
    • Project timeline that indicates the required timing of the project, if you were successful
    • Design or location drawings, if there is any physical construction or equipment required
    • General or standard specifications that must be complied with, such as national or industry standards (e.g. building standards), or specifications that are always used by a company (e.g. Occupational Health and Safety, and Quality Systems specifications)
  • Attachments or Appendices that may provide additional information but do not fit easily into the company’s standard terms or format of the tender documents
  • Draft Contract or Agreement intended to be used should your proposal be selected
  • Response Schedules that allow you to respond to the requirements of the tender. Typical response schedules could match either the terms stated in General Conditions of tender or the Specifications. You could expect to see Schedules such as:
    • Solution description or a description of your proposal, which requires you to provide an overview of your services or products, and how you are going to implement or apply them to the project
    • Staff and project team structure you intend to use during the engagement, and their background, skills and experience
    • Past performance of your company in similar projects, along with references
    • Specification Compliance Schedules for you to indicate how your products and services comply with the Specifications of the tender
    • Response to the draft Contract terms, which should contain your comments or changes to the agreement for consideration
    • Financial information regarding your company, which could include recent profit and loss statements
    • Cost of your proposal, which will either be in lump sum or time and materials basis
    • Alternatives offered, which allows you to detail any options you consider to be of better value, but may not meet all of the requirements

Described above are of some of the main features of a RFP/ RFT document, which can help you interpret what is required for a tender response. So before you start writing your next response, try to identify the location of this information in the RFP/ RFT document. This should allow you to understand the requirements, and effectively plan your approach to writing your bid or response.

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