As part of my consulting gig, I’m frequently obligated to participate and to comment on RFP contract value and winnability. As both a consultant and a former multinational supply chain manager, I have a conflicting view of publicly posted RFPs. A strong, well-written RFP that has a detailed set of client requirements and metrics is very valuable to organizations and their procurement staff. Well thought-out competitive responses can form win/win contract agreements. Quality RFPs, however, seem few and far between these last several years. I would estimate 75% of published RFPs in the public sector are poorly organized, specify little in specific scope and contain rushed time requirements reflecting very poor client planning. The provincial government’s recent attempts to use RFPs as instruments to protect agencies and create award transparency, although well intended, have generally failed. Upon reflection, there were always poorly crafted RFPs, so why is this so much more prevalent now?

There are a couple of important reasons. Many organizations do not invest in the procurement capacity or supply management function staff and generally, fail to understand its strategic value. Many do not offer the procurement function a supportive or willing internal client to help author and distill the strategic requirements in a concise and clear way. Many of these clients simply write RFP’s around a particular service provider by outlining specific elements that are unique to only one or a few proponents. In these cases it’s very clear that clients simply want their goods and services provided immediately or even worse, to engineer a contract award that meets a sole source wish. So much for organization protection and effective procurement processes! This is a tremendous waste of time for everyone involved in the procurement process.

So what do poorly written RFPs look like? One recent hastily constructed RFP included a vague 1-page client requirement embedded in 19 pages of proponent commercial terms and requirements. Other attributes include poor scope relevancy to the type of proposal being posted. What to do about this? As a proponent, I should simply walk in the other direction and ignore the RFP invitation. Garbage in = garbage out. As a former Supply Chain Manager, however, I might invest a little time to do research to see if it’s salvageable.

In recent months, I have been walking away from poorly written RFPs to reduce my cost exposure. As a self-critic perhaps my tactics could change though…With the right client, I might be tempted to respond with a letter citing our decision to not reply with a proposal but perhaps even go further with the reason and that this RFP fails to outline clear scope and commercial requirements. Maybe the organization executive (usually finance leadership) will take notice and act to secure the necessary changes. That may mean collapsing the RFP and starting over.  If the long-term issues like functional support are improved, agreement structure, strategic value, and financial results are immediate.  If an organization wants to really assess their procurement capability and impact, they should call us. We would be happy to help improve their functional value.

Here’s to high impact agreement competitions!

By David Rankin

Operations & Project Management

Visit for other Principals’ ideas and opinions on a range of topics. The Osborne Group provides interim executive management, consulting and project support across all sectors and over a broad scope of service areas.

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