Relationship Fracturing Process

I haven’t spent any time here on business to business relationships.  But, this is a topic that came to a head over the past two weeks.

As a consultant and technologist, I’ve responded to countless Requests for Proposal over the years.  And, I’ve even written a few.  The process of writing, issuing and responding to RFPs, at least in my narrow universe, has become an absolute and utter value destroying waste of time for everyone involved.

In Darwinian terms, here’s my view of the evolution of the species over the past 30 years or so

1980s – RFPs were written by business owners.  In my world, this typically meant a collaboration between senior technologists, architects and business process owners.  In this process, detailed strategy, business, functional and technical requirements were gathered and documented.  This was the basis for attempting to clearly articulate what was needed, so the potential partner could respond in kind.

1990s – A cottage industry emerged, consulting and coaching business and technology customers how to game the system and turn the vendor’s sales tactics back on them.  Business figured out that the RFP process was a great vehicle for gathering free advise and intellectual capital to either a) go off and do the project alone or b) provided the information to the existing vendor to improve the potential success of the project

2000s – Procurement, in many cases, has assumed control of the vendor management and RFP process.  Detailed requirements?  No time for those any more.  How much is learned about a potential vendor solution by creating a laundry list and asking the question: “Does your solution do X: Yes/No”?  With the aid of technology, many RFPs are now managed blindly in an on line environment with The Wizard of Oz behind the curtain pulling the puppet strings of the vendors.  The RFP is now a metric by which procurement can check the box saying they got proposals from three vendors.     

As it has evolved into its current form, what does the RFP process do well? It does a fantastic job at creating adversaries before the relationship even gets off the ground.

Value destroying.  Relationship damaging.  Yet we continue to crank them out.  And continue to respond.  Why?

Comments

  1. So to chime in again here, because no point in raising the issue without offering some alternatives.

    What would be a better approach? If you're going to still spend the time and effort in the RFP process. Extract maximum value for the time invested.

    -Get back to using the RFP document as a detailed playbook that aligns all parties, with the goal of creating ultimate clarity around expectations. When I've written RFPs, I've done it because the process really helps me think about all the issues and questions that need to be address as part of the project scope. I can do this better in writing than trying to articulate the same information multiple times to multiple potential partners. This also creates consistency. I'm telling the same story to all my prospective partners. so, the process is as much for my benefit as for my vendors.

    -Once you have documented your strategy and requirements. Do your homework first. There is so much information available. Reach out to your colleagues, go on Twitter, find out who has had good and bad experiences. Create your short list before you even contact prospective partners. Don't use the RFP as an initial screening tool.

    -Next, contact that short list, distribute your document, give them time to formulate an understanding and then get together. Have a dialog. This should actually happen over a series of conversations. First, to clarify understanding, then to start to formulate potential solutions. Do it together.

    -Invest the time in pilot projects, trials, proofs of concepts, test. This may require a greater level of investment in time and resources up front. But trust me, its valuable time invested. And it pales in comparison to the wasted time spent after the fact fixing things – the solution and the relationship – because expectations were not aligned up front. Think of the process of hiring your next senior leader. I've had greater success in bringing someone on in a consulting capacity first to gauge the fit, rather than reading a resume, having some interviews and then making a commitment for a permanent hire. It takes more time but is a much better risk mitigation strategy.

    And, finally, if you find that one or more of your potential partners are not willing to invest the time and effort in this process, well, then they've just made the decision that much easier for you.

    Just some initial thoughts.

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