How to Issue an RFP for IT Consultants

Some consultants may be easy to find…if you know exactly what you need, or you’re choosing from a small niche pool. But for most of us, trying to find the right IT consultant can be extremely stressful. Let’s be honest, IT (Information Technology) is complicated and can extremely overwhelming. You probably have a laundry list of what you’re looking for.

But never fear, here are three easy steps for choosing your next IT consultant. Including how to decide if the RFP is worth the work, how to get consultants to engage, and how to keep focus.

Step 1. Understand when you should issue an RFP, and when you should not

CDRI consulting team wrote a great piece on How to Write a Request for Proposals for Leadership Consulting Services, in which they gave some essential practicals for deciding when an RFP is helpful and appropriate for finding your next consultant, and when it’s more work than it’s worth:

First, when not to write an RFP: If you are already leaning strongly to hiring a specific consulting firm, please don’t issue an RFP. Just ask that consultant to write a proposal and, if it’s what you wanted, figure out how to hire them directly. Please don’t ask other consultants to invest the time to write proposals for which there isn’t an even chance of success.

Second, if it’s a choice between a handful of known consultants, call them (or meet with them one-on-one), discuss the project, and ask them to send a proposal. Writing an RFP takes time and you don’t need to spend it if you really are planning to pick between a few known consultants. Instead, just call and tell them what you are looking for and ask them to put together a proposal. They will ask you all the clarifying questions necessary to put together a good proposal that will meet your needs (if they don’t, they aren’t who you want to hire anyway). Then, either pick from the best proposal or interview the leading candidates further.

In other words, process for the sake of process just wastes your time and the consultants’ time. If you’re just looking at a couple of options, a full-out RFP probably isn’t necessary. A quick phone call, or a few informal questions will likely serve you better.

Step 2. Make it easy for them to respond

If you decide an RFP is helpful, your next consideration should be how it will be perceived by your providers: 

When an RFP landed in my email box last week, it reminded me why I don’t respond to them. You’ve probably seen one like it: a poorly-written mashup of previous RFPs, long on boilerplate and short on substance. And the rules for complying with the RFP were about as easy to read as a credit card contract.

‘I’d like to see more consultants and clients swear off RFPs once and for all.’ – Source

Obviously this writer has had a bad experience with complicated, generic RFPs, that were both difficult to decipher and overly time consuming.

Negative RFP experiences like this can be a problem, because they can put off a consultant from ever working with you, which can leave you with bottom of the barrel options. Bottom line, make sure your RFP uses simple language, is tailored to the project, and doesn’t take an inordinate commitment to respond to (especially if winning is unlikely).

Step 3. Focus on the desired results, not the method

CDRI consulting said it well:

If you write an RFP, in the scope of work description, focus on the result you want, not the micro steps you expect it will require.

The best RFPs refrain from outlining the exact scope of work and focus instead on the result or impact desired. For example, don’t try to write the survey questions you want asked or specify the number of meetings or step-by-step schedule you require to be held for planning. Outline, instead, the decisions that need to be made as a result of the work and explain what it is that you don’t know that you would like to find out or become skilled in…

Good consultants are experts in a range of tools and approaches and you want to put them to work in the proposal recommending an approach that best fits. – Source

Simply put, it’s easy to get tunnel visioned on the tool or the method, but one of the big advantages of hiring a consultant is their fresh perspective. So stick with a end-justifies-the-means mentality. Key takeaway: make sure an RFP is the right next step, you’ve customized it for your project, and made it easy to respond.

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