Professional Development: Solving The Mysteries Of The RFP

Three experts share the secret of resolving confusion over architectural and engineering expectations.
Three experts share the secret of resolving confusion over architectural and engineering expectations.

Professional Development: Solving The Mysteries Of The RFP

Professional Development: Solving The Mysteries Of The RFP

By Jennifer Barnes, IIDA, CID, Tom Powers, AIA, and Elise Friedman Shapiro, IIDA
Published in the September 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facility planners and managers are constantly challenged by projects with short deadlines, limited or unrealistic budgets, client demands, and project specific quirks that can try anyone’s patience. Consequently, it is critical to establish the best project team possible in order to start a project off on the right foot. Individual experiences not only serve to teach valuable lessons, they also allow team members to bring best practices forward and move a project towards a successful path.

In many instances, the conversation starts with recollections of projects that did not go well. These horror stories only serve once again to underscore the importance of building positive business relationships from day one.

As an organic process, team building starts with the initial contact between facility planner/manager and the architectural or interior design firm as soon as the Request For Proposal (RFP) is released. How the RFP is developed and presented can set up the project for success or failure, since it offers the opportunity to develop a mutually understood road map for the entire project.

Making sure the RFP answers the standard Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How establishes the core of any good RFP.

  • Who is the client?
  • What is the project all about?
  • When is the project going to happen, and are there any compelling scheduling requirements?
  • Where is the project located?
  • Why is the project being done?
  • How does the client expect the project to be done?

Surprisingly, some of these key questions are not answered in an RFP. When they are included, they are often improperly addressed in the proposal submission.

To avoid this error, it is important to evaluate and consider the points of view of both the owner and the designer. Coming to terms with the basics and having a full understanding of them is each participant’s responsibility. However, project information is often interpreted differently. Ideally, the facility planner/manager should vet any RFP prior to release in order to clarify the project requirements and make sure everyone is on the same page.

The key elements for this process can be broken down into two different perspectives.

From the client’s point of view:

  • Remember that each project has its own distinct features and attributes. When dealing with multiple site locations, local differences must be taken into consideration. For instance, a team that works well with one project manager in one location may not be so successful elsewhere.
  • Knowing who the client really is, understanding the mission, and communicating up front how this will be managed as a team is the strongest foundation for building a successful project team.

From the service provider’s point of view:

  • As previously mentioned, make sure all parties have a complete understanding of the work at hand, the personalities involved, and the parameters of the project. While this is often the facility planner/manager’s responsibility, the architect or design firm should verify these issues as well.
  • Evaluate the client’s needs and expectations. In some cases, that means weighing the client’s sophistication and experience level in working with architects, engineers, and interior designers.
  • Clarify the scope of work and the impact of that on fees (should the scope of work change during the project).
  • Establish benchmarks for deliverables and ensure the client understands that extra work equals extra fees.
  • Know when to walk away from a potentially problematic client; the team has to work from all perspectives.
  • Sometimes too much knowledge—based on previous project experience—handicaps the effort to respond appropriately to the RFP for a new project. Each project needs to stand on its own.
  • Read the RFP carefully. Knowing the correct questions to ask and interpreting the right way to respond can make or break the ability to win a project award.

Business owners solicit competitive project bids for several reasons. The most common is to meet government or other external needs for services based on competitive pricing. Another is to ensure that the owner is getting the best team for a project. Finally, some business owners simply do not want to limit their projects to one firm.

Consequently, there will always be the need to create effective RFPs. Establishing the ground rules early on can go a long way to staying on target, building a strong project team, and having a mutually satisfactory experience throughout the duration of a project.

Barnes is with RTKL Associates Inc., Baltimore, MD; Powers is managing principal with IA Interior Architects in Chicago, IL; and Friedman Shapiro is senior facilities planner with Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, VA. This article is based on a presentation delivered to professionals earlier this year.

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