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How to Structure Your RFP to Avoid Receiving a Long Assumption List

Tired of combing through mountains of proposals and trying to reconcile major differences? Our experts weigh in with tips for building strong RFPs that will reduce the number of assumptions you receive from bidders, making it quick and easy for owners to compare submittals and make the right choices for their projects.

A standard request for proposal (RFP) contains several basic sections to guide bidding firms as they make the case for owners to select them to deliver a project. Ideally, bidders will follow this outline to provide decision makers with enough information to allow for a balanced comparison of each bid. However, if  the RFP lays out unclear expec­ta­tions (due to the lack of available information, limited time to develop it or confi­den­tial­ity issues), the decision maker might end up with proposals that have long and often varying assumption lists, making it tougher to evaluate the proposals and select the best firm.

Follow just a few of these helpful hints as you begin to write your RFP, and you will avoid receiving a long list of assumptions and added time to your project selection process.

Refine Your Scope
A scope of work (SOW) is expected in most RFPs to help bidders understand the technical needs and boundaries of the proposed project. As you identify the SOW, consider adding or defining the following items:

  1. A clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of respon­si­bil­i­ties and expec­ta­tions:
    Will your staff be fully involved in each phase of the project or do you prefer a more hands-off situation where your staff is pulled in as necessary? Who should they report to and how should they engage (e.g., email, phone call or reoccurring progress meetings)?

    Nick Phelps, principal director of construc­tion, suggests creating a respon­si­bil­ity matrix to define respon­si­bil­i­ties for everyone, including internal staff, the bidding contractor and any firms or suppliers under separate contract to the owner. Separate owner and contractor scopes will also clear up any assumptions on what should be included in the proposals.

  2. Detailed reporting and document management require­ments:
    Your RFP should also be clear about the project management systems you use and expect the contractor to use to store important details such as spec­i­fi­ca­tions and renderings. Defining system require­ments will allow the contractor to account for using new systems or file formats in their SOW, which will also prevent potential change orders or scheduling delays during project execution.

    Industrial Unit director of services Mike Healy, PE, BCEE, adds that "thorough reviews and follow-up calls should be held to further define workability and scheduling details and to offer bidders the opportunity to share value engineering ideas that may separate them from other bidders." 

  3. A thorough assessment of contractual terms and conditions:
    A well-defined RFP should outline all the constraints and criteria that accompany a SOW. If proprietary information is involved, non-disclosure agreements must be attached to the RFP and signed by the appropriate parties. Including a section that accounts for rates and allowable mark-ups (materials, rentals, second-tier subs, etc.) prior to the contract award announce­ment will help set a baseline for the amount a subcon­trac­tor can charge in the future.

  4. Consid­er­a­tion of open-ended solutions:
    To enable a more tightly defined scope without stifling innovative proposals, consider encouraging bidders to submit innovative solutions as alternative SOWs. According to Healy, “This gives bidders the chance to offer additional information or techniques that demonstrate their capa­bil­i­ties beyond the project scope.” For example, with the rise of virtual design and construc­tion approaches and tech­nolo­gies, the proposed project might benefit from the use of emerging tech­nolo­gies to unlock efficient delivery.
By clearly defining the project scope, owners can 'compare apples to apples, because the parameters have been made clear from the beginning.'

Consider Potential Logistical Contin­gen­cies
While there is no such thing as a perfect bidding process, you can achieve smoother outcomes if you keep your staff and bidders apprised of logistics changes. Bidders will want more details as they delve into the SOW and might bring up a few questions or issues that your staff had not considered. Make sure your RFP deadline considers the following items:

  1. Timely RFP schedule: 
    If your project is highly complex and requires site walks with contractors, leave time after site walks so that contractors have a few weeks to not only digest the information they have collected, but also ask more detailed questions to help ultimately design their SOW. Allowing consultants a generous amount of time to respond will lessen the likelihood of incomplete or sub-standard submissions.

  2. Potential amendments:
    A lot can happen throughout the RFP process that could change part of the SOW and lead to the issuance of an amendment to bidders. These changes can affect the bidder’s original project approach completely. If the project schedule would not be affected, add a week or two to your deadline.

  3. Safety factors:
    Safety is important for every project, but if your orga­ni­za­tion is making changes to its plant procedures and policies or will require new safety training for all staff and contractors, this information should be included in the RFP so that bidders can add it as part of their SOW and schedule. 

    Accounting for safety within your RFP submission has practical benefits too. “When we can assess all the safety details and potential risks associated with a project from the beginning, we’re better able to account for the necessary time and training involved,” says Phelps. “This leads to fewer training hours or change orders, which ultimately helps us focus on the bottom line.”

  4. Long-term goals:
    Is your project meant to be a short-term remedy or should it be around for a long time? Including the expected lifespan for equipment will help the bidders source the right type of vendors or amount of materials. It will encourage bidders to design a SOW to be right-sized for the project.

Clarity Wins

When owners go beyond the standard RFP outline to clearly define their project scope, it reduces the likelihood of receiving long and varying assumptions lists. “It makes it easier for them to review and evaluate the multiple bids they receive,” says Healy. That way, “they’re able to compare apples to apples, because the parameters have been made clear from the beginning.” 
Michael Healy Michael Healy
Defining the project scope simplifies the evaluation process so you can more easily compare apples to apples. 
Nick Phelps Nick Phelps
Accounting for safety in your RFP from the beginning leads to fewer training hours required and a reduction in change orders.

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