3 questions to ask on every procurement

David Hale

Vendors navigating the federal procurement landscape rely on requests for proposals to vet opportunities, shape technical responses and frame pricing strategies. Some RFPs articulate acquisitions well; others do not. What separates successful and unsuccessful RFPs has little to do with the writing skills of the preparers. It is a function of the quality of the procurement planning and intra-agency coordination that precede the RFP’s preparation.

Federal procuring entities can quickly assess their RFP’s chances of success by answering these three key questions.

1. Do you know what you want to procure and have you taken the time to coordinate the requirements?

The time to define the parameters of what is needed is before RFP preparation, not after its issuance. Often one organizational entity will write an RFP on behalf of another. It is not until the proposal review process begins that the other party realizes, 'This is not what I wanted.' Only then do the strategic conversations begin to define the 'true' want or need.

That sequence can result in an amended RFP or a delayed procurement, which can put funding at risk and create budget nightmares because the procurement will now extend into the next fiscal year.

It seems so intuitive, but it bears repeating: Hold those strategic intra-agency conversations while formulating the RFP package, and review the RFP prior to issuance to ensure that it accurately captures the item or service desired.

2. Have you coordinated with industry?

Simple steps — such as talking with the vendor community, releasing a request for information, issuing a draft RFP for comment or holding an industry day — are important. They open the lines of communication and help procurement officials better define the needs and strategies surrounding the opportunity.

On the government side, procurement officials have been talking about the acquisition in question for months and perhaps years. It is easy to forget that no one else possesses that same level of familiarity or fully understands the context of the procurement action.

Vendors need to know the background to better target their proposals. Plus, they are the experts when it comes to understanding what is possible and what is not within their industry. Early dialogue allows frank, open discussions that result in realistic goals and expectations.

3. Have you considered the contract strategy?

Operational employees often view the strategy aspect of the procurement action as not relevant or outside their area of expertise. Yet it is vital for the operations side to weigh in on the agency’s procurement strategy, given the ramifications the selection model can have on them.

For example, opting for a lowest price, technically acceptable contract rather than the best-value alternative can carry unseen costs and effects. Although price shootouts have a place in federal acquisitions, going with a vendor that lacks experience doing similar contract work, does not understand the performance environment or is unfamiliar with the agency’s mission will undoubtedly result in learning-curve costs and delays. Worse, task orders might go unstaffed, cost and schedule overruns might proliferate, and the contract might need to be terminated or options not exercised.

A 'do over' procurement might be necessary — meaning more costs and delays — simply because the strategy was to buy in the cheapest way possible.

Use of alternative work statements, such as performance work statements or statements of objectives, allows industry to propose a unique methodology to provide the government with the desired end state, instead of the government prescribing how the vendor should perform the work. Innovative, cost-effective solutions often result.

About the Author

David F. Hale is president and CEO of DHA Group and has grown his company from a one-person firm to a key player in the federal civilian and defense sectors in less than 20 years.

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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 25, 2013 Robin

Good points. The best procurement I was involved with last year had each of these elements. Though, it's tough sometimes for clients to check these boxes on the low to medium-sized jobs. When I read the headline, I thought you were referring to questions to ask during the RFP stage. When and who were you thinking would ask these questions?

Tue, Sep 24, 2013 Jaime Gracia Washington, D.C.

The central strategy necessary for successful requirements development normally entails effective market research, were government communicates early and often with industry to formulate the requirements and the acquisition strategy. This is the central thesis of the OFPP MythBuster's campaign and subsequent memos. Regretfully, the paralyzing fear of protests, combined with the "do more with less" strategy which then results in the "I don't have time" reasoning that follows, prevents any effective industry/government collaboration. It always amazes me that there seems to be plenty of time to fix mistakes (i.e. dozens of amendments to RFPs where contracts are awarded months, if not years, after RFP release), but never enough time to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

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