Go ahead, make my day: Some thoughts on a recent RFP

I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots, or only five?”  Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.  But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry, 1971

Recently while discussing with an AmLaw 25 firm a potential outsourcing project, the team—and, specifically, the project manager–stated at the outset the following goals:

  • The project team was under a mandate by management to think “outside the box”
  • The firm wanted to be “cutting edge”
  • No solution was “off limits”
  • Everything was “on the table”

The project manager, however, provided a request for proposal with very limited parameters that, based upon my experience, would unnecessarily narrow the scope of the project for the firm as well as have a significant negative effect on the firm’s ultimate cost savings and efficiency.  For the most part, the RFP as it was detailed was for a support role to supply some benchmarks and proof their RFP.

As Henry Ford once said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘a faster horse’.”

I took a moment to consider.  First, I considered that the goals stated at the outset were not given as mere buzzwords, but that, in fact, the intent of the firm was to think outside the box.  Second, I had to consider my position as the expert on the outsourcing project; I had to consider that I could, because of my experience and expertise, foresee consequences and outcomes perhaps not foreseeable to those who don’t manage these types of projects on a daily basis.

I asked myself:  Is it wise, however, to deliver more information than is requested?  But then right on that question’s heels:  Is it wise to deliver less information than I know to be available and effective?  There was risk in either direction.

And then I asked myself, Do I feel lucky?

We responded to the limited RFP exactly as requested.  However, with the firm’s permission, we additionally included a separate option to attack the project based upon the breadth of industry expertise and experience available to my firm.  In this separate option, the end result would have provided for the firm’s project team to invest less time, saving hundreds of staff hours; would, too, have created a more competitive RFP which would then simultaneously have opened up the scope of options available to the firm; and, it would have included some key functions that the firm agreed should be examined, but had decided to not include in the limited RFP.

And, perhaps most importantly, this second separate option would have cost the firm less than their original, limited, scope.

We didn’t get the project.

If a competitor beats my firm on merit, I would be the first to tip my hat.  However, in this case the reason given was that the project lead felt that the other consultant would be easier to work with because they had only bid on the original, limited RFP.

Easier?  What I had heard at the outset was:  think “outside the box,” be “cutting edge,” and put all solutions “on the table.”

There was risk in either direction and perhaps we lost the draw in the short run, but not based on merit.  In the long run, I am willing to bet that a year from now when this particular firm signs their next deal, they will still be spending too much, the services will be the same, and their cost recovery revenue will still be declining.

In the end, between the two choices of offering more than was requested or less than what we what we knew was in the firm’s best interest, we had to stand by our principles and offer what we knew was in the firm’s best interest.  And, given the same difficult choice, we would do it again.

So, go ahead.  Make my day.