How to Effectively Read a Request for Proposal (RFP)

Reading_federal_rfp

As the saying goes, “well begun is half done”. Effectively reading a Federal RFP (or Request for Proposals) is a crucial starting point for a productive and efficient proposal development process. Getting this step right will lower your number of rewritten sections, lessen instances of omitted requirements, and avoid the ultimate loss of a proposal.

If you don’t read the RFP carefully from the outset, you may miss critical information that will end in a no-bid decision on the opportunity once you finally come across the show-stopping requirement. A late no-bid decision means that you have wasted your company’s money and resources. And the further you make it into the proposal development process, the more costly a no-bid decision is, due to lost resources dedicated to dead-end proposal development.

How are Government Request for Proposals Organized?

Typically, RFPs are organized according to lettered sections A through M (although it may differ depending on the type of the solicitation and the agency that issues it). RFPs often come with a number of attachments.

Section A typically contains Form SF-33 for negotiated bids, or SF-1449 for commercial items, which is the title page of the RFP. It looks like a table. This section includes an opportunity summary, and provides such information as:

  • The due date
  • Contracting office information
  • Table of contents to help navigate the RFP

The form also requires your company’s name, contact’s name, CAGE Code, date, and signature when you submit your proposal. If you are selected for award, once the contracting officer signs that form, it becomes the cover of your contract.

Sometimes though, a title page may be another form. If there is one, read it carefully. For example, the form may contain information such as the number of proposal copies you need to submit, or even proposal instructions.

If you received amendments to the RFP, in most cases you may need to submit the amendment cover forms signed to acknowledge you received them.

Typical RFP Sections include:

Part I – The Schedule
  • A – solicitation/contract form
  • B – supplies or services and prices
  • C – descriptions/specifications/performance work statement (PWS)
  • D – packaging and marking
  • E – inspection and acceptance
  • F – deliveries or performance
  • G – contract administrative data
  • H – special contract requirements
Part II – Contract Clauses
  • I – contract clauses
Part III – List of Documents, Exhibits, and Other Attachments
  • J – attachments – a flexible section designation
Part IV – Representation and Instructions
  • K – representations, certifications, and other statements of offerors
  • L – instructions, conditions, and notices to offerors
  • M – evaluation criteria for award

The most important sections that you should read first in a Government RFP are L , M, and C.

Section L answers questions such as:

  • What does the government want in the proposal?
  • How many volumes and pages, what font size and formatting, how many copies do you have to submit, and how?
  • What do they want to see included in the content?

Section M tells how the Government will evaluate the bid and decide on the winning proposal. Section C represents what work the Government is asking contractors to bid on. Frequently, the Government places the Statement of Work in Section J as an attachment.

Some RFPs aren’t organized alphabetically, but you should look for similar elements:

  • Instructions to the offerors
  • Evaluation criteria
  • Scope of work or requirements (it may be called Performance Work Statement (PWS), Statement of Objectives (SOO), or Statement of Work (SOW))
  • Other parts that typically belong in an RFP similar to the above list.

Sometimes you may find the instructions to the offerors in the cover letter, and then the rest of the requirements in the RFP. This often happens with Task Order Requirements (TOR).

Take note: After you have familiarized yourself with the most important sections, you still have to read the entire RFP, including all the attachments. It is, however, less daunting if you know what to look at first.

What Should You Look for When Reading a Government RFP?

OST Global Solutions developed a checklist of things to keep in mind when reading an RFP. As you read an RFP, just ask yourself the following questions.

1. What are the due dates?

  • Proposal due date
  • Orals date (if applicable)
  • Award date
  • Work start date

2. How should the proposal be delivered?

Do you need to submit a physical or digital copy? Or both?

Do you need to ship it or is it a local delivery?—this will tell you how many days to back away at the end of the proposal schedule.

3. How large is the deliverable?

  • Number of volumes
  • Amount of pages
  • Number of copies

4. Are there any interim deadlines?

  • Bidder’s conference
  • Site visit
  • Questions regarding the RFP
  • Past performance questionnaires delivery
  • Anything else

5. Are there any obligations that you need satisfy in order to fulfill those deadlines?

Is there pre-registration—and what are the deadlines for that?

6. Can you meet all the requirements?

Do you have the right past performance references and key personnel?

Are you able to execute the scope of work (either on your own or by bringing in teammates and subcontractors)?

  • Proposal instructions
  • Proposal evaluation criteria
  • Scope of work
  • Key personnel and other staffing requirements
  • Contractual and legal requirements

7. Is there an orals requirement, and what arrangements do you need to make to fulfill it?

Hint: This will affect your proposal resources because orals presenters have to be available during the proposal.

8. Is there anything in the RFP that creates changes in any of the following categories?

  • Overall win strategy (including pricing strategy)
  • Teaming plan
  • Technical, management, past performance, and staffing approach
  • Your price to win

9. Is there anything in the RFP that’s a “red flag”—which may lead you to no-bid?

10. Do you have any questions that came from examining the RFP requirements?

If so, document them.

  • Does everything make sense?
  • Does the RFP provide complete information so you can bid?
  • Are there any requirements that you may recommend that the customer change? Hint: Only do this if you can word the recommendation in such a way that it would be to the benefit of the customer, even if it is a protestable matter…

11. Has anything changed since the draft RFP or the previous (incumbent) contract’s RFP—if there was a draft RFP or an incumbent?

12. Did the customer act on your recommendations and ways of influencing the RFP?

13. Does the RFP appear to be wired to the incumbent or another competitor?

14. Have you sent the RFP to your team for feedback, and have you uploaded it into the proposal workspace (if you have one)?

Read Federal RFP’s With a Plan to Succeed For Smoother Proposal Development

At OST Global Solutions, we resolutely encourage all businesses to read the entire RFP for opportunities they’re considering. That doesn’t mean cover-to-cover, starting from page 1 and ending on page 250. The strategy and checklist we’ve laid out here will give you the path for the information you need to know first. That way you’ll have more time to get your ducks in a row while you are digesting the rest of the RFP.

If you’d like to explore federal RFP analysis in detail, our Foundations of Proposal Management course comes highly recommended. If you have any questions, feel free to send us an email at service@ostglobalsolutions.com today.

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