Based on my experience, many organizations seem believe a primary reason for the RFP process is to deflect future blame if the winning consulting firm fails to perform successfully. After all, the consulting firm was the “winner” of a very robust evaluation process. It was their fault – certainly not the fault of the team that selected them – if the project runs into trouble or fails.
While the RFP process is often a robust evaluation process, it typically measures the wrong thing. What an RFP measures is the ability of a consulting firm to respond to an RFP. That may – or may not – have anything to do with their ability to help resolve the particular issue or issues you and your organization are facing.
The main reason I’m against RFPs is that many clients – or their procurement staff – think consultants and consulting firms are simply interchangeable. That just isn’t true. Consultants are people, with all the individual nuances and variability that implies. Included in that variability are the consulting firm’s “A” team members as well as the “E” team members (who may be on the way out the door but probably don’t yet know it). In addition, there are different individual specialties within consulting firms: strategy, project management; engagement management; data architectures; business analyst; business process reengineering; CRM, etc.
In our research, organizations have told us the most important determinant of success of a consultant-involved engagement was the makeup of the team of consultants supplied by the consulting firm. The next most important determinant of success was the makeup of the principal engagement participants from both the consultant’s side and the client’s side. The specific factors that client’s cited related to: experience, competence, attitude and chemistry. The successful teams – and thus engagements -- had experienced and competent personnel with a proactive and “can do” attitude and those teams demonstrated evidence of bonding based on transparency and mutual respect. These are things that can’t be defined or codified in an RFP or in a response to an RFP.
Often, many consultants or consulting firms could be of assistance. How do you select the “right” one? After following an appropriate process to narrow down the list of possible candidates, we recommend some sort of presentation by the consulting firms as to how they would address your specific issue. That will require the consulting firms invest some time in getting to know you and your organization. Not all will be willing to make the investment. The key is that YOU, as the future engagement sponsor must be willing to make the investment of time to meet with and educate the consulting firms you are seriously considering. If you have responsibility for the issue, it’s not something you can delegate.
While I am generally not a fan of RFPs, I am a huge fan of actual Proposals.
When you think you’ve got the right firm – and the potential of the right team within that firm – invite them to participate with you in the preparation of an engagement proposal that clearly defines the issue and the recommended solution approach. This should be a joint project which would involve your active participation. You should actively consider paying them for their time.
Then, you can evaluate the working relationship during the proposal crafting process. In an ideal situation, you’ll decide to go ahead after the jointly prepared proposal is finished. The money you have paid for the proposal is simply regarded as part of the overall total cost of project (TCOP). If the proposal falls short or you decide not to go ahead with the engagement, you have the benefit of a clearer understanding if the issue and of at least one possible solution approach.
I believe the proposal process is important – and the jointly prepared proposal is my preferred approach – because it brings two teams together to define the relevant issue(s) and craft a solution approach. It avoids having one side define the problem and then charging the other side with fixing the problem.
Often, the result is a document that more clearly defines the real issue(s) to be faced and a real world approach or approaches to resolving them. That's one way to begin an engagement. Unfortunately, many engagements begin with much less.