December 4, 2010    /    by

Innovative RFPs: Back to the Requirements

It s not in the contract. We hear these words every day in government. The challenge is huge: To be innovative in our RFPs or Invitations to Bid (ITBs) and still be efficient.

"It’s not in the contract.” We hear these words every day in government.

Or, “Why can’t we just get the system to do it this way?”

Or perhaps, “Why wasn’t (such & such) included in the statement of work? It should have been built into the Request for Proposal (RFP).”

But it wasn’t, so now the vendor’s change is expensive. 

I especially like these ideas from GSA’s Mary Davie entitled: 7 More Ideas for Better Buys. Here are a few excerpts (but I urge you to read all of her thoughts):

The challenge is huge: To be innovative in our RFPs or Invitations to Bid (ITBs) and still be efficient. Government teams around the world are notorious for “paving the cow path” or asking for the wrong things or changing our minds after the contract is in place.

This problem is not new. I remember discussing the costs associated with contract changes back in the mid-'80s. I was at Johns Hopkins getting my master's degree at night, and the class was discussing system development lifecycles. The farther one gets into the software development process, the higher the traditional cost of change


Both the public and private sector know about these contract challenges which cost billions of dollars globallyand can even lead to project failure. Meanwhile, the consumerization of IT and other trendsare causing government enterprises to relook at how they procure things. A key question is: How can we be more innovative while controlling costs in our procurement processes in 2011 and beyond?


Which leads me to point out several helpful articles that I’ve come across lately that got me thinking about this topic (again). They all point to the central importance of building better requirements into our RFPs. There are many different opinions on how to do this, and it’s worth taking some time to explore those options.


The main piece, called 13 ideas for building better RFPswas from Federal Computer Week (FCW). Another interesting article is called: The problem is procurement (and the associated comments at the end). There are also many websites like this one to help vendors and agencies with a variety of related procurement topics.


  1. Build repositories to share market research across government — and, for that matter, to share statements of works, statements of objectives and performance-based statements of work. ...
  2. Collaboratively build requirements in the open on a wiki and ask for input from any interested parties. GSA tested that approach and had success through the Better Buy wiki.
  3. Use integrated product teams to define requirements and frame solicitations.
  4. Create agency advisory boards composed of the eventual users of the procured items or services.

Yes, I realize that this is a very, very complex topic that requires a lifetime of training and expertise to cover all of the complex legal issues associated with contracts, etc. No, I am not a lawyer or an expert on procurement reform. Yes, we’ll probably still be talking about these same topics 20 years from now.

Nevertheless, I plan to do more in this area in the coming year. RFPs, RFIs, RFQs, SOWs, and contract creation, vendor selection, contract management and the cost of change orders are at the heart of answering that basic question: Can we do that?