They say that to start a project off on the right foot you should hold an effective kickoff meeting. I think that you can start it off on an even better foot by starting out with an effective RFQ (request for quote). In my work I have prepared over a hundred RFQs, and I’ve been on the receiving end of them as well. I am continually amazed when I see experienced professionals express surprise when they receive a wide range of estimates based on an incomplete RFQ. What did they expect? Remember the cliché from the early days of computing:  garbage-in garbage-out?

An effective RFQ serves multiple purposes:

  • Internal agreement: A good RFQ completely documents your own understanding of the project, allowing you and your manager and internal stakeholders to ensure you are all in agreement before getting agencies, programmers, or other expensive resources involved.
  • Accurate estimates: An RFQ that leaves nothing open for interpretation means that the estimates you receive will be accurate, making it easier for you to decide on resources and minimizing extra meetings and budget surprises.
  • Comparable estimates: Especially if you send the RFQ to re than two resources for an estimate, a thorough RFQ with no vagaries means that the estimates you receive will be easier to compare. You’ll be able to compared spooled to apples instead of comparing goats to rocks!

How do you create an effective RFQ?

To write the an effective RFQ, start by interviewing the internal stakeholders to make sure you understand what they need and expect. For example, if your project is to create a website, a web-based application, or an advertising campaign — take the time up-front to talk to the uses, internal owners, administrators, and other stakeholders. This can save you many headaches later. When you are finished, make sure that your key stakeholders read and approve the RFQ before you hand it off for estimates.

Here is a list of the minimum items that every RFQ should include:

  • Introductory information:
    • Name of the project as you will refer to it internally
    • Name of the internal owner of the project (this is where the buck stops!)
    • Name and contact info for questions about the RFQ
    • Dates the RFQ is sent out, the estimates are due, and the project should be completed. (Some RFQs spell out the expected schedule in greater detail, but I usually prefer to work that out with the selected vendor later.)
    • Budget allocated for the project (What is the range in which acceptable estimates must fall?)
  • Description:  A very brief description of what the project is for. Ideally this is just a sentence or two, or at most a paragraph. Of course the more complex the project, the more complex the RFQ
  • Audience. Describe who will be the consumer of the project. Some examples:
    • An RFQ for a web project would describe the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences of the website.
    • An RFQ for a program or mobile app would define the users.
    • An RFQ for a project to create a tradeshow booth would list some of the shows at which you plan to exhibit and describe those audiences.
  • Details. This differs greatly depending on the type of project, but this is the meat of the RFQ, spelling out the things at you want to have done. List each feature or task along with a brief explanation of what it is and any specific qualifiers that the agency would need to know in order to determine what it will take for them to do the job.
  • Deliverables. When the work is completed, exactly what does the agency need to deliver? This is where you list each item to be created, being very specific about each one. For example, instead of “Sales brochures,” say “Sales brochure, 8-pages, full color. 800 copies plus all production files”
  • Assumptions. This section lists the things you were assuming when you wrote the RFQ. Stating the assumptions is an important way to reduce misunderstandings later. For example: Who is responsible for translations? Who will coordinate printing? How do you want things to be delivered? Will the agency be supplying stock photos, or will you? Which items in the RFQ (if any) should be treated as optional add-on items?

Working with agencies and consultants

Keep in mind that for all but very small projects, it takes time to produce an accurate estimate. The agency needs to map out exactly how they will approach your project, then determine how much time each of their workers will need. Give them as much time as you can, and the result will be a more accurate estimate. Another aspect of this is that the agency has invested their time and resources to examine your project. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a revision or two to their proposal, but once you know you have narrowed down your choice, it’s best to let the “unselected” agencies know rather than ask them to jump through hoops for no reason.

The moral of the story:

Start your project off on the right foot by basing it on a thorough, effective RFQ that was approved by key stakeholders before it was sent out. A vague RFQ all but guarantees confusion and budget surprises later on.

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