Monday, January 20, 2014

RFP as Narrative

Characters courtesy of Creative Commons
A new form of “request for proposals” (RFPs) has emerged where they are positioned as a narrative.  In these instances the desired response is described, primarily through text and occasionally with images to all potential “vendors”.  This is different from the historical practice of robust specifications and measured drawings.  In the past, consultants or in-house staff spent hundreds of hours creating technical documents which described the desired solution in brilliant detail.  Metal gauges, fabric durability, laminate thickness, wiring configurations, construction methods and dozens of other seemingly arcane details were identified.  Now the RFP might be as simple as “something for employees to work upon”.

Why is this? Is there a higher degree of trust in the project teams?  Or conversely is there less concern about the quality of the solution?  Are there no longer differences between products and services? For whatever reason for some, the historical practice of detailed specification to provide an “apples to apples” comparison is no longer required.  Perhaps this approach hopes to elicit more creative solutions.  With a description that is vague, the response relies on the understandings and assumptions of the service or product provider.  This can be informed, or intuitive.  Regardless of how it is created, without consistent criteria, the selection is by nature, more subjective.

While we have multiple examples in the furniture industry of this trend, it is important to note that it is not our industry alone.  New buildings are being proposed by developer/designer/construction teams responding to criteria as simple as square footage and user type.  Consulting firms offer new processes or structures that define results, not methods.  Naturally, less definition of the deliverable means the responding team must demonstrate their capabilities and create the impression of little to no risk to the client. The product’s quality, durability, application, look, feel and cost will match their expectations. The service will be completed correctly, on time and won’t be repeated.  Nothing will fall apart.

With most of us, the risk IS relatively small because businesses understand the value of long term relationships over short term profits.  Reputation has become more important that specification.  Nevertheless, there are individuals and organizations who will make their profits through short-cuts which clients may not perceive, at least not immediately. In the end, the value is brought by the team over the product or even response.  And, in these days of easy partnerships and rapid growth, there is perhaps another reason for a more experienced team, with references.  Perhaps that will become the new detailed specification.

About the Author:
Bryant Rice, Strategic Consultant, is our Workplace Warrior. He deals out strategy, perspective, and opinions. Bryant brings over 30 years of experience to SideMark as an architect, planner, workplace strategist, facilities manager and furniture manufacturer. Bryant holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as a MArch and MBA in Architecture and Business Administration from the University of Illinois. To contact Bryant, email him at

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