Due Diligence: Prepare Thoroughly To Write A Successful RFP
Writing the kind of infrastructure project Request for Proposal is about more than being budget-conscious and aware of the latest technologies available to get the job done. Of course, those things are critical, but sometimes the devil really is in the details.
Take, for instance, the importance of being your own healthily skeptical advocate when considering some of those technologies. If you walk into a situation blind and uninformed, you’re setting yourself up for short-term failure and possibly long-term disaster. You need to take a stance of self-protection in advocating for your company, agency or municipal department. And the most effective way to do that is to be assertively curious.
This means digging deeper than what might at first seem obvious: Is that technology you’ve heard so much about really the right one for your project? Will the claims made by its manufacturer hold up under scrutiny and prove out in its application? How can you actually know? After all, your name is going to be the one on the paperwork. How can you make sure you’re attaching it to as sure an outcome as possible?
Lynn Osborn, owner and lead engineer at LEO Consulting, LLC in the St. Louis area, says there are lots of ways you can protect your reputation and the interests of your employer when writing your RFP. They all have to do with thorough preparation, which means asking all the right questions when doing your due diligence before you ever put fingers to keyboard in writing your bid request.
Usually, the biggest risk you’ll be taking is in specifying products to be used in your infrastructure project. You may have lots of experience with some of them, but as wonderful as new technology can be, the really new stuff brings with it the uncertainty of having no experience with it to rely on. Osborn says civil engineers and project designers need to ask the following questions about any products under consideration:
1. Does this product fit the specific needs of the project? Ask what you really need it to do, and how many of those bases are actually covered by the product you’re considering.
2. Does the product have a history of successful, high-quality installation and service? Of all other measuring sticks, this one is the highest. It either works or it doesn’t.
3. Is the product cost-effective? Sure it may meet all your needs, but can it do so without breaking the bank?
4. Does the product have verifiable third-party testing? Objective third-party is the operable phrase here, and verifiable is the next most important. You want an honest evaluation by someone without a vested interest in the outcome of any product testing.
5. Will the product have a 50-year design and service life? Again, it may perform well when it’s first installed, but how about decades down the line? Longevity can override high initial cost, because you can reliably amortize the investment over a longer service life. And when it comes to infrastructure that is expensive, you don’t want to have to service it more than twice a century. The service life of any asset should extend beyond nearly anyone’s career, so they should only have to make this decision once for any particular structure.
6. Is the product safe to install and use? Safety becomes more of a workplace factor every day, and when you’re talking about a public project – particularly on assets that will touch potable water – this becomes a long-term consideration.
Who should you ask these pertinent questions of? Generally, says Osborn, if the company representing the product has an engineering department, or consulting engineers, approach them first. Absent an engineering division, other authorized representatives of the company are your next best bet.
The Internet remains an excellent source of reference, but you do need to be careful that your material is coming from a qualified source. It’s best to consult several relevant sources on any given topic, and cross-reference to be sure you’re getting an average point of view.
Last but certainly not least are customers who have experience using the product. Certainly don’t be afraid to reach out and really check provided references. This is another way you can leverage the Internet in service of creating an accurate picture of what you need to know. Do a search on the product’s name with the word “complaints” after it. You may be amazed at what comes up.
You may end up getting a lot of feedback from quite a few people in that last step, and this can get overwhelming. When deciding whose opinions carry the most weight in these decisions, what factors should you take into account?
“Obviously, you put the most stock in opinions from those who are non-biased or do not have a financial interest in the company or the product,” counsels Osborn.
Likely the most candid responses will come from customers who have used the product. They will generally be willing to share both good and bad experiences.
Next, most trustworthy are the opinions of those who have performed independent, third-party testing on the product. Again, you want to stay away from testing agencies who aren’t really performing their research without undue influence of those with vested interests in the outcome of their tests.
And of course, consulting engineers who have specified the product have little reason not to be up front with you about the product’s track record in their projects.
Nearly every product made is now monitored and regulated in some way by a set of professional trade standards for safety and performance. For instance, any type of building product is governed by benchmarks established by the American Society of Testing and Materials. ASTM standards exist for spray-applied protective and structural coatings, such as Sprayroq products.
Your contacts at Sprayroq can list these ASTMs, which are important because they are “the gold standard” in performance and safety measurement. Each standard is vetted through the rigorous ASTM process, and must pass the scrutiny of engineers, customers and competitors. ASTM standards are highly regarded and internationally recognized due to the quality of the ASTM process for producing standards.
So, knowing the rigor of the ASTM process, how can those responsible for specifying products in an RFP validate manufacturer claims of performance against these standards?
Osborn says your best bet is to check with customer references, especially those not given to you by the product’s manufacturer. Instead, get a truly impartial picture of realistic expectations by reviewing third-party test reports on the product. And again, check with engineers who have specified the product. Their reputations are on the line just as yours is, every time they spec a product, because that translates as a tacit endorsement of the item.
In short, check, check, then check more references. Yes, it’s a time-consuming process. But every time you end up with a successful project because you didn’t skimp on the research is one more reason to keep it up. A successful RFP is all about doing your homework. Consider it reputation insurance.