Influence the RFP by Shaping the RequirementsThe best of the best of Government contractors shape the requirements in the RFP to raise their win probability. They wire the contracts to themselves early on, and seal the deal with the perfect proposal. Wiring seems like something negative, but unless you are violating the procurement integrity laws, there is nothing unseemly or unethical in doing this, just good business for Beltway insiders. The good news is that you can wire the contracts to yourself as well.

The recipe for wiring an opportunity to your company is simple:

  1. Build the relationship early and become a trusted advisor.
  2. Find a solution that will benefit you and make it difficult for the competition to win.
  3. Make recommendations to the Government with the interests of the projects in mind first. In other words, you have to show how the solution you came up with is in the best interests of the Government and follows their rules (it cannot be obvious that they are giving you preferential treatment and are limiting competition, or someone will protest).

You can shape numerous things about an opportunity, for example, you can shape the Scope of Work. Help the customer define what tasks and objectives need to be accomplished to solve the customer’s problem—and what metrics apply—to make them fit for your solution. You can also keep the scope under one procurement versus splitting it up across multiple procurements (and potentially different contractors) through “modular contracting.”

You can dictate how the scope of work is going to appear, in a prescriptive statement of work versus a looser statement of objectives or performance work statement: Would you prefer a strictly defined scope of work, most likely issued under a fixed-price contract with a very specific budget you could provide guidance on, and with which you could live? Or, would it benefit the project (and you) to have more wiggle room to execute? Should some elements of scope be excluded because they are not to your advantage, and should others be included because they make it harder for your competitors? Would it benefit you if you had solid performance metrics you could apply, whereas the competition wouldn’t hold a candle up to your metrics and ability to perform to those metrics?

Shape all aspects of the solution the customer requires. Shape the past performance, key personnel, and resume requirements. Quite simply, these are the areas where you should shine. If you have the right qualifications and people to bid, recommend that the RFP be more specific and prescriptive, or count these more in the evaluation criteria. If not, do the opposite.

Requirements for specific infrastructure, resources, facilities, certifications, qualifications, platforms, standards, and industry best practices are another area you could influence. If you can somehow work in the requirements for facilities that you have, or minimum level certifications such as CMMI Level 3 and ISO series, or any other specifics that would make sense with the project, try to do so. These might become less stringent during the Q&A session where some contractors could whine, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Do you have facilities in all the right locations? If so, make sure that these are required, and vice versa. Do you have the right infrastructure such as the DCAA-approved accounting system? This is a great way to discriminate even among large contractors. Do you have a lot of IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) masters? Do you use specific platforms and technologies? Do you have a stable of Project Management Professionals (PMP) readily available? Do you have Lean Six Sigma black belts? Do you advocate certain tools that you have fully adapted to the environment and that are compatible with the customer’s solution? You need to look at all of those areas and define the minimum requirements that would enable this project to be completed with a high degree of quality.

Set expectations for a very aggressive schedule if you are absolutely certain you can do it, and it might preclude other competitors from bidding or have their prices go up more than yours if this is the case. Or, you might want to make the schedule longer to argue that the schedule is more realistic and packs less risk to the Government. Look to see if the schedule will fit well with other milestones or events. If you are an incumbent, you might want to reduce the transition and startup time, and if you are a successor, you might want that period to be longer.

Shape the legal and insurance requirements. Do you have an invention or source code for the software and will to cede to the Government the rights to your intellectual property? Or will you have the Government license it from you? How would it impact you and the competition, and what language will favor your solution and preclude the competition from bidding?

See if you would like the customer to require any specific insurance to work in the war theater or a foreign country, or sizable bonding on a construction project. It might be the policy and funding you already have but would take time for others to obtain. You might want it included as a requirement. Are you willing to accept a bid bond requirement? A performance bond requirement?

Remember, as you are looking to shape and skew the requirements in your favor, the Government is always moving in the opposite direction, looking to level the playing field. They don’t want to make the procurement seem too biassed in your favor, or they risk protests. There is nothing worse than a protest that triggers a GAO audit, draws attention from Capitol Hill with requirements to testify in front of Congress, and brings negative press. You have to take this into consideration when you shape the RFP: be strategic, be smart, and think for the Government. You have a much better chance to create a clever solution by thinking through all the objections first, rather than being caught unawares and having to come up with a quick solution on the fly.

By following some key steps you can shape the RFP requirements in your favor and make it harder for the competition to win. Whether it is in the scope of work, the facilities, or the schedule, the goal is to highlight where you shine and can provide the solution that’s in the best interests of the customer.

Best regards,

OST Global Solutions, Inc.
…Because There is No Second Place in Proposals! TM

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