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RFP = Really F#%^+* Process

Posted by cann0nba11 on July 26, 2007

They come in many forms: RF-whatever. Request for Information, Request for Quote, Request for Proposal. They should really be called RFYTWLOTAR: a Request For You To Waste Lots Of Time And Resources. These documents are the retarded offspring of a government mentality where paperwork is life and customer service is verboten. Job security is measured in pages. “Screw asking questions, let”s throw a bunch of crap into a big document and make people answer lots of questions that really don”t relate to our needs. We’re not going to read the responses anyway, we’ll skip ahead to the pricing page to make our decision.”

We can lump these procedural mutants into a few categories. First you’ve got your legitimate request: a document that specifies project details, lists all technical requirements and has a reasonable deadline. RFP, RFI, RFQ… let”s call these “rare.”

The next category includes documents created by a company employee that has no earthly clue what to ask for. S/he ends up Googling their industry, trying to find some keywords or metrics to ask for, or maybe even some sort of template document. The end results is a woefully inadequate and sophomoric attempt at a list of requirements. If you are lucky you will find about 20% of the information you need to create an actual proposal. Let”s call these “the norm.”

A third category is the dreaded consultant version: the RF-Anal Probe. These documents are created by consultants who, like lawyers and government office workers, are paid by the word. A consultant’s goal (besides falsifying billable hours) is to find out everything he can about the industry, summarize his research in a 300 row spreadsheet, and then ask several vendors to rewrite the King James version of this history in a specific format, usually the same aforementioned spreadsheet. Sometimes you are blessed with an uneditable PDF document. Those are really helpful. I’ve personally responded to RFPs with hundreds of questions. Usually these aren’t binary yes/no questions, mind you, these are open-ended questions, potentially essay questions. The response field for each of these questions is usually a single cell in a spreadsheet. The answer could be a number, it could be a single word, it could be 500 words.

Usually several different configurations are requested, as is a “cafeteria” price list of everything the company does. Don’t forget bonus questions such as “Please describe your product road map and organization goals for the next three years” or “provide resumes for any employees that may come in contact with our configuration.” Why not add some haiku about undiscovered technology that could lower the cost of this project? But be careful! Failure to respond in the proper format, time frame or typeface is immediate grounds for exclusion from the cool kids table.

A really nice characteristic of this beloved exercise is that most documents are submitted after months of diligent preparation. Vendors are then asked to respond to these Moby Dicks by rewriting their corporate history complete with pricing tables, various what-if scenarios, network diagrams and multiple configurations in 12, 24 and 36-month pricing terms, usually within a few business days. How generous.

These documents are eventually delivered to their requester and more often than not that is the end of the process. After all, there is only one winner in the RF-whatever game. The biggest loser? Productivity.

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