By Dave Harrison, PE, LEED AP
The goal of any request for proposal (RFP) is to provide contractors and consultants with the necessary parameters to understand the client’s scope, specific to the project (e.g., required tasks, methods of construction, square footage, construction cost, and estimated number of components), but remain flexible enough to allow the bidders some latitude to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Often times, RFPs are too prescriptive or too broad, creating a situation where the client loses the advantage of obtaining competitive bids. RFPs that are too prescriptive limit a contractor’s ability to demonstrate innovative, cost-saving or time-saving techniques. RFPs that are too broad can cause misunderstandings, scope creep and/or confusion, which can ultimately lead to change orders and higher project costs.
Here are a few tips to help owners develop effective RFPs to ensure they receive “apples to apples” bids, and some recommendations for contractors and consultants responding to them.
1. Paint a Clear Picture
Every RFP should clearly describe the client’s organization and the key stakeholders for the project at hand. This information will help the bidder to understand the landscape of the client’s team. It should specifically identify the decision makers and strategic agenda topics (e.g., sustainability requirements that have financial implications), and potential hidden roadblocks (e.g., phasing/swing space could compress the project schedule).
2. Define the Expected Outcome
An owner should define the project scope qualitatively and quantitatively. The more precise the definition, the less ambiguity in the response, and the less chance for misunderstandings during the bidding process.
Clarify the construction cost breakdown, particularly hard costs versus soft costs. Hard costs include physical construction elements—specifically the materials, labor and operational costs to complete the project. Soft costs can be less obvious. They can include developmental programming, engineering services, permits and taxes, and financial considerations and certifications. Another substantial segment of project soft costs includes all of the coordination, including but not limited to meetings, presentations, conflict resolution and deliverables to keep stakeholders informed.
3. Coordinate Intersections/Interferences
Every RFP should address how the project team—which includes all contractors and consultants—is expected to coordinate systems construction, specifically the intersections/interferences (e.g., mechanical/electrical systems clashing with the structural steel systems) as a way to manage project risk, cost overruns and schedule delays.
Remember, a good design controls risk, but a great design embraces risk and turns it into a complete solution. If an RFP clarifies potential unknowns, an integrated team has a much better chance to provide a winning project—on time, on budget and on task.
4. Identify Expectations/Assumptions
Assumptions, poorly stated and hazily defined, can break the budget once a project is underway. A thorough RFP provides clear expectations. These assumptions might include scope items of concern that could change based on various scenarios once the project is underway. Ask consultants to include their assumptions. There will likely be considerable variability in every consultant’s perception of potential exclusions, which will provide further insight into the client/consultant relationship.
Good consultants and contractors clarify defined expectations and assumptions and use their proposals to separate themselves from the competition.
5. Specify Response Format
Every RFP should provide details about formatting a response, such as an outline of the proposal sections along with page limitations, if necessary. Also, owners should clarify the length expectations for responses to essay questions. It helps respondents when they have something that can be compared easily against other submissions.
For the contractor and consultant, if these details are not included—ask! And, whenever possible (and when applicable), consultants should request a pre-bid walk-through meeting as part of the RFP process as a way to gain firsthand information about the project.
Finally, RFP documents for technical building projects are challenging, especially since many organizations don’t prepare them very often. Rather than trying to re-create the wheel, owners might speak with those who have successful experience in creating quality RFPs. Look to industry authorities who have spent their careers responding to RFPs of all scopes. Expert consultants have seen the good and the bad and can be a great resource to help every owner put together a winning RFP.
Dave Harrison, PE, LEED, AP, is a Vice President at NV5. He is responsible for business development, specifically for industrial clients. He is highly experienced in all aspects of design projects including the sales cycle, pre-design, programming, schematic, detailed and construction documents, construction administration facility condition assessments, new building commissioning, project management (scope, fee, and schedule), and existing building retro-commissioning. His construction background with a nationally recognized mechanical contractor provides a first- rate resume in construction management and contracts, and an understanding of how critical safety is to every job site.