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How to Apply Design Thinking Principles to Your RFP Response Process

Businesses must review their RFP processes every so often. Even those companies that are consistently successful at winning government contracts should conduct reviews, searching for ways to improve their response strategies. Once most companies have a standard RFP response process in place, they tend to merely modify a template to meet the specific requirements of a client. However, private enterprises, public companies, and the government each require a unique approach, and therefore businesses should not have the same process for every RFP response. 

There are a plethora of RFP response examples available online. Unfortunately, many of these tend to be generic. When you are dealing with a government department or agency, you cannot use a generic RFP response process or a generic template. 

Customize your RFP Response Process

Federal government agencies and their officials are not looking for ingenious creativity in how you present the proposal. They are more interested in what you present. Most of the government officials who will review your submission are career bureaucrats. Their priority is the set of bottom lines laid out in the RFP. How your proposal serves these fundamentals shall influence the evaluation. 

You can refer to as many RFP response examples as you wish. However, each template should be customized to accomplish two objectives:

  1. The RFP response examples should be modified to highlight your strengths in the context of each contract opportunity. 
  2. The RFP response process must be adapted to fit the specific government department and the type of contract on which you are bidding. 

It’s important to note here that most government RFPs and RFQs have strict requirements regarding how the proposal should be organized, what fonts are acceptable, etc., which is another reason not to use a generic template. Design thinking principles can be beneficial and consequential in your RFP response process. 

What are Design Thinking Principles?

Design Thinking entails a comprehensive set of practices to develop the best solution for a specific problem. There are five Design Thinking principles: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. These five principles are at the foundation of almost all Design Thinking processes. It is necessary to highlight that these are not five steps or phases of Design Thinking; they aren’t linear or chronological processes. Instead, the five principles determine the approach to Design Thinking. 

Design Thinking Principles in RFP Response Process

In the context of government contracts, you do not have the luxury to ideate from scratch, develop a prototype, and test a product or service. As a potential contractor, you are expected to be an expert in the niche. Unless a particular contract is specifically for research and development, creating a prototype of emerging technology, or testing a new type of product, these processes do not have any space in the ambit of an RFP. Yet, implications of Design Thinking principles can be used in an RFP response process. 

1. Empathize: Understand the Problems

The Federal, state, and local governments are mandated to invite bids for all their procurements of goods and services above the simplified acquisition threshold of $250,000. Every RFP comes with predetermined deliverables. It is natural for a particular government department to encounter problems in those deliverables. 

The problem could be related to the quality of a product, reliability or efficiency of any service, lack of or lapse in compliance, high price, and other factors. As a potential contractor, you should empathize and understand the problems and cite them in the proposal. 

Laying out the problems within the proposal conveys to the evaluators that you are familiar with the ground reality. Acknowledging the general issues is the first step toward averting them. 

You can use your experience in the industry to flag these problems. You can carry out extensive research to know more about the specific issues experienced by the government and its present contractors. You can also refer to data and reports published by government and subject matter experts to understand existing problems. 

2. Define: Present a Holistic Strategy to Avert or Solve the Problems

As a bidder, you should present a holistic strategy that displays the ability to solve or avert the problem. You can raise one concern at a time and address it, explaining how it can be prevented entirely or swiftly resolved. An RFP response process should include this crucial step. 

The purpose of using Design Thinking principles in an RFP response process is to set your proposal apart from your competitors. No government department wants to continue enduring the same problems. Therefore, the evaluators will take heed of a potential contractor who offers solutions. 

3. Ideate: Suggest Tactics and Solutions, Improve Deliverables

A problem may persist due to the sheer incompetence of a company. An issue may also be a direct or indirect effect of complacency as it’s not uncommon to encounter a lackadaisical element. Furthermore, some problems that occur are simply beyond human control. 

As a bidder, you must address these problems, cite solutions you already have, and suggest tactics to improve the deliverables. For example, a service provider may present their approach to reducing downtime. Likewise, a supplier of goods may explain their process, which reduces the turnaround time.

Quality and compliance-related hiccups are also common. This is because government agencies are stringent about the quality of goods and are also strict about service providers’ data security and privacy policies. 

If there is anything that you do better than your competitors, add it to your proposal. Likewise, if you have an idea that can improve any aspect of the deliverables, you should also describe that in your proposal. 

4. Prototype: Demonstrate your Proven System of Delivery

Government contracts are awarded to companies that have a proven track record. Therefore, you must demonstrate your proven delivery system, whether for goods or services, in the proposal without leaving any room for misconception. 

Your delivery system may be a little different from that with which a particular government department is familiar. Therefore, it would be best if you adapted to deliver per the department’s requirements and expectations. At the same time, you must also emphasize the benefits of your prototype. 

5. Test: Share Verifiable Success Stories of your Brand

A government department is not interested in test results while evaluating a proposal. Unless you are pioneering an unprecedented technology, the government is not interested in experimentation. However, the government is interested in proven and verifiable success stories that illustrate the benefits of your product or service.

As a potential contractor, you may have some secrets that are the driving force behind your success. Unfortunately, a government agency may not know this aspect of your operations; if you can share those secrets and convincingly demonstrate the superiority of what you can deliver and how then the evaluators will notice. 

Government officers or bureaucrats are usually resistant to change. As a result, most departments and agencies are comfortable with their protocols. However, there are instances when the system can be shaken up and stirred. If your RFP can prop up something that even the evaluators do not anticipate, you will gain an unmatched advantage and probably win the contract. 

How to Write a Proposal

A proposal must always be contextual. It should precisely address the critical requirements stipulated in the RFP. A few standard RFP best practices include providing a brief description of your business and your capabilities, backing up your claims with “proof points”—past performance citations that “prove” you have done similar work in the past. In addition, you should always cite relevant registrations and certifications and summarize what differentiates you from your competitors. 

These RFP best practices are widely followed, so you must do something more for your proposal to be unique. Ideally, you must focus on barriers or roadblocks that you can help break down for the client.

• Take the Bull by the Horns

An experienced business owner or professional knows what ails their industry. Government RFP evaluators know the same of their agencies and departments. Therefore, addressing the prevailing problems and your solution for managing them is always prudent. If you have an alternative that can improve the deliverables for the government, then you must harness the power of such a proposition in your RFP response process. If you can disrupt the status quo and deliver something better than the government is accustomed to, you must always lead with that in your proposal. Take the bull by the horns. 

• Bid to Win, Not to Compete

Following all the RFP best practices to write a proposal will enable you to tick every checkbox and compete with fellow bidders. However, such an RFP response process will not assure you a win. If you have to bid to win, you must decimate your competition. 

Predatory pricing is impossible for small to medium businesses. You cannot oversell or commit to what you cannot deliver. What you can do is highlight something that you can do impeccably. Use metrics, certifications, measurable and verifiable achievements, or anything uniquely relevant about your business to write a compelling proposal. 


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