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Creating an Effective RFP for Digital Projects

Project Definition, from Concept to Kick-off Download the RFP Template

As an established digital agency, we’re lucky to spend our time helping clients solve complex problems by architecting, designing and building elegant solutions.

But before a potential client even contacts us, the majority have made a legitimate effort at clearing the biggest hurdles — defining the needs of the organization, building consensus, and crafting the scope of work. The output of that journey becomes a request for a proposal (RFP).

In short, an RFP is your opportunity to outline the challenge at hand, with as much color and nuance as your project warrants. Effectively articulating a challenge can be nearly as complex as solving it, but the energy you invest in this step will help you identify the right partner for the task and minimize the ramp-up time needed after kick-off.

When getting paid to bring a vision to life, we need you to succeed at project definition. It is our setup, so that we can nail the project successfully. In this post, we’ll guide you through the basics of exactly what makes a fantastic scope of work and RFP, and the pitfalls to avoid. And if you want someone to guide you through the discovery process, we are happy to help and have done that for brands like Bon Appetit, SAP and Stanford. With wish lists and backlogs, stakeholders and office politics, budget requests and deadlines, getting a new project off the ground can be an adventure. We’ve created a comprehensive RFP template, including color commentary, to help you with the right plan and training to get to the starting line so you can actually run the marathon.

This document should articulate the who, what, when, where, and why.
Shane Shane Pearlman CEO
Do I really need to do an RFP?

Nope. You don’t technically need an RFP. You do need to define what you want from this project. Whether your organization has a triple-bid, blinded procurement process, or you’re simply approaching your top-choice vendor for a ballpark estimate, some kind of documentation will help keep you and your potential partners speaking the same language. If an RFP sounds too formal, you can call it a brief or a one-pager (even if it’s six pages). Either way, this document should articulate the who, what, when, where, and why. In their responses, your agencies will focus on the how and how much.

How should I use this template?

Our template leans more toward complex projects that require more knowledge transfer and a more formalized RFP process. However, you can certainly scale this to fit your project. In fact, here are a few things you could do with it:

  • Use the section headers as a discussion guide with your internal teams. Make sure you can speak to these topics, and you’ll have an easier time writing your brief.
  • Review your current RFP template against this one. Are there any sections you want to incorporate into your process? If we’re missing any topics that have been helpful for you in the past, let us know. We learn by experience, and we’ll happily learn from yours, too.
  • Swap our logo with yours, delete all the notes (we put them in blue), and call this your RFP. With a few tweaks here and there, this should provide a pretty solid start.
  • Print it out and decoupage your vintage coffee table with it. We get it. This shiny new project is probably on top of your regular responsibilities, and you’ve earned a living room update for all those night shifts you’re working.
modern-tribe-logo

Getting started

If you are your only stakeholder, three cheers for efficiency! You might be ready to start writing. But for most people, you’ve got a little leg work to do before you can start writing your RFP. Below are a few key steps we recommend.

Determine Project Stakeholders

The beautiful thing about digital projects is that they bring together so many different types of people within your organization to solve deeply impactful, cross-functional challenges. Everyone wins! But everyone also has opinions. And everyone defines winning as something different.

Consider organizing your project team into three groups:

  1. Project lead: Odds are, that’s you. You’ll be the vendor’s key point of contact. You’ll make the tough calls, or at least communicate them. You’ll be in touch with the vendor on a weekly, if not daily, basis. If there’s a question from your internal team, they’ll come to you for the answer.
  2. Core team: Consider this your steering committee. These are the people whose business functions are most critical to the project. They may be your biggest cheerleaders who can help you garner support within your organization, or they may be the people most likely to derail the project if not included thoughtfully. Embrace them too.
  3. Extended stakeholders: These are the people who need to be informed — possibly consulted — but they’re not your decision makers. At minimum, this should include the people who interact directly with your customers, such as customer service, support, faculty, service providers, etc. Including them along the way helps to create advocates at the front lines. Keep in mind that these stakeholders don’t necessarily need to be involved throughout the whole project, so consider where they can have the most impact. We often help break projects into phases, and different people play different roles (lead, contribute, inform, abstain) at different points in the project. It’s best to be explicit with these stakeholders on how and where they will be involved. This allows them to plan for it in their schedule, as well as reducing friction by properly communicating expectations up front.

While you may not need to label these stakeholder groups, make sure you’re clear with your leadership about who these people are and the expectations you’ll communicate to them. There’s a fine, but critical, line between “we wanted to share this with you” and “we would love your feedback.” Most importantly, your core team should be on board with your RFP and all its components. That’s why we mention it before anything else.

Develop Your Objectives

In our first few conversations with a potential client, you’ll usually hear us ask, “what does success look like for you?” Bottom line, we want to help you win. If you have carefully crafted goals that fit all the SMART criteria, we’ll outline an approach that addresses them and the measurement tools you’ll need to prove it. Sometimes, success also means “a high five from the board president” or “more engagement from our volunteer base.” It might even mean “it frees up my team to focus on something else.” However you define success, we want to focus our energy there. If you can prioritize those goals, that’s even better.

Identify Key Milestones

At the start of a project, most people know when they want to launch. Rather than simply providing the anticipated month or quarter, help us understand what’s driving your timeline. It could be your sales cycle, a major event, or simply an expectation from leadership. If there’s flexibility, it won’t hurt your timeline to let us know. In fact, it’s in our best interest to get your project wrapped up as quickly as (effectively) possible. Often times, a flexible timeline may give you an opportunity to add more features, build in more testing time, phase your deployments, lower your cost, or assign the best-fit team.

Between issuing your RFP and launching a new mobile app, you’ll likely have other expectations for timing. We’d love to know those, too. Is there an important board meeting that we could leverage for discovery sessions? Do you need to start user testing before students leave for summer? What milestones are already built into your schedule that we can use to minimize the wrangling you’ll need to do? Make sure you take the realities of calendars, holidays, and organization cycles into account. All of this context helps us plan our approach in a way that can help you down the road.

Determine Roles

Whether you have in-house capabilities or not, it’s important for you and your potential partners to understand who the do-ers will be and what their roles are at different stages of the project:

  • Design: Typical design deliverables can include moodboards or concept design, wireframes, or high-fidelity mockups. If your internal team will be leading or actively collaborating on any of these steps, make sure you specify which elements you’ll hand off to the vendor team.
  • Development: It’s less common for internal teams to collaborate on the development phase, but it’s still helpful to explain the roles you expect the agency to fulfill. For example, you may only need front-end files so your internal team or another vendor can handle the CMS implementation.
  • Content: Consider your internal resources and determine if you’ll need support to migrate content, or if you’ll need help with new content, whether it’s organizing, writing, or entering it into the system. It’s also helpful to know will manage content updates post-launch, and if they have design or development expertise. We can build solutions to address a variety of needs, but knowing who we’re building for helps us prioritize features and functionality.
  • DevOps / Hosting: Many institutions and organizations may include IT departments, and often times these internal tech teams will provide hosting infrastructure for their organization. It’s important to figure out what a potential plan may be for handling both DevOps and Hosting for your new site. If your plan is to have the agency tackle this work, it does impact both time and budget for the agency, so having an initial outline of your plan will help the agency accurately estimate and propose a solution.
  • Testing: Any reputable agency you select will have their own testing protocols and processes, but your institution may also have some standard requirements. We’ll need to know if there are specific expectations around testing procedures, documents, or minimum timing for the IT team to test and deploy (if they’re owning that part of the project).
  • Maintenance: It’s also helpful to understand who will be responsible for feature updates in the future, and who will manage security fixes and performance optimization. This awareness may inform the scope for documentation or training materials. And if you’re looking for vendor support in either of those areas, we can put together a sample maintenance contract, or we can offer up referrals for other potential partners.
While a picture is still worth a thousand words, it’s also helpful to articulate why you love a site.
Find Inspiration

The best RFPs help illustrate your vision for your new site or product. And while a picture (or a link) is still worth a thousand words, it’s also helpful to articulate why you love a site. Maybe the design aesthetic feels comparable to your brand, or the emphasis on photography would help showcase your gorgeous photo library. Perhaps you read a good case study on how a competitor’s landing pages tripled their inbound leads and you want a similar result. Or you’ve had a great customer experience on a support site and want to offer your customers a similar way to engage with your brand. Whether it’s screenshots or links, sometimes it’s helpful to send vendors these types of examples to help articulate your goals.

As an agency, we also like to keep up with the latest and greatest in UX, design and development. Here are some of our favorite sources of inspiration — these are updated frequently, so check back often when you need some fresh perspective.

Curate Resources

If you were kicking off your project tomorrow, what materials would you share with a trusted partner? As long as these aren’t trade secrets, consider sharing these as part of your RFP process. The more we understand about your business and your priorities, the more personalized approach we can detail in our proposal. This helps you see how different organizations think, how they’ll work to solve your unique problems, and how much they’re willing to invest in getting to know you.

Some helpful resources include:

  • Strategic plan or marketing plan
  • Prior market research or key marketing metrics
  • Brand guidelines
  • Visual assets (sample photography, video library, logos/marks)
  • Current site map

Even if you don’t want to provide access to these documents and libraries, consider adding key highlights to your RFP or at least letting us know which of these you do or don’t have. For example, if you have robust brand guidelines, our design concepting may be fairly efficient. If we’re starting from scratch on aesthetic and visual elements, we may need to allocate some time for some branding work. If you’re in the middle of a rebranding process, that may influence when we can start design work for your website.

The more we understand about your business and your priorities, the more personalized approach we can detail in our proposal.

Preparing Your RFP

Defining Requirements

This is often the stage where the non-technical start to sweat. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. Remember that your job is to articulate the “who,” “what,” and “why” — not necessarily the “how.”

Consider using simple user stories to help us understand who uses your site, what do they need to accomplish and why it’s important. It’ll sound something like this:

As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >.

Here are some examples of user stories from our past projects:

  • As a student, I want to understand the total cost of attending this institution so I can compare costs with other universities.
  • As a sales rep, I want to automate my responses to inquiries so that I only have to focus on serious leads.
  • As a content editor, I want to publish my menu updates to my website and have them also appear on signage so that I can minimize redundancy.

Notice that your user stories can be for both external end-users or internal teams whose core functions rely on your digital products. We strive to build intuitive, efficient solutions for both.

Finally, if you do know specific technical requirements, please include those in your RFP. It helps us understand if we have the internal capabilities to support your needs, and it helps us estimate more accurately. If you’re able to provide documentation on specific platforms you’re using, that helps too. And if you’re looking for specific recommendations for a new CRM, digital signage tool, asset management platform, etc., make sure your vendors know that in advance.

Disclosing Your Budget

Many organizations shy away from sharing budget information at the early stages of a project. Money can be a sensitive subject in general, and sometimes a project lead doesn’t know what something should cost, so they leave it open-ended. Or you might be thinking “but I want to compare prices…so why would I give them my budget?”

Rather than comparing costs, consider comparing value. Chances are, your budget is fixed anyway. Invite vendors to instead show you what they could do with your money. Unless your requirements are extremely prescriptive, you’ll likely be comparing approach and features. Giving your agencies a consistent budget range ensures that you can compare those approaches more easily.

Even a wide budget range is helpful at this stage. When we propose an approach, we can offer a low option and a high option, which helps you determine the best way to use your funds. If you’re not quite sure what your budget is yet, consider this method (that we often employ on client calls early in the process): Ask yourself what number gives you heartburn — that becomes your “not to exceed.” If you have concerns about getting that spend approved, the low end of your range should be the minimum budget that you can confidently expect to have. Larger projects might even span multiple fiscal periods, and we can plan a project’s burn and release schedule accordingly if we have insight into those details.

Preparing Your RFP

Defining Requirements

This is often the stage where the non-technical start to sweat. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. Remember that your job is to articulate the “who,” “what,” and “why” — not necessarily the “how.”

Consider using simple user stories to help us understand who uses your site, what do they need to accomplish and why it’s important. It’ll sound something like this:

As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >.

Here are some examples of user stories from our past projects:

  • As a student, I want to understand the total cost of attending this institution so I can compare costs with other universities.
  • As a sales rep, I want to automate my responses to inquiries so that I only have to focus on serious leads.
  • As a content editor, I want to publish my menu updates to my website and have them also appear on signage so that I can minimize redundancy.

Notice that your user stories can be for both external end-users or internal teams whose core functions rely on your digital products. We strive to build intuitive, efficient solutions for both.

Finally, if you do know specific technical requirements, please include those in your RFP. It helps us understand if we have the internal capabilities to support your needs, and it helps us estimate more accurately. If you’re able to provide documentation on specific platforms you’re using, that helps too. And if you’re looking for specific recommendations for a new CRM, digital signage tool, asset management platform, etc., make sure your vendors know that in advance.

Disclosing Your Budget

Many organizations shy away from sharing budget information at the early stages of a project. Money can be a sensitive subject in general, and sometimes a project lead doesn’t know what something should cost, so they leave it open-ended. Or you might be thinking “but I want to compare prices…so why would I give them my budget?”

Rather than comparing costs, consider comparing value. Chances are, your budget is fixed anyway. Invite vendors to instead show you what they could do with your money. Unless your requirements are extremely prescriptive, you’ll likely be comparing approach and features. Giving your agencies a consistent budget range ensures that you can compare those approaches more easily.

Even a wide budget range is helpful at this stage. When we propose an approach, we can offer a low option and a high option, which helps you determine the best way to use your funds. If you’re not quite sure what your budget is yet, consider this method (that we often employ on client calls early in the process): Ask yourself what number gives you heartburn — that becomes your “not to exceed.” If you have concerns about getting that spend approved, the low end of your range should be the minimum budget that you can confidently expect to have. Larger projects might even span multiple fiscal periods, and we can plan a project’s burn and release schedule accordingly if we have insight into those details.

modern-tribe-logo

Writing and Distributing the RFP

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, the hardest part is behind you. Now you’ve just got to put it on paper. And if staring at a blank page gives you writer’s block, don’t forget that handy RFP template we created for you.

The most important part of this step is to embrace humanity. We all enjoy working with people, and this document (plus our proposal) may be our first introduction to one another. Feel free to keep it casual, use plain language, and put all the legalese in one place for safe-keeping and less confusion. If you don’t need to be formal at this stage, neither do we.

Whether you’re distributing your RFP through a system or simply sending via email, be sure that your priority partners know it’s out there. You may also want to provide an opportunity for Q&A, whether that’s a one-on-one conversation, or through a group pre-proposal call. This allows vendors to clarify any requirements, offer up alternative approaches, and ensure that they fully understand your vision for your project. Plus, you’ll get a chance to connect with each of the vendors and have a better idea of who’s planning to submit a proposal.

Ready to Go?

We just threw a ton of information (and opinions) at you, and there are lots more details and considerations within the RFP template. If you have what you need, we hope you’ll find the template useful and maybe even   share some feedback with us on what’s working and what’s not. If you need a buddy to help get started, feel free to contact our New Projects team and we’ll be happy to help you wrangle the details and get you started on your next big idea.

Learn more about what you should include in your project’s RFP, by downloading our free template doc. Send us your email and we’ll shoot back the template in a jiffy.

Have questions? Get in touch with us at sales@tribestage2020.wpengine.com.

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