How to win government projects?


I will never apply for RFP’s!

It is typical comments I hear a lot from architects about how they feel about participating RFP’s (Request For Proposal) to pursue government projects.  RFP’s are like resumes for individuals, or marketing materials for companies with one distinction:  many guidelines, in fact, many strict guidelines!  The way one would prepare for RFP is different from how one would prepare for resumes/ company marketing materials;  it is not only about  highlighting individual’s  or company’s professional experience, which translates to how capable they are, and therefore, they should be selected for the job and projects.  For RFP’s, one cannot highlight his/her capabilities without going through and checking off many bullet points  in advance:  To be allowed ” to participate in the RFP process, there are many initial bullet points the architecture firms to be able to check off.  Without meeting these requirements, the rest of a submission package will not be considered period.   

Why did my firm, Studio Jonah participate in RFP’s?
Our office had decided to submit one RFP late last year after careful considerations of the work load at the time, as well as the possibility of winning the proposal.  At the end, the decision to go ahead with the proposal came down to one reason:  project type – renovation of art museum.  We believed that  it was an ideal type of project to pursue for two reasons:  having past art museum project experience while working in New York City years ago, Museum of Modern Art  and wanting to pursue similar project types in the future for our office.  We decided that it was worth pursuing the proposal just to learn about the process, and that is how our office started working on the submission in the midst of other crazy work deadlines.

Importance of debriefing feedback:
After waiting on the submission for over three months, and making number of phone calls, we learned that we did not win the proposal.  Although we knew in the beginning about our weakness (less number of Ontario project experience compared to other architecture firms), we had a big hope for winning the proposal.   After hanging up the phone and feeling the disappointment for the result, I realized that I had forgotten the initial reason for deciding to enter the RFP submission:  learning from the experience.  Submitting the proposal and finding only about the result (NO in this case) cannot be considered as “learning experience” since the result only does not indicate how our submission was received.  I had to call back and find out detailed information about our submission result, and there is actually a name for this particular process:  debriefing meeting/phone call.   It is an opportunity to find out RFP participants to get detailed feedbacks from the judging panels which could improve the chance for winning the future submissions.  I had learned that our submission placed on the 3rd out of 14 submissions,  and we received 3 points less than the winning submission! Learning about our strength and weakness through the RFP process has been a truly valuable and necessary experience for our architecture firm.   In addition to “learning experience” component to RFP’s, I believe there’s added benefit to participating in the RFP’s:  getting introduced to different government agencies, which could improve the chance of being selected the next time.

As the saying goes, “if you do not play, you cannot win,” the RFP process works the same way:  without the participation, there are no possibilities!  With this important “business strategy” for our office, we spend time researching the right RFP’s as one of the business development approaches, but also to grow our architecture practice with emphasis in design excellence.

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