Answering the bell–an e-mailer asks about bias in RFI’s and RFP’s

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I got a great question in my email this morning from someone who reads my post on the IASA Global Blog site (you can find my post here). I was talking about the responsibility/ethics of architects involved in the creation of either an RFI/RFP outbound or the organizational response inbound to the same.

The question I posted was around the ethics – what should you do. The e-mailer asked an interesting question that made me think for awhile. RFI’s and RFP’s are supposed to be neutral and represent only the the requirements of the solution.

What, the e-mailer asked, if you read requirements that you know were written for a specific solution?

First you have to be careful. There are many types of documents in the world. But RFI’s and RFP’s by their nature are not always created by one person. So reading for meaning is dangerous. The meaning you may find in fact may only be the meaning from one author and usually when organizations review multiple proposals they have multiple people reviewing them. Be careful what you read.

As I thought about it more I started thinking about the orientation of the observation. The bias of the reader and what that would create. It reminds me of an old science experiment I used to do with kids when I was teaching. You can create an image that changes based on the color of the lens or lack of a lens used to view the image. It’s a variation of the old elephant game (blindfold a group of people and have them touch various parts of an elephant and tell you what they are touching as a whole, rather than just the piece they are connected to).

That impacts as well. The bias of the reader and the perspective of the writer both impact the end game. So my simple e-mail answer back was it depends. In many cases organizations release requests for proposals with a specific partner delivering the solution already in mind. That brings into the reality the bias of the people writing the original (out-bound). That also impacts what you answer with.

After all that my e-mailer said how can anyone be successful then in responding to requests for proposals? That is the real question and its all about hearts and minds. In order to change bias you have to have not an accusation but a path forward. Not a “declaration” its bad to be biased but a demonstration of how what you envision is so much better than anything that organization has.

You have to shift the organizational perspective. That in the end is the hardest and easiest job of all. It’s why a great Business Development team working with a great solutions team produces responses that win. They cover both sides of the customer with concepts and ideas that change the perspective and bias even if they didn’t influence the creation of the RFI/RFP.

It is not the mountain you climb, but what you do when you get there that matters.

.doc

Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow