The number of new technologies that are available to support learning is growing. So are the number of vendors and freelance developers who have the skills and tools needed to use those technologies. Outsourcing often makes sense today for several reasons:

  • Flexible resources: When project loads are lower, staff may do them. But when project loads increase, staff may need to outsource project work to meet all the company’s goals.
  • Skills: When a company has a project using a new technology, they may not yet have the skills to do it in-house. L&D managers may have staff members work with a contractor to complete the project and grow employee skills with a new technology.

There is a key component that an L&D manager must master to successfully navigate the transition from in-house development to outsourced development: the RFP, or request for proposals.

I recently interviewed Jennifer DeVries about what it takes to put together an RFP that will help you obtain good bids from qualified designers. DeVries is an eLearning instructional designer, consultant, and business owner with over 30 years in our field. She has worked for large companies, including IBM and Motorola, where for 17 years she wrote RFPs. Now, as an independent practitioner for the last 14 years, she responds to client requests for proposals (RFPs). She shared her experience and her thoughts about creating RFPs.

What is an RFP?

BB: Jennifer, what is an RFP? What is the purpose of this document?

JD: An RFP is a request for a proposal. And when you request a proposal, what you are requesting from a vendor is a price for a project. A price and a time frame.

Generally, what you're saying to the vendor is, “I have this project. What would you charge me for it? When would you get it done? And can you do it? Do you know, or do you have the experience and qualifications to do it?” Those are the things you will want to know about from the vendor. To write the RFP, though, you have to think like a vendor. You have to think about what the vendor needs to see in the RFP.

What needs to be included in an RFP?

JD: What does the vendor need to see in the RFP? What content are you going to provide and in what format? And what do you want me to turn it into? You have an existing classroom course that you want converted to an eLearning course or you’re developing an eLearning course from an outline, a set of objectives and some other materials. So—what is the content? Where is it? What does it look like? And what kind of a course do you want me to turn this into? Do you want me to turn this into a set of PowerPoint slides that somebody clicks “next” to go from one slide to another? Do you want a video? Do you want a highly interactive simulation with lots of logic and branching and programming?

I would want to see the content, or if the content isn’t available I’d want a comprehensive course or curriculum design document. I would need know or determine the screen counts and the level or type of interactivity the client desires. I would need to know when you need it done and what tools you want us to use. And there's lots in between those possibilities. But in summary, it's what do you have and what do you want it to be? And when do you need it done?

BB: What if an RFP doesn’t contain all that information?

JD: I only respond to about 10% of the RFPs I get, because most of them don't have the information I need in order to accurately price the project. A vendor needs appropriate scope information to provide an accurate quote that does better than covering our cost. To get that information often requires discussion and collaboration between the client and the vendor.

How does someone learn how to write an RFP?

BB: Is it difficult to write an RFP?

JD: For somebody that's never done one before, it can be a daunting prospect. I've heard so many people on the client side say that they were very anxious about it. Maybe they had a meeting with somebody in purchasing and the company requirements scared them. Maybe they've heard horror stories about projects that went wrong because the contracted vendor increased the price mid-project with a change order. And now that I’m a vendor, I find that often the clients are unable to clearly specify the project parameters in order to receive accurate vendor quotes. That’s why I created this session.

BB: Where can someone learn to write an RFP?

JD: When I worked for large corporations, they gave us RFP forms. The forms had certain fields that guided us: What's the project about? What do you want the vendor to do? What parts of the project are you going to do? What are you going to give them in order to perform the job? What is the timeframe when you want it delivered? What's the technical specification? What tools do you want them to use to develop this?

BB: Would it be useful to speak to someone in purchasing, to ask whether the company has a prescribed format?

JD: A manager should ask if purchasing has templates or examples, because often purchasing needs to be involved in the process and you need to meet their requirements and provide appropriate information to the vendor. The problem is that their RFP template is generally meant to buy reams of paper, or pens or equipment, things versus professional services. L&D managers have to tailor it for eLearning projects.

When I teach this, I provide an RFP template that is already tailored for eLearning. It includes the items that purchasing normally wants and also what a vendor would need in order to price a project.

Learn Jennifer's tips and the rest of the process

On November 6, Jennifer will present "Crafting an Effective eLearning RFP" during The eLearning Guild's Business of eLearning Online Conference. In this session, Jennifer DeVries will explain the project pricing methodologies vendors use in order to provide accurate quotes. Given those quotes, you can use a criteria-based method to decide which vendor is best for the project. Jennifer will show you strategies for writing a successful RFP, review best-of-kind RFPS that generate good quotes (as well as those that won't), and provide you with an eLearning RFP template and the guidelines for using it. Finally, she will discuss useful decision-making criteria and methodologies.

This is a unique opportunity to learn this key skill from an expert, along with seven other expert sessions on critical topics that will help you connect your L&D team to your organization's business strategies. Register for the Online Conference today!