Manufacturing Engineering

A Good Request for Proposal is Based on Dialogue, Transparency, Clarity

Just as no two projects are exactly alike, there is no one right way to submit a request for proposal. An RFP is a process that signals the beginning of a larger conversation. Some RFPs are very formalized and inflexible, while others are more of an open dialogue to discover the details needed to develop a proposal. No matter the format, a good RFP is one that clearly articulates the customer's requirements and leaves the door open for two-way dialogue.

Requesting Best Practices

The purpose of an RFP is to convey the details of a project to the manufacturer. Customers should thoroughly articulate their vision by including:

  • Complete drawings of all parts (or any incomplete ones you have!).
  • An explanation of the manufacturer's role in the process. Will they making just a few parts? Will they be conducting assembly? Will they be providing raw materials? Will they be working on hardware that was partially finished elsewhere?
  • A detailed schedule. This allows the manufacturer to determine if a more aggressive manufacturing schedule is necessary than their regular timeline permits.
  • Any special requirements, such as witness points or heightened quality control standards.
  • Flexibility — customers benefit when their RFPs are open to suggestions and alternatives.

The Necessity of Verbal, Two-Way Dialogue

Customers are not bound by any specific style, and pretty much any format is acceptable. An RFP could be as basic as a napkin sketch or as elaborate as the 3D models that some customers submit.

What all great RFPs have in common, however, is verbal communication — on its own, even the best written statement leaves too much room for misinterpretation.

Ideally, every RFP would be discussed in person, but face-to-face meetings are not always possible. A simple phone call, however, can go a long way to helping the manufacturer understand the details needed to properly develop a proposal and a quote. Two-way dialogue gives the manufacturer's proposal team the opportunity to:

  • Ask questions about the customer's needs and requirements.
  • Seek more information about design constraints or other unique technical challenges.
  • Ensure they didn't overlook a detail that was unclear in the written RFP.
  • Offer alternative recommendations to solve potential problems.

It is important to note that some discussions involve potentially touchy subject matter, which is best handled in a direct, frank discussion.

For example, the manufacturer will want to know if the customer has produced the part before with a different supplier. Maybe the customer is shopping around for a new manufacturer after encountering problems with quality or price the first time. These difficult conversations should not be left to written correspondence.

There is no magic formula for the perfect RFP. They should include as many details as possible and leave room for adjustment. Most importantly, direct, two-way dialogue is the surest way to avoid miscommunication and ensure the customer and the manufacturer are working toward the same goal.