As a sub-consultant or as a prime contractor we must do about 25 “major” proposals per year. By “major” I mean there is a formal request for proposals (RFP), sometimes there is an “intent to bid” form to submit, formal question submittals to the buyer, formal distribution of all questions and answers to all bidders, and then bids are due. All questions from all bidders and their answers are provided to all bidders to help maintain a level playing field.
I think I/we have only asked questions when there are contradictions within the RFP. For example, the due date is provided in one place and in another place it is different. I want to know for sure when it is due – almost always the latter date, but I take nothing for granted so I ask. Just about all other questions I would ask, even if good ones provide me with no advantage at best, and are self-destructive at worst. Remember, all bidders get all questions and answers. Questions give away ideas, strategy, and almost always reveal how stupid some people are.
I don’t think I coined the statement but the following definitely applies for these things in many if not most cases. “There is no such thing as a stupid question – only stupid people asking questions.”
I have three sets of questions to poke at in this post. I provided answers to each question.
The first examples come from an RFP for engineering services for industrial energy efficiency. The successful bidder(s) would be providing assistance to industrial end users in the form of identifying opportunities, estimating costs and benefits, and maybe assisting with implementation services. It is up to the proposer to propose needed services that remove barriers to EE for these end users.
Q: What is the definition of “medium to large industrial customers”?
A: Who cares? What difference does it make? You are not bidding on a specific job.
Q: What is the program’s “custom track”?
A: You’re fired. If you don’t know what custom is, you should also be fined for asking and wasting my time.
Q: What types of industries comprise the majority of participants (end users)?
A: I’ll put that one in the “you lose” box. This person is too stupid and/or lazy to investigate the types of industries in the region. Also, if an industry is not being addressed sufficiently, don’t you suppose that might be a good opportunity?
Q: What typical examples of “non-energy benefits” do you want included in the proposal?
A: The “non-energy benefit” is that this stupid question tells me that I can put your proposal in the lose box without reading it because you clearly don’t understand this business.
Q: Are teaming arrangements acceptable…?
A: Yes but nobody in their right mind would team with you for asking this question.
This next set is for developing an energy management plan for a county at a very high level since the budget is small relative to the scope of the project – the number of buildings and size of the region covered. This is a big county with hundreds of buildings (many of which will be picnic shelters and stuff like that) and millions of square feet.
Q: Is there a list of potential bidders?
A: Yes. Would you like a draft of their proposals too? Seriously, we always have to guess who else is bidding and differentiate ourselves from them. I’ve never experienced or heard of this being distributed prior to proposal submittals.
Q: My name is Dr. Evil and I am the world’s greatest one man show on earth (intentional redundancy). Is it ok if I join several the bidders going after this project?
A: You may do so as long as you give me your real name so I can put the proposals of those pitiful enough to hire you in the lose box.
WARNING: Strap yourself in your chair so you don’t hurt yourself falling over in laughter. The following question may be the best one I’ve seen. NOT responsible for personal injury.
Q: Price is one of the evaluation factors. What exactly does that mean? [and he goes on from there] If we bid less than the not-to-exceed amount provided in the RFP, will that improve the scoring of our proposal?
A: On behalf of the United States, I should just give you a negotiated reasonable profit in exchange for your permanent relocation out of the country. You don’t even need to do the project!
Q: Are all the facilities on the same utility rate (tariff) or are there different tariffs used among the hundreds of buildings?
A: You are SO fired. I’m sure a park shelter house is going to be on the same tariff as a major airport. Not only that, there are multiple utilities serving the county! But this takes several gruesome clicks on the computer so I understand your plight.
The last RFP was for a combined heat and power (CHP) study. The CHP would be customer owned and sited for a large region.
Q: As part of the study are you interested in…, e.g. “switching electric hot water for solar thermal technologies?”
A: Using a digital voice recorder, read the title of the RFP then your question, three times in succession while recording. Play it back as many times as necessary for the subliminal message to kick in.
WARNING: Fasten your seat belt again. NOT responsible for personal injury.
Q: Is the mission, vision and values specifically for the state’s energy program?
A: No. We felt our letterhead had too much white space so we developed and used that to fill it up. It doesn’t really apply to anything. What difference does it make?! Also, you may want to consider brushing up on your 3rd grade grammar skills.
Q: Is cost effectiveness analysis to assume “going forward” costs only?
A: No. It should include customer expenditures on landscaping from 1997 through 2002. If you have trouble linking the two together, we are open to alternative ideas.
Q: What, if any data and source limitations do you have?
A: The successful bidder will have access to our direct line to God who already knows what you will be doing and exactly when and where you will be doing it as you open our rejection letter addressed to you.
I may have evaluated proposals a time or two but can’t specifically recall any. However, if I would, I would certainly factor in the types of questions bidders ask when evaluating proposals. Some questions demonstrate ignorance of our industry. Some seem to indicate that the bidder would be a pain to work with or needs excessive hand holding to do the job. Others just seem to indicate lack of IQ or it could be lack of thinking. But what is the difference? Don’t you evaluate questions from interviewees who want a job in your company? I wouldn’t want them either way. Some questions are superfluous and irrelevant; possibly indicating the bidder has no idea what “this” is about. Do you really want people who waste your time or are too stupid or lazy working for you?
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP