7 Problems with the RFP

Nick Lopez

I have spent over a year researching requests for proposals (RFPs) and speaking to people who make their livelihoods from them. They are not the future of work.

As a mechanical engineer, it seems outdated that we still use a Word document to solicit companies and experts to solve our organizational problems. In the age of remote work and robot pizza delivery, we should have technology better suited for B2B problem-solving.

We have entered the future of work, a time of democratized business building accompanied by an explosion of startup innovation, service firms, and freelance consultants. It seems that we’ve been given the opportunity, for the first time in history, to work on our own terms, to enjoy freedom of geography and time while still working towards financial freedom. Not only that, but we can now choose who we work for and fulfill our innate human desire for purpose.

While startups provide tools for repetitive or familiar tasks, agencies and consultants provide the invaluable service of expertise in niche problem-solving. Even something so simple as choosing a new tech tool requires navigating the complex world of “what’s out there” and figuring out which is best for the way your organization already does things. You’re better off hiring an expert who’s done this before to do the work for you and recommend which ones are best suited for your organization instead of re-inventing the wheel. Small consultancies and agencies harness their capability and niche problem-solving experience to take on projects for clients in need.

Historically and economically, specialization is required for society to optimize progress. After all, working together is how we progressed from apes with rocks to the top of the food chain with blockchain. Innovation trends show that the world is becoming increasingly complex, and many obscure & esoteric business problems require outside help. Now more than ever, businesses need to do a better job honing in on their core offering while recruiting specialist partners to take care of everything else. Yet we still use the RFP, or request for proposals, as a tool to ask other businesses for help to solve our problems.

The RFP is simply a means to an end. We think that the RFP is the best way to go about things, but only because of the effects it provides.

Think about it: one of the reasons an RFP works is because it forces the person writing it to organize their thoughts and receive adequate input from the rest of the team. It’s also easy to distribute to people you know because everyone has a word processor on their computer, so most people generally have access to whatever it is you’re sharing.

But during the last year of customer research at Prosal, we’ve discovered a host of problems with the RFP and its problem-solving method.

  1. If you’re hiring an expert, it means you’re not an expert in the area you’re hiring. So how are you expected to know what qualities to look for?
  2. We tend to describe what we want done, yet you might focus on the wrong part of the problem. Without expertise in the area, you could be diagnosing a symptom instead of the actual problem, meaning you won’t ever see a solution come to fruition. Instead, why not describe the problems and let the experts help you build the solution?
  3. As is common with our innate optimism, you might underestimate the time and money it will take to complete the process and project.
  4. It takes a long time to put together a good RFP, so we assume it’s the greatest thing and refuse to make changes to it. We can succumb to a sunk cost fallacy and stick with what we’ve invested our time into instead of allowing feedback to shape the process.
  5. RFPs often feed directly into contracts and scopes of work. Therefore, a poorly written or organized RFP can lead to unclear goals, extended timelines, budges and scope creep, and suboptimal outcomes.
  6. The RFP is not made for humans! We forget that we collaborate with people who think and work in unique ways, especially if they are fast-thinking problem solvers, innovators, or entrepreneurs. The transactionality of the RFP does not allow for a human-sided relationship.
  7. We often adhere to a rigid process in the RFP: request out, proposals in. The rigidity of the RFP process excludes creative approaches and neurodivergent minds. Consider a small company that is highly aligned with your values and mission, has experience serving other clients just like you, but does a poor job presenting themselves well in their proposal, or doesn’t have the resources to spend non-billable hours writing you a response. How would you ever hire them?

Instead of rethinking the RFP, we need to rethink our problem-solving frameworks and develop an alternative method that puts people first and allows for problem-discovery instead of self-prescribed solution execution. Otherwise, we’re just plugging a hole in a sinking ship. Ironically, the problems with rethinking the RFP echo the difficulties created by the RFP.

Prosal proposes a process where problems are the focus, and solutions are built dynamically with the help of experts who have solved this same problem hundreds of times before. We believe that technology and data should be readily available to help you make decisions without requiring extensive training or cost an arm and a leg.

We imagine a future where finding another business to solve a problem is as easy as asking an internal team member to take on a new project. Prosal is here to do that for you.


Nick Lopez

Nick is the Latino CEO & cofounder of Prosal. He’s an avid meditator with endless energy he uses to surf, snowboard, run, hike, and anything that can get his heart pumping. Although his background is in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, he loves meeting new people and learning from others.

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