Software Selection

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Effective RFP Techniques

A software Request for Proposal (RFP) can be used to obtain many significant benefits in addition to simply comparing one vendor response to another. An RFP can be used to determine the:

  • RISK inherent in a proposed system
  • SUITABILITY of software to your needs
  • FINANCIAL Impact of a proposed system
  • TCO - the software's Total Cost of Ownership

yet many organizations are limited to using an RFP just for collecting and comparing vendor responses, and many find even that task to be very time-consuming and incomplete. The reason for this is most software RFPs do not use a question and vendor response (answer) format correctly suited to the product being acquired.

To be most effective during the software selection process, an RFP must be much more than just a collection of Yes/No questions or free form essay responses. Why? Because Yes/No is too limited, especially for software applications, and the free-form essay response format allowing vendors to respond with anything imaginable does not provide the response consistency needed for truly "apples-to-apples" software comparisons.
An RFP using the Yes/No response format requires a question for each specific software feature needed to accomplish a specific function, and this forces your RFP to be extremely long, with many questions. This makes comparing and evaluating responses to this type of RFP very difficult and error prone. It is also very difficult to easily and accurately analyze vendor responses to an RFP created with open-ended, essay-type questions, primarily because of the inconsistencies found in all the vendor responses.
So just what are the right formats for a software RFP? Two of the most useful formats are the Feature Support Matrix and the Multiple Answer Matrix for collecting both Risk Assessment and Functional data regarding large, enterprise-wide software projects. The Feature Support Matrix is discussed below, with application-specific questions in the example pages.


There are several software RFP question/response formats that can be used to maximize the usefulness and consistency of all vendor responses. This is important when one considers the fact that a specific software feature can be provided (delivered) using many methods. These can range from being part of the standard product "out-of-the-box", or provided as a "No Charge" software modification (enhancement), or provided on a Paid-for software modification.
Technically, a software vendor can provide anything desired through custom programming, and this quickly becomes a problem because the issues of practicality and feasibility are obscured by all the Yes answers. Just because a vendor states they are providing a feature as a no-charge modification does not mean they can deliver it on time or bug-free. The issue of RISK becomes very real.
We recommend the following RFP techniques and question/response formats to obtain information in a consistent manner that cam also be used to assess both the SUITABILITY and the RISK inherent in a given software proposal.


Use the following formats to create a truly useful RFP that will efficiently collect information that accurately portrays BOTH a proposed software system's functionality AND it's RISK of implementation. Each example is first briefly explained, followed by an example highlighted in green.

# 1 - Feature Support Matrix

This RFP question format is a very good way of identifying BOTH system feature AVAILABILITY, and the DELIVERY METHOD a vendor must utilize to provide that feature, in a completely quantitative format. This is ideal for collecting data used to determine the suitability (weighted grade point score) of a proposed software system to your needs, AND data needed to assess the RISK of it's implementation.
This type of RFx format is an excellent choice for RFIs & RFPs used to acquire enterprise-wide systems such as ERP, ERM, CRM software. The risk assessment is very important here because of the complex nature of the target environment and the amount of custom scripting or programming that is involved.
To use this format, you should first put the following instructions (highlighted in green) at the beginning of your RFP's System Requirements section (or similar).

(Additional information about using the Feature Support Matrix is available in the full Optimized RFP Guide. Please see the Optimized RFP Guide Details Form to order.)


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More information about the best methodologies for software evaluation & selection
may be found at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute and CMMI Institute