Being on the receiving (vendor) end of several Learning and Development RFPs over the course of my career, I feel I can safely say I’ve seen it all. Some RFPs are short and sweet, and others are dozens of pages long. While there is no right or wrong length for writing an effective learning RFP, the primary goal should be to make yours as clear and concise as possible while providing the detail needed for vendors to fully understand the nature and scope of the project. Ambiguity or a poorly formatted RFP will only cause confusion for vendors and potential headaches and time delays for you. Yes… I said formatted. Formatting is important, and, in an RFP, “form” should always follow function. Be sure to include a table of contents, section headers, and page numbers. This allows readers to easily reference certain elements of your RFP such as a specific page, section, subsection, etc.
The “Who, What, Where, When, Why… and How” of Creating a Learning RFP
Just like in journalism, you should always try to answer these questions: WHO is the learning intended for? WHAT are the learning goal(s), business need(s), and service(s) you require? WHERE are the learners from? WHEN do you need the project completed? WHY are you seeking outside assistance? And HOW would you like the project accomplished?
If you’re still on the fence about whether to take on the task of writing a Learning RFP, please read our article Why Create a Formal Learning & Development RFP for some helpful advice. For the rest of you who are ready to move forward with the RFP process, here are some general sections or information you should consider including in your Learning and Development RFP. Feel free to include or omit sections as appropriate for your unique project and goals.
1. Executive Summary:
As tempting as it might be to jump right into writing this section, it’s a best practice to write the executive summary last. Generally, the executive summary should be no more than two pages in length and should contain a high-level overview of your learning project. It should include a brief description of your company and specify what learning products and services you are seeking. It should also outline the requirements of vendors and provide a summary of key points. You may also want to include the submission due date in this section.
2. Introduction / Background:
In this section, provide a bit more detail about your company. Include information such as your industry, company mission, number of employees, whether the company is publicly or privately held, local, national, or international. You can also provide a brief description of the products or services you sell, who your typical buyers are, and a general overview of your company culture. Whatever you think vendors should know to understand your business.
3. Purpose of the RFP:
In the purpose section, state the type of partner you are seeking for this project. For example, are you seeking help for this one project alone, or are you seeking a long-term partner?
4. Project Overview:
Here you should include:
The Problem this RFP is Trying to Solve / Business Need / Business Driver
Describe what is happening now that is causing your organization to put together this learning program. You may also want to include who the project’s key stakeholders are (i.e., which departments or titles are driving this initiative).
The Learning Objectives / Performance Goals / How Success Will Be Measured
Your learning objectives should be very closely tied with your business needs/drivers. Be as detailed as possible here. This is where you are identifying a specific problem or issue within the company that this training is attempting to solve. If the problem is sales are low, then your company’s learning objective (as it relates to a Sales Training Program), might be to increase sales by 15% within 6 months. This is essentially how your company will measure success. To ensure success, be sure to use SMART goal setting. As a refresher, a SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
- Identify what you want the learners to learn
- Articulate the appropriate level of knowledge you expect the learners to gain from the training.
- Include a measurable goal (Example: 90% of learners taking the course pass the exam, sales increase by 20%, product support calls decrease by 50%).
- Include the time you expect to see results measured in weeks, months, days, or a specific day. (Example: Increase customer service ratings by 40% in 5 months – or by mm/dd/yyyy).
Assumptions and Constraints
Assumptions may include: How the vendor relationship will be governed, the expected number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) and required skill sets needed to fulfill the needs of the project, and whether the vendor will be allowed to make needed adjustments to the solution.
Constraints may include things such as:
- Language barriers
5. Administrative Information:
In this section, you should include all the rules and key information that bidders should be aware of and/or adhere to in order to submit an acceptable proposal.
Proposal Schedule / Key Dates
- Release and distribution dates of RFP
- Date to receive Bid/No Bid Responses
- Deadline for vendors to submit questions
- The date you will provide answers to vendors’ questions
- Deadline for vendor proposal submissions – Make sure to specify a time zone to avoid any ambiguity, for example, Friday, March 15, 2019, before 5:00 p.m. EDT
- Date finalists will be notified
- Date of finalist presentations
- Date winning vendor will be selected
- Date unsuccessful bidders will be notified in writing
- Date proposal must remain valid until
TIP: When preparing your RFP schedule, make sure to allow ample time for bidders to produce a thoughtful and thorough RFP response.
This section will include things such as:
- Will you allow questions after the Q&A period has ended?
- How you wish to receive RFP responses. Do you want hard-copies, online (through a portal), or email submissions? If hard-copy, how many copies will you require? Do all hard-copy submissions require a signature or just one? Do you want them stapled, bound, etc.?
- The format in which you would like bidders to respond such as Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint, online submission portal, etc. Having a set structure and format (with clearly defined sections for vendors to complete) will facilitate the proposal review process.
Proposal Review Process
Indicate that the review committee will review all proposals and that bidders may be required to answer additional questions.
RFP Contact Names and Information
Include the contact information of the person or persons to whom questions should be directed and submissions sent to.
6. Learner Demographics:
- What areas (departments) of the company are learners coming from?
- Are they managers, non-managers (or both)?
- What are the learners’ background and experience with technology or subject matter that you plan to roll out? (e.g., beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.)
- What (and how many) geographic locations are the learners in?
- How many participants are expected to go through the program (by location)?
7. Scope of Work:
Details of the Specific Process and Functions to be Outsourced
- Define the types (use course titles when appropriate) and number of courses to be delivered.
- Define the learning formats you would like used in the training program.
- Outline additional responsibilities of the vendor (needs assessment, project management, vendor management, content management, LMS management, etc.).
Content / Training Material Needed
- Number of Courses: Clearly define the number of courses to be developed and let vendors know what percentage of new content needs to be developed versus what percentage will be adapted from existing content.
- Updating Requirements: Is the content to be developed considered “evergreen” (content that will require minimal to no updating) or will this content need to be updated regularly?
- Updating Responsibility: Will the responsibility of updating content fall on the vendor or the client?
- Customized Content: Do you expect the content to be customized to meet your company’s branding guidelines?
- Content Format(s): Identify what format(s) / modalities the content needs to be developed for (ILT, vILT, mobile, eLearning, etc.). Alternatively, you may elect to have the bidder offer their proposed solution based solely on the project scope you provide.
- Development Software Requirements: Identify any specific software programs (authoring tools) you would like the content developed in (include versions of software for compatibility purposes).
- Access to SMEs: If your content is proprietary in nature, include information about expected accessibility to your internal subject matter experts (SMEs).
- LMS Information: Identify your Learning Management System (if applicable) and whether you expect the learning partner to upload content to the LMS.
Level of Interactivity You Expect from the Training / eLearning
Interactivity levels range from no interactivity (passive) to high interactivity (full immersion). This is a large factor in the time and cost of development – especially in eLearning development.
Technologies to be Used
In this section, include any specific technologies that the training is intended for, project management or collaboration technologies you will be using on the project, authoring tools (development software), LMS system, etc.
“Must Haves” vs. “Nice to Haves”
Make sure vendors are aware of the absolute necessities of the program as well as the things you’d like to have if the budget allows. Obtain separate quotes on each. If you must have a skill gap analysis, testing, project managers or developers on-site (which may include T&E), for example, make sure such items are included in writing as these may significantly affect pricing.
8. Vendor Qualifications
Include a section for the vendor to describe their company’s unique value proposition, years in business, areas of expertise, differentiators, types of clients they serve, etc.
Vendor’s Specific Experience, Skills, Challenges, and Proposed Solution
Your learning project is unique to you. However, the vendors you are engaging have probably managed similar projects in a different industry, on a different scale, or with different learner demographics. Include a few challenges that are specific to your project and ask how the vendor would address or overcome each challenge to meet your needs (e.g., geographically dispersed learners, attrition of resources, etc.).
Selection Criteria for Vendors
What does a winning vendor look like to you? How will you judge the proposals? Consider what your top-weighted priorities are when making your selection.
- Lowest price
- Most comprehensive services
- Best customer service experience and best references
Most experienced with similar projects
- Specific industry experience
- Best culture fit
- Geographic proximity
Be sure to clearly indicate if your intent in asking for references is to be able to contact a vendor’s references, or if you are just seeking letters of reference. This is an important distinction to make because if you’re looking to obtain details from a former or existing client, you obviously cannot have a dialog with a letter.
9. Process Requirements
Include information that will help vendors understand how your organization works or how you would like this process to work.
- Work Products – Aside from the main deliverable(s) of the learning project, what other work products do you expect from the learning vendor? Would like them to develop a prototype of your eLearning project? Do you expect the vendor to supply you with a project plan or provide weekly status updates?
- Review Cycles – Minimize scope creep by including the number and length of review cycles. These are key drivers that will impact both project costs and timeframes. Include who is responsible for reviewing and approving work products and deliverables.
- Responsibility Matrix – This section describes your company’s responsibilities and the expected responsibilities of the learning partner. You may wish to use the RACI model (R=Responsible, A=Accountable, C=Consulted, I=Informed). If using this model, make sure your chart has at least one Responsible person and one Accountable person for each task.
- Communications Plan – Establishing a communications plan will determine how often and under what circumstances the vendor will be scheduling project update calls/meetings with your team and who will be involved in these meetings.
- Escalation Process – Asking the vendor to establish an escalation process will help you understand how they will approach specific issues that arise in your learning program and who the point person is for each type of issue (i.e., technical issues should go to technical support team, project issues should be directed to the project manager, etc.). When issues cannot be resolved at those levels (see responsibility matrix section), there needs to be an escalation process to take issues further up the chain of command.
10. Confidentiality Clause / Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (MNDA)
Having a confidentiality clause in place assures both parties that the details of the project, as well as the details of the proposal, will not be shared with others who are not a party to the process… including other bidders on the project, competitors, incumbent vendors, etc.
11. Cost of Preparing the RFP
For vendors, preparing an RFP response is no light task. It often requires numerous man hours and many people from several departments to come together to review the details of your RFP, answer all your questions, and formulate the right solution for your business. Many companies chalk up preparing an RFP response as a cost of doing business with the end-goal of earning your company’s business. For those who don’t, however, it’s important to include who is responsible for the cost of the RFP response, including any travel and expenses for oral presentations. If you expect the vendor to bear the full burden of the response, you should state that the RFP preparation (including travel and expenses) is the sole responsibility of the vendor and is separate from any billable work that may come after the winning bidder is awarded the business.
12. Project Timeline / Completion Dates
Each aspect of the project should have its own expected completion date. Be clear where these specific milestones are so your vendors can plan accordingly, or even push back if your deadlines appear unrealistic. The number of expected review cycles can be included in this section.
13. Project Pricing / Payment Terms
Determine how you want the pricing broken down. Is it by service line item? Is it project-based? Is it deliverable/milestone based? Time and materials?
Being specific in this section will enable your organization to make apples to apples cost comparisons. Make sure the vendors differentiate between recurring costs and one-time costs. Also, if considering bids from companies located in other countries, include which currency you would prefer to pay them in (as well as making sure associated taxes are part of their pricing).
You may also want to include the payment terms and payment schedule you are seeking from the vendor.
14. Terms and Conditions
In this section, you will want to outline things such as contract length, delivery penalties, warranty information, how change requests will be handled, insurance requirements, etc.
Engaging the Right Vendors for Your Learning Project
Don’t forget the very important task of researching and narrowing down your list of possible vendor candidates to submit your RFP to. The vendor selection process can be done prior to or simultaneously with creating your learning RFP. Keep in mind that some vendors may decline to respond to your RFP altogether, while others may emerge early on as a bad fit. Make sure you have a large enough of pool of candidates to make the process worthwhile.
There’s no question that creating a comprehensive Learning RFP for your company can be hard work. But rest-assured that the work you put in upfront will pay for itself with the knowledge that you’ve done your due diligence to receive the best possible learning solution and pricing for your business.
The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. No information (or possible omissions) contained in this article shall be considered legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established.
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As a leading provider of corporate training and development solutions, CoreAxis Consulting has responded to countless L&D Requests for Proposals (RFPs), as well as helped many clients write their L&D RFPs. For a no-obligation consultation on your upcoming learning project, or help writing your company’s RFP, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.