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straight answers to curly questions

straight answers to curly questions

this is not what I asked for… is it?

How can I get what I need from a “request for proposal”?

 

Rosemary de Lambert, General Manager

Panic, confusion, frustration. Just three typical responses to submissions/pitches/RFPs from fit out companies (or any other prospective service provider for that matter) that have little to no correlation to what you (think) requested. Instead of a salient collection of thoughts that provide confidence, a promise of clear understanding and some clues as to their suitability as a provider, there’s only the vague promise of a great result with no insight into approach and process.

 

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is

We have all heard that one before and to a degree it is the one common sense statement that stands between us and being completely taken in by submissions that read like fluffy advertising campaigns. Which can be unhelpful, to say the least.

But I want to be clear, advertising the positives of a service is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Pitches that blatantly paint over the cracks (read: difficult parts), those are problems. Problems that in other circumstances, see whole weekends being swallowed up by misadventures assembling furniture and/or flatpacks because it had an “easy to assemble” or “set up in minutes” label attached. It’s hard, it can be tiring and most certainly frustrating because when that shelving unit falls over or the indoor sun-lounger collapses, you’ll tell yourself that you didn’t sign up for this. The same type of problems can and do occur in the world of commercial office fit outs.

 

What are you signing up for?

Okay, maybe you’re in middle management, perhaps an office manager or even a higher-up in finance and your company needs to move. Perhaps the company has outgrown its current address or, after a long lease, they need a new lease on life. Somehow, the project brief has landed on your desk and the success of a relocation, an office fit out or both, rests on your shoulders.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Where do you start? How do you start? How do you know if you’re making a good start? Should I go and get a coffee and a muffin and think about it? Why am I perspiring? These are all valid questions but the most important one is “what do we (the company) want to achieve?”

We’re taught or convinced that answering a question with a question is impolite, evasive or just plain mystifying. That’s mostly right but in this case, it’s wrong. Oftentimes, being saddled with handed a brief that seems quite straightforward but becomes more complicated with each passing moment, means it’s time to find some answers. No! It’s time to ask questions – the right questions. This is important because you are not signing up to organise the acquisition of one of the beautifully appointed office images you just flicked through via a variety of google searches. You are signing up to:

  1. add value to your company’s brand
  2. cement and/or enhance its corporate identity
  3. create an environment in which your people can do their best work
  4. keep to a budget
  5. deliver within the timelines…

That’s just the start of it and that’s what you signed up for.

 

And now for some good news

The success of your project will come down to just two factors. The quality of the brief you put together and the selection of the company that best understands that brief. Okay, so I have made some assumptions here.

  • All commercial fit out companies know how to safely and correctly complete a fit out
  • All commercial fit out companies have design teams on board that understand that aesthetics only get you so far and that functionality can/will/must win the day
  • All commercial fit out companies are experienced operators, well versed in everything from zoning guidelines to workplace safety imperatives
  • All commercial fit out companies are created equal

If this is the case, then we’ll proceed (with caution).

 

Question everything

Strong briefs are built on the foundations of strong questions and even stronger (and therefore helpful) answers. As we know, the key to finding these answers is looking in the right place and asking the right people. But let’s take half a step back and identify the most helpful initial questions that must always be asked of the people that handed you this responsibility. They are important because they form the basis of the brief you are going to deliver to the abovementioned office fit out companies.

  • What do we need to do in our new office environment? (Hint: don’t just think about outputs, think about process)
  • What do we need in our new office environment?
  • What do we want people (can also apply to different teams and functions) to feel in our new office environment?
  • Who is going to see our office, how much of our office and what do we want them to see and feel about our office… and by extension, our Company?

Another assumption: you’ve already been given timelines and budget, although budget is not always required for the initial brief, particularly if you are vetting fit out companies.

Once you have sourced the answers to these questions, you will have at your fingertips the basis of a useful brief from which (if all our wild assumptions are correct) you will receive well thought out, creative and on-brand submissions. Follow these tips and get what you asked for.