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Rethinking The RFP For Corporate Innovation

By Marc Seefelder and Sebastian Mueller

Being a digital business builder, we do a lot of work in corporate innovation. As a key partner for innovation hubs and strategy departments, we work closely with decision makers and the related departments within their organisations. When we are approached by such companies, there is one telltale sign that allows us to assess their ability to succeed in a digital transformation project.

The RFP we receive is often the most glaring indicator that the organisation is not ready for a true partnership in building digital products.

RFP — “Really? Forty Pages?”

Officially, RFP stands for “Request for Proposal”. It is usually a monstrous Excel or PDF file filled with requirements, written by committee. It endeavours to describe in detail what a digital product is supposed to do, and is often written by a person who has never built one, tested assumptions, or asked for outside counsel. Sometimes, these briefings even go as far as to include mock wireframes, as well as the most common logical flaws.

A sample RFP (intentionally blurred…but you get the idea)

The existence of the RFP stands in direct contradiction to the core principles of design thinking. Responding to a corporate RFP is a beast. It is not a fun exercise. It is inaccurate. It is error-prone. Most of all, it maximizes everyone's risk. By working this way, both parties commit to a fixed scope upfront. They decide how the whole product will function without an opportunity to pivot. It’s broken. And the results are broken, too.

The implications of this process can vary from bad to disastrous. Often, products end up with unnecessary or useless features. In other cases, the target customer segment fails to adopt or engage, because the product is irrelevant to their needs. Sometimes, the product is dead on arrival and a lot of money goes to waste.

Imagine yourself as the product owner. How can this be in your interest? This process works for buying copy paper. This process works for buying commodity goods. This process doesn’t work for strategic initiatives. It needs to be redesigned completely. And progressive organisations are already doing it.

A Better Way Forward

We understand that corporations need to vet their partners before collaborating. At MING, we believe that this vetting is best done through short engagements known as “design sprints.” A sprint always fulfils a specific function and has a real deliverable. That might be the definition of a value proposition. That could be evaluating and testing the current product. It might also be creating a testable click prototype.

Depending on where the client is in his thought process, there is a sprint for it. It always adds real value, produces tangible outcomes, and allows both parties to build trust and understanding. Furthermore, it allows the “experts” to help shape the product early on, and thereby reduces the risk of failure on both sides.

The different sprints we run to ensure the success of the digital product at each stage of its development.

After we have had a chance to do a deep-dive in which we are really engaged with the client, we are in a good position to help. We can recommend the best approach to get results. We can chart the journey to get us there. We can propose an ideal working relationship and create a project organization chart.

Some projects are best run in sprints, some are best defined upfront, and some are best run as hybrids. We assess each case as unique, and guide our clients accordingly. We take into account their risk tolerance. We accurately define the target customer segments. We know clearly what the important milestones are. We will be able to be a true partner.

What Lies Ahead?

Great design is dependent on great processes. For too long, we’ve been beholden to the vagaries of purchasing processes. It’s time to be bold and change the way we build products. If we are to innovate, we need to begin re-hauling the processes that govern our organisations.

“Working like a start-up” is one of the most misused phrases in corporate innovation. Companies that do not allow their teams and suppliers to work in an agile fashion will not be able to pull it off. Corporates, in their roles and functions, need to rethink how to do business in the current environment. There is no time to waste. It’s either adapt, or become irrelevant.

Marc Seefelder is Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at MING Labs.

Sebastian Mueller is Chief Operating Officer at MING Labs.

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.



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We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com