The Letter Not Written

I’m sure many of you have dashed off an angry letter in a brief outburst at the keyboard, hyper-energized by your sense of outrage and compelled to do something. Those of us who remain in business usually have found the best thing to do is to take the finished masterwork and shred it or at least put it in a drawer and forget about it for a while until the full moon passes and our heart rates return to normal.

Well during some recent tidying up I came across such a note.  On my way to the shredder I thought I might clean it up a bit and inflict it on you my colleagues before committing it to the deep.

It all came about as the result of one of those RFP’s for a smallish job that nonetheless expects the respondents to jump through nineteen meaningless flaming hoops while standing on one hand, performing a fiscal strip-tease and barking like a trained seal.  Which would be fine if it were relevant—or even non-silly– but it’s just so wrong-headed it makes you dizzy.  And you know in your heart they won’t read one tenth of your forty-page thoughtful response!  On top of this is the blatant implication that you are a crook and/or an idiot. When you reach the realization that nothing you do will make this client happy, and you are looking ahead, if you are successful, to a year of misery for all involved, you reach over and pull the plug. Anyway, here is the letter, edited for content and formatted to fit this column.

Dear Mr. Erstwhile:

Please accept these comments in the spirit in which they were written—we really wish to promote better understanding of how a project such as yours should be undertaken. We are concerned that the wording of the request for proposals presents an obstacle to establishing a successful working partnership with the design and construction team.

After several long days of struggle, we cannot, in good conscience, provide a great many of the items requested in the RFP, and so we would like to withdraw our firm from consideration.  There are basically four categories of reasons for this:

  1. The information requested is not yet knowable
  2. The information requires an unprecedented level of detail that is burdensome and not relevant to the success of the project
  3. The request requires the designer to take full responsibility in a fixed-fee context for an open-ended list of deliverables that “includes but is not limited to” the items listed
  4. The information required is proprietary and not legitimately the business of third parties.

To completely follow the guidelines of the RFP, we feel we would have to cynically misrepresent the facts or omit portions specifically identified as required.

What would we propose as a basis for the selection?  Certainly, your best option would be to talk to the applicants’ past clients engaged in similar projects to find out how reliable and capable they really are. Elaborately detailed proposed schedules do not mean anything without the confidence that the parties will actually deliver. And it overlooks the actions or inaction of the other parties critical to the process.  It would just be a hypothetical exercise.  The local AIA office can provide information of selecting an architect, especially on the QBS or quality based selection process.  I would be happy to provide you with that information, if it is not too late.

We do sympathize with the underlying motivation. Someone has been badly burned in the past, it’s clear to see. Ultimately this thicket of requirements is an attempt to assure that the Owner is protected from designers who are incompetent or may act in bad faith.  Unfortunately it may have the opposite effect in that only respondents from either or both of those two categories could comply with the letter of the RFP.  We are sorely disappointed in that we know from past experience we could do a terrific job with you on this project.  But what is really bothersome is that the project may be awarded to someone who will say anything to secure it.

Out of a sense of justice, we would encourage you to stick by your requirements through the course of the project, but practically speaking that would probably lead to a contentious, counter-productive and ultimately unworkable relationship with the design team. In our experience these onerous requirements are forgotten soon after the project is awarded, never read, referred to or spoken of again.  Nonetheless we cannot make that assumption in good faith.

Sadly, it has become a minor sideline for us to come in later and clean up after just this sort of mishap. It would be nice to see this situation avoided for once in the first place. We would be happy to review the specific areas of difficulty if you think that would be helpful.  Naturally, anything we said in the current situation would be fundamentally suspect—especially give the overriding tone of suspicion throughout the RFP. Oh well.

Best wishes for a successful project.

Anonymous Signature

Anonymous Botch AIA