What is a RFS? 

Apr 22, 2024 | Sourcing

A Request for Solution (RFS) is a proactive approach that allows vendors to propose creative and adaptable solutions focused on strategic goals rather than detailed specifications. Compared to traditional RFPs, RFS encourages innovation and collaboration, allowing for open dialogue and adjustments throughout the project. This method is valuable for projects requiring innovation and quick adaptation.

In the constant search for innovation and creative solutions, modern businesses are rethinking how they interact with outsourcing providers. Traditionally, the sourcing process has focused on detailed, prescriptive proposals, as seen in Request for Proposals (RFPs) that strictly dictate terms and conditions. However, this methodology often limited vendors’ ability to deliver truly innovative and customized solutions that respond to complex and ever-changing business challenges.

In response, the Request for Solution (RFS) was created to overcome the limitations of traditional methods by giving suppliers greater freedom to propose creative solutions that not only meet customer needs, but also foster true collaboration and adaptability. The RFS invites suppliers to understand and address the customer’s overall requirements and strategic objectives, rather than adhering to detailed specifications. This approach is gaining acceptance because it encourages suppliers to think outside the box and explore solutions that might have been neglected under more restrictive structures.

In this article, we’ll talk about the characteristics of RFS and how it is positioning itself as an essential tool for companies looking to transform their operations through strategic and creative partnerships with their suppliers.

What is a RFS?

A Request for Solution (RFS) is an innovative approach to the contracting process that prioritizes creativity and adaptability over the strict specifications typically found in Request for Proposals (RFPs). This methodology focuses less on the exact details and more on the overall and strategic goals the client is trying to achieve. Unlike the RFP, which is typically rigid and detailed, the RFS gives vendors the freedom to develop creative and customized solutions that comprehensively address customer challenges. The RFS fosters closer collaboration between customer and supplier, enabling an open and continuous dialogue that makes it easier to adapt to emerging changes and needs throughout the project. This flexibility makes the RFS a valuable tool for projects that require innovation and rapid adaptation to changing technologies or circumstances, optimizing the chances of success in dynamic business environments.

RFS vs RFP, How They Compare

Although in the end, the two seek the same thing, the confrontation between the Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Solution (RFS) methods highlights two distinct approaches to contracting and procuring services.

The following table compares the two methods:




    Design Approach

    Top-down, very structured

    Agile and adaptable, solution-focused


    Traditionally, sequential and detailed

    Prefers agile methodologies that allow for iteration and flexibility


    Limited, with little ability to adapt once started

    High, with adjustments allowed throughout the project


    Can be restricted by detailed specifications

    Fostered by flexibility and open dialogue


    Detailed and prescriptive from the start

    General, allowing for multiple creative solutions

    Response to change

    Limited, with significant changes requiring renegotiation

    High, adaptable to the evolution of the project


    Less collaborative, more transactional

    Promotes open dialogue and co-creation

    Evaluation of proposals

    Quantitative, based on direct comparisons

    More qualitative, assessing cultural fit and other soft metrics

    Main Objective

    Select the best offer based on predefined criteria

    Explore innovative solutions that align with customer goals

    Ejemplo de la vida real:   

    Imagine this scenario: A family approaches a travel agent looking for the cheapest package for four people who want to fly from Colombia to Cancun. They expect reasonable rates and adequate accommodations, but their experience will be restricted to the limits they have set.

    Alternatively, let’s say the family gives the agent more flexible criteria: they’re looking for a five-night, multi-activity vacation for less than $4000. Here, the agent can use their creativity to offer varied options such as a cruise, camping or a tour of Europe, and the family chooses the option that best meets their expectations.

    The first scenario resembles a traditional RFP, where innovation is limited by strictly defining requirements. The second scenario, more open and flexible, resembles an RFS, where creativity and adaptability are valued, allowing the agent to offer customized solutions that potentially exceed the family’s expectations, aligning with their vacation goals.

    Challenges and Success Factors

     The adoption of a Request for Solution (RFS) presents unique challenges, but it also reveals critical factors that can lead to the success of this innovative approach to service procurement. Here are some of these challenges and success factors:

    • Challenges

      • Proposals evaluation: Since each proposal can be unique and highly innovative, comparing them can be complex. This requires a change in the evaluation methodology, which should be more flexible and subjective.
      • Managing Expectations: Ensuring that all parties have clear and realistic expectations can be difficult, especially when outcomes are not completely predictable due to the open-ended nature of RFS.
      • Commitment to Innovation: Adopting RFS requires a cultural shift within organizations that might traditionally resist less structured and more experimental approaches.

      RFS Success Factors:

      • Effective Communication: Clear and continuous communication between all parties involved is crucial to aligning goals, adjusting expectations, and facilitating effective collaboration.
      • Clarity of Objectives: Clearly defining the project’s objectives and desired outcomes from the outset helps guide vendor proposals and ensures that solutions are relevant and focused.
      • Operational Flexibility: Organizations must be willing to adapt their internal and external processes to take full advantage of the innovative solutions emerging from RFS.
      • Active Relationship Management: The success of an RFS often depends on proactively managing the relationship between the customer and the supplier, ensuring that both work towards a common goal and effectively manage changes and challenges that arise.

      Implementing an RFS successfully requires a combination of openness to change, willingness to experiment, and commitment to collaboration and innovation.

      Structure of the RFS

      The structure of a Request for Solution (RFS) is critical to its success, as it establishes the framework within which vendors will deliver their innovative solutions. Unlike traditional RFPs, which focus on detailed specifications and exact requirements, an RFS is designed to explore the creative potential of vendors and adapt to changing project needs. Here are the key components of the structure of an effective RFS:

      1. Project Introduction and Context: This segment provides an overview of the project, including background, business context, and strategic objectives the organization hopes to achieve. Clarity in this section is crucial to orient providers on the overall vision and expectations.
      2. Requirements Overview: Unlike the typical granular details of an RFP, this section outlines the high-level requirements and desired outcomes. It allows vendors to understand the scope of the project without restricting their creativity in formulating solutions.
      3. Evaluation Criteria: The evaluation criteria in an RFS should be flexible and more oriented to the quality and innovation of the proposals than to conformity to strict specifications. It is important to define how the proposed solutions will be measured and compared in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and strategic alignment.
      4. Proposal Submission Process: It should facilitate collaboration, allowing vendors to ask questions and discuss their preliminary ideas. This section should include details on how and when to submit proposals, as well as any preferred format or templates for your submission.
      5. Guidelines for Innovation: A dedicated innovation section can guide suppliers on how challenges can be addressed creatively and effectively. It can include examples of previous innovative approaches or areas where innovation is sought.
      6. Contract Conditions and Negotiation: Although specific contract details are negotiated after a proposal is selected, the RFS should outline general expectations about contract terms, flexibility, and negotiation points.

      Cada RFS es único y debe ser adaptado a las necesidades específicas de la organización y la naturaleza del proyecto. Sin embargo, mantener una estructura clara y abierta es esencial para atraer y fomentar propuestas que no solo resuelvan el problema en cuestión, sino que también ofrezcan nuevas vías para la transformación y el éxito empresarial. 


      Each RFS is unique and must be tailored to the specific needs of the organization and the nature of the project. However, maintaining a clear and open structure is essential to attract and encourage proposals that not only solve the problem at hand, but also offer new avenues for business transformation and success.

      1. Define needs and goals:

      The company identifies and defines the strategic goals and the business and innovation needs it wants to address.

      1. RFS preparation and launch:

      The RFS document is prepared, highlighting the desired outcomes without specifying how to achieve them. This allows suppliers to use their creativity to come up with innovative solutions.

      1. Solution Preview:

      Suppliers present a preview or demonstration of their solution. This allows for a “test drive” that helps assess the feasibility and potential fit of each proposal, reducing the number of suppliers that continue in the process.

      1. Receive proposals:

      Vendors submit their proposed solutions, each designed to meet the overall goals set forth in the RFS.

      1. Evaluate proposals:

      Proposals are evaluated based on criteria that assess innovation, potential effectiveness, and alignment with strategic goals. This step may include discussions or presentations to better understand the proposals.

      1. Selection and negotiation:

      The most promising solution(s) is selected and negotiation of contract terms begins. This process is guided by adaptability and the search for the best strategic fit.

      1. Implementation:

      Once the terms are agreed, the selected solution is implemented. This step includes ongoing monitoring and adjustments as needed to ensure that the solution is effectively meeting the needs of the business.

      1. Review & Adjustments:

      After implementation, the solution is periodically reviewed to ensure it remains relevant and effective in the face of changing market and business conditions.

      Este proceso destaca la importancia de la colaboración, la adaptabilidad y el enfoque en los resultados más que en los métodos prescritos. El RFS permite a las organizaciones explorar nuevas vías para lograr sus objetivos, adaptándose a las complejidades del entorno empresarial moderno. 

      Top Recommendations for Writing a RFS

      When writing a Request for Solution (RFS), it is crucial to take an approach that maximizes the creativity and innovation of suppliers, thus allowing the best possible solutions to be found. Here are the top recommendations for writing an effective RFS:

      1. Clarity of Objectives:
        • Clearly define strategic objectives and expected outcomes. Set clear, measurable goals to guide supplier proposals.
      2. Flexibility in Application:
        • Avoid being overly prescriptive in how goals should be achieved. Leave room for suppliers to come up with creative and innovative solutions.
      3. Be open to change:
        • Maintain an open and flexible mindset throughout the RFS process. Be willing to consider adjustments to proposals based on discussions with vendors and technological advancements. This willingness to adapt and modify expectations can result in more innovative and effective solutions that overcome the initial constraints posed.
      4. Include Evaluation Criteria:
        • Include transparent and fair evaluation criteria that allow for effective comparison of different proposals. Make sure these criteria reflect the importance of innovation and adaptability.
      5. Encourage Collaboration:
        • Encourage vendors to ask questions and interact during the proposal process to clarify expectations and maximize the relevance of their solutions.
      6. Provide contextual information:
        • Share information about the business context and the specific challenges the company faces. This will help vendors better understand the environment and customize their solutions.
      7. Set realistic deadlines:
        • Define a realistic timeline that allows sufficient time for the preparation of detailed and considered proposals. This is essential for vendors to be able to research and develop their solutions more effectively.
      8. Transparency in the Process:
        • Be transparent about the evaluation and selection process. This helps build trust and ensures that all participants understand how decisions will be made.
      9. Consider Follow-Up Procedures:
        • Indicate how the implemented solutions will be monitored and evaluated. This may include success criteria, periodic reviews, and adaptations as needed.

      Implementing these recommendations will not only improve the quality of the proposals received, but will also foster a more collaborative and strategic relationship with suppliers, leading to more effective solutions aligned with business needs.


      The Request for Solution (RFS) model is distinguished by its ability to drive innovation and collaboration in strategic sourcing. Unlike the traditional Request for Proposal (RFP), RFS allows for greater flexibility, encouraging vendors to come up with creative solutions that fit complex business challenges. This methodology fosters a more collaborative relationship between customers and suppliers, focused on achieving strategic objectives rather than meeting strict specifications.

      The RFS has proven to be a valuable tool for companies looking for adaptability and customized solutions, allowing the exploration of new technologies and approaches. This approach makes it easy for solutions to adjust and evolve with the knowledge gained during the project, ensuring that the end results are innovative and relevant to the ever-changing needs of the business, which is crucial for maintaining competitiveness in dynamic markets.


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