#6: Request for Proposal (RFP) – Part 1/3


#6: Request for Proposal (RFP) – Part 1/3

Word count & reading time: (1300 words – 10 minutes)

Welcome back to the Space Design Competitions – unique, impactful, and exhilarating space STEAM-a-thon events that get you conceptually designing space habitats for up to 80 years in the future…

The last article elaborated on the details of Prime and Subcontractors, a challenging concept for most first-time participants. As one of the prime contractors competing to win the contract to build the Foundation Society’s desired habitat, where can you find the actual design requirements? What will you spend your time designing? What does the Foundation Society really want? This is where the Request for Proposal (RFP) comes in. We will use the acronym “RFP” henceforth.

Fulfilling the design requirements of the RFP is the central objective of any SDC. It is essentially a task list of the entire event and hence the most important document you will be given (so please read it!!). Two of the biggest challenges the RFP poses for all participants (new and returning) is the length and the complexity of the document.

The first thing you will notice is that the RFP spans 3-5 pages of nothing but text. Upon reading it, you will then notice that a lot of the design requirements overlap across departments and use fairly advanced language and terminology. Most frustratingly, perhaps, is that the RFP does not allude to any clear strategy for tackling it. Well, guess what? That’s on purpose. That may be harsh, but welcome to life in industry!

A large part of your initial task with the SDC is to break down the RFP into its tasks, to delegate the tasks amongst the company and to create an execution  strategy.. Discussing the entire scope of the RFP would result in a lengthy blog post, so I have decided to split the discussion into a 3-part series as listed below.

  1. What is an RFP? What does it include, and how does it look in the SDC?
  2. How do you read the RFP? What are the trigger words, and what is the client really asking for?
  3. What are the strategies for tackling an RFP? How do you split the behemoth task, and how can you manage the design process?

This article will provide an overview, go into the definition and structure of an RFP and explain how it will look in any SDC.

If you have not yet seen it, take a minute to watch this video which reviews 14 years of  UKSDC events. The video gives a great overview of what we’re all about.

What is a Request for Proposal?

A commonplace document in industrial settings, the RFP is the keystone document communicating the client’s desires to the prime contractors.

A request for proposal (RFP) is a business document that announces a project, describes it, and solicits bids from qualified contractors to complete it.

Essentially, it’s a document the client uses to state what they would like in a desired project. As the client is not always capable of performing the work required, they publicise the project in hopes that qualified contractors put forward a bid. This bid is often in the form of a conceptual design proposal that they think best fits the client’s needs. After multiple bids have been put forward, the client chooses which is the most suitable bid for the project and awards the winning company the contract. This is the basis of the Space Design Competitions.

Most organisations in industry prefer to launch their projects using RFPs, and many governments use them. When using an RFP, the entity requesting the bids (the client) is responsible for evaluating the feasibility of the bids submitted, the financial health of the bidding companies, and each bidder‘s ability to undertake the project. The SDCs simulate this setting by requiring each prime contractor to present their work to the client who will then evaluate the bids. Cool, huh?

If you haven’t quite understood the idea of an RFP yet, I encourage you to re-read the above and perhaps check out real-life examples. Here is an article showing NASA as the client with bids coming from industry members, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, Relativity Space, and Nanoracks.

What does a typical RFP include?

Although there is no one accepted standardised form for an RFP, the key elements of an RFP are listed below. The ones marked with an asterisk (*) are included in a typical RFP found in the SDC.

  • *Project description
  • Company description
  • *Basic requirements of the project
  • *Definition of specific content, design, and functionality of the project
  • *Financial requirements
  • *Timeline & scope of the project
  • *Evaluation standards

The only thing omitted in the context of the SDC is the profile of the client company, the Foundation Society, which can instead be found on the SDC website. As you can see, the RFPs in the competitions are highly representative of the industrial norms. This prepares participants for the reality of the challenges and joys faced in the space sector, as well as in many other industries.

What does the RFP look like in the SDC?

Each SDC event will use a unique RFP to assure novel content, excitement and a level playing field for new and returning participants. A sample RFP is provided in Competition Resources and will be used as the main reference for the explanation to follow.

The way the RFP is structured within the SDC is representative of the roles and responsibilities that are necessary to design a space habitat. Namely, those of the company (prime contractor) as a whole and those of the individual departments within it, as follows:

  1. Introduction of the space habitat that you are challenged to design
  2. Basic Requirements that the habitat must adhere to across all phases of the design process
  3. Statement of Work outlining specific design requirements split into the company departments/roles, namely:
    1. Structural Engineering
    2. Operations Engineering
    3. Human Engineering
    4. Automation Engineering
    5. Schedule & Cost
  4. Evaluation Standards listing the assessment criteria that will be used by the client during the final presentations
  5. Addendum stating any periphery information that is pertinent to the overall design project

Although the content of each RFP changes at each competition, the structure is always the same. The most important thing to do when you receive the RFP is to read it carefully. If you fulfil each requirement, you win the competition. It really is that simple, but I promise you it is not easy!

For now, you can take a breather and celebrate the fact that you are another step closer to being an SDC connaisseur!

Final Remarks

The notion of contractors is of fundamental importance to the space sector. The ability to understand and address the client’s desires is critical to your survival in the sector. Often the first opportunity to prove your ability to align to the client’s interests is through your response to an RFP. This ability to understand the client and to provide according to their needs is core to the educational mission of the SDC. Only when you understand your client’s needs can you deliver solutions that are relevant.

I hope you now have a deeper understanding of the function of the RFP and feel more comfortable in approaching the next SDC.

Next up in the RFP series, I will shine some light on how to decipher the content of the RFP. What is actually being asked of you? What are the key words? What are your resulting actions?

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more.

External Links

  • Want to get involved in this rapidly growing network of space education enthusiasts? Register your interest to volunteer here: https://bit.ly/MESDC_VolunteerRegistration
  • Want to follow the news and events in the Middle Eastern context? Check out the MESDC website here: https://mesdc.org 
  • Want to find out more about the organising charity? Check out the SSEF website here: https://ssef.org.uk