#7: Request for Proposal (RFP) – Part 2/3


#7: Request for Proposal (RFP) – Part 2/3

Word count & reading time: (1100 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 introduced the Request for Proposal (RFP), an industrial-style document outlining the design requirements set by the fictional client (The Foundation Society) for each competing team (company) to fulfil. We will continue to use the acronym “RFP”.

This is the second blog of the 3-part series:

  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 a deeper read into the content of the RFP, and guide participants through understanding what is being asked of you.

A sample RFP is provided in the Competition Resources section of this website and will be used as the main reference for the explanations to follow.

A reminder: 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. 

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 was the RFP structure again?

  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

Understanding the RFP

In the last article, I mentioned that the most important thing to do when you receive the RFP is to read it carefully. I repeat myself because if you appropriately fulfil each RFP requirement to the stated needs of the client, your company wins the competition. Simple. 

Yet, not a single company in the 14-year history of the competition has ever truly achieved this. Why? It is because participants either do not completely understand what the RFP is asking of them, or they choose to overlook specific requests as it does not fit their proposed solutions. 

The single most important thing for any participant is to read the RFP. Under time constraints, it can prove stressful and overwhelming to analyse every detail of this long and complex document, but you must

Doing this as best you can the first time results in a deeper understanding of the exact tasks at hand and allows you to get a firm grip on the following::

  • Possible solutions to RFP points — Does this solution answer the requirement? Does it fit the client’s needs? Is it scientifically sound?
  • Overlap between departments — Who is needed to fulfil this task? Who needs to know about this solution? Have we informed finance of the cost?
  • Optimal flow of work efforts — In what order shall we tackle it? How are we going to manage these tasks?

Although the bigger-picture responsibilities rest with the management team (President, VPs, and HoDs), every individual within the company needs to be acutely aware of how their work influences and affects the work of others. Do not be fooled to think otherwise; the RFP is purposefully designed this way.

Ultimately, the design proposal is a group effort that requires constant communication and collaboration.

Trigger Words

In every RFP section, there are always one or more action verbs. They are easy to identify:

  • Draw a community layout map consisting of…
  • Specify the number of crew members allocated to…
  • State the gravitational field range required for…
  • Describe how you will provide breathable air to…
  • Justify how you will accommodate for the…
  • Detail the habitat’s health & safety protocols in the event of…

Each action verb demands a specific response that the client wants to receive during the final presentation. A non-exhaustive list of the action verbs and their definition can be found below, pulled from previous RFPs.

  • Draw — produce a hand-sketched or computer generated diagram
  • Specify — clearly define or identify; include the results of specific design decisions made and justified as appropriate
  • Indicate — same as ‘specify’, but requiring less precision
  • State — express definitely or clearly in speech or writing
  • Describe — include a visual or textual summary to clearly explain compliance to a requirement
  • Outline — similar to ‘describe’ but requiring more holistic approach to the whole topic
  • Explain — make clear to someone by describing in more detail or revealing relevant facts
  • Detail — same as ‘describe’ but requiring information pertinent to even the lowest level of the subject
  • Design — do or plan something with a specific purpose in mind
  • Show — provide a visual representation adequate to clearly explain a requested item. 
  • Show how — support explanations, either visually or textually, of how a requirement is fulfilled. 
  • Justify — provide on-slide reasons for decisions made. 

As a practice task, download the Sample RFP and highlight the action verbs. On a separate sheet, create a crude list of tasks, trimming away the detail found in the RFP. This should produce a clearer list of tasks resembling something similar to what is listed at the beginning of this section.

Final Remarks

If you do the practice task suggested above, it should be clear what the list of tasks are; and there are many. Luckily, you’re not alone. Remember, it’s a group effort.

But how should you tackle them? Who should do what? Is there an optimal strategy? What is best practice?

These are all questions that will be answered in the last article in the 3-part series on RFPs.

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