Winning Design-Bid-Build Projects: Page 2 of 3
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Responding to an RFP
Though the structure of individual RFPs varies somewhat, bid solicitations tend to adhere to accepted industry standards. Responding to an RFP generally follows a predictable five-step process.
Step 1: Review the documentation. The first step in the process is to review the RFP and the design documents. In most cases, the RFP itself is part of the contract, which means that the winning bidder will be held to all of its conditions and terms. Review the design documents carefully, as this is the design you will have to build unless the RFP allows for changes. The level of depth can vary from basic permit documents to highly detailed construction plans with complete equipment specifications. The less detailed the design, the more leeway the bidder has in determining installation specifics. Responding to very detailed designs with equipment specifications can take additional time, as you need to identify equipment that meets all the requirements.
Step 2: Gather questions. While reviewing the RFP and design documents, make a list of any questions that come up, whether specific to the solicitation or regarding the project in general. The RFP will have instructions for how to submit these questions and will call out the last date for submitting them. The solicitor will subsequently send out an addendum to all bidders describing and answering each of the submitted questions. Note that the RFP may allow multiple rounds of question submittals, provided that bidders deliver questions for each round prior to the relevant cutoff date; if so, the first round is generally due before the prebid conference.
Step 3: Attend prebid conference and site walk-down. The prebid conference provides contractors with an opportunity to walk the project site, take photos, meet the customer’s representative and the design team, get further answers to previously submitted questions and ask new questions. While attendance is usually optional, I would treat the prebid conference and site walk-down as a requirement, simply because the contract typically holds the bidder responsible for knowing the site conditions. The prebid conference also gives you a chance to evaluate your competition and see who else is a serious bidder.
Step 4: Evaluate the need for substitutions. The prebid conference helps you obtain enough information to determine whether the project needs substitutions. This is one area where the bidder can have some input into the design. For instance, you may want to use a different module. The RFP should provide a method for submitting this request, typically with supporting information and a rationale for making the substitution. The solicitor will review each substitution request and send all bidders information regarding approved substitutions.
Step 5: Estimate project costs. The end goal of the RFP response process is to determine a competitive lump-sum bid price. While some solar contractors may be unfamiliar with pricing a project based on someone else’s design, this is a key skill worth attaining. To win a bid solicitation, you need to be able to estimate project costs based on a review of the design documents. An essential step in this process is to complete a takeoff, a count of the material the project requires. By reviewing the RFP documentation, you can determine quantities for PV modules, inverters, combiners, conductors, conduit, mounting hardware and so forth. In addition to determining in-house labor costs and overhead, you may need to solicit bids from subcontractors. Once you have estimated your material and labor costs, you can apply the desired markup or margin. Your goal is to arrive at a price that is lower than competing bids while allowing your company to complete the scope of work profitably. (For more information, see “The Science and Art of Estimating,” SolarPro, June/July 2014.)
Completing the Bid Forms
Completing bid forms correctly is a time-consuming task that may daunt first-time bidders. The process is much more involved and requires much more information than putting together a private sector design-build project proposal. However, once you have a couple of responses under your belt, you will find that the process becomes easier and more efficient. For a modest investment in time and resources, your company can access the meaningful business development opportunities that D-B-B projects represent.
Throughout the process of completing the bid forms, keep these three priorities in mind. First, you must write a proposal that meets all of the RFP requirements. Second, you want to avoid doing anything that will trigger a rejection due to noncompliance. Third, you want to emphasize any unique qualities of your company that give it a competitive advantage over other bidders.