International Space Settlement Design Competition

Management Practices

In the Space Settlement Design Competition, you and your team members are emulating the way companies work when they are bidding to win contracts for new business. Preparation of a winning proposal is a large, complex task, which requires a variety of skills. In industry, the technical skills required to win and perform a contract exceed the abilities of individuals working alone. Hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of employees must work together to achieve the goal of producing products that do what they are supposed to do, are ready when promised, and can be made for the predicted costs. Each piece of the design may be created by different people or groups, yet the entire integrated product must operate as if it were one thing.

Just collecting skilled people in a building and telling them to go to work will not make a product happen. In the Design Competition, just collecting your team in a room will not make your design and proposal happen. Each person has different skills, different priorities for what is important in the design, different ideas about what the design should include, and even different perceptions about what the RFP requests. If your team is to produce a winning proposal, design decisions must be made, team members must agree on how all the components fit together, and disagreements must be resolved.

Teams in industry go through the same processes. As companies grew and products became more complex, companies invented organizational hierarchies that enabled their teams to create designs and produce products without becoming paralyzed in disagreement and personal agendas. Many different types of organizational structures have evolved, to meet the needs of many different companies. Huge organizations that produce a single, large product line (like an airplane or spacecraft) have different organizations than huge companies where most employees work on several different small projects. Successful companies find organizational structures that work. Some companies fail because their organizational structures inhibit communication or suppress good ideas.

The business of making organizations work is called management. Being a manager is not like being King. The modern manager feels uncomfortable being considered a ``boss'', and must behave more like a leader. The manager's task is a combination of coaxing employees to be innovative, committed, and productive; keeping customers happy and enthusing them to buy more products; assuring the press and the public that the company behaves responsibly; balancing income and expenditures so that the company makes a profit and the stock value increases; and using technical knowledge to make or approve product decisions, resolve design disputes, and improve production processes. Each individual manager will have more or fewer of each of these responsibilities--and will take the blame for anything perceived to be imperfect about the work done or decisions made by people reporting to him or her. It is hard, frustrating, demanding work. It is not unusual for managers to work eight hours per day attending meetings and tending to their employees' concerns, and another four hours per day doing their own work--typically preparing presentations for meetings, reviewing reports and budgets, getting smart for technical decisions, and making plans for the future of the organization.

Some of these management challenges will be experienced by teams in the Space Settlement Design Competition. No one person will prepare all aspects of the design, or write all of the text in the proposal. Individuals must be assigned to create every part of the design, write every section of the proposal text, and prepare each figure and chart. There will be some parts of the task nobody wants to do; management must find a way to get it done. There will be differences of opinion or conflicting ideas about designs; management must resolve them. The proposal may have too many pages, the dimensions of adjacent parts of the design may not match, two different functions may need to go in the same place, the cost data may have missed a few parts of the construction process. It all has to be fixed.

The Competition co-founders define an organization structure for the Finalist companies (companies are made up of trios of Finalist Teams) that at least provides a structure for resolving differences; it is shown in the Figure. This is a simplified version of a very basic and traditional organizational structure that was common in aerospace companies during the 1960's and 1970's. Each of the engineering departments roughly corresponds to the requirements described in a section of the RFP. A Director in charge of each engineering department is expected to make sure everything in the corresponding RFP section is addressed in the design and documented in the proposal. Each engineering department, however, also must communicate with the others: Structural Engineering must allocate a part of the settlement for facilities (e.g., homes, water treatment, robot maintenance) designed by the other departments, every department needs computer and robot services designed by Automation Engineering, and so on. It is the responsibility of the Engineering Vice President to make sure this communication happens, and to resolve design conflicts (e.g., Human Engineering may want a lake in a park, and Operations Engineering may have difficulty transporting enough water to fill the lake). The Marketing Vice President is responsible for making sure the entire Proposal comes together and coherently describes the space settlement design (i.e., sells the product). Marketing needs to get the data from Engineering, and may want to influence the design or enhance text to produce a more sellable product. If these disputes cannot be resolved between Engineering and Marketing, the President must either find a consensus, get a compromise, or edict a decision. The President has overall responsibility for making sure everything gets done, and the proposal is completed by the deadline. This includes assigning responsibility for meeting requirements in RFP sections that don't correspond to engineering departments. This process will probably include setting schedules that identify deadlines for finalizing design decisions, completing text sections, reviewing all the materials, resolving incompatibilities or ``filling holes'', and sending the completed product to the judges.

Industry relies on professionals who are experts in different fields to work on design details, and engineering managers with more general knowledge to integrate the pieces together. Nobody in the organization needs to know everything required to complete the design process; the organization does, however, need both ``jacks of all trades'' and ``masters of one''. In the Finalist Competition, this situation is emulated by having every student attend one of five training sessions, depending on each person's position in the organization chart. The Technical Sessions on Structural Engineering, Operations Engineering, Human Engineering, and Automation Engineering provide background information and teach skills to help team members in preparing the corresponding parts of the design. They also learn how every department both owes products to each of the others, and needs to get products from each of the others. In the Management Session, Presidents and Vice Presidents of the four competing companies learn about customer priorities, management responsibilities, and interpersonal situations that will have to be resolved in order for companies to achieve design decisions and produce briefings that will be presented to the judges. Qualifying Competition teams can emulate this kind of knowledge distribution, by assigning some individuals to research and understand certain aspects of the design in depth, while others seek general understanding of the space settlement design priorities. Managers can do research to help themselves perform their tasks, too; books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Project Management, The Brass Tacks Manager, and Eliyahu Goldratt's novels The Goal and The Critical Chain can provide background information.

For the Finalist and Semi-Finalist Competitions, a real manager from industry or government is assigned to serve as CEO of each competing company, with responsibilities to help keep team members communicating and focussed on the goal to prepare and present a design by the deadline. Your team is also welcome to recruit people who are managers in real life to serve as CEO or provide other assistance in your preparation of a design and proposal for the Qualifying Competition. The Teaching Materials section on ``Mentoring Teams'' describes how non-students can participate with your Space Settlement Design Competition team. Please remember, however, that your team will be assigned a new CEO if you are invited to the Finalist Competition.

Alumni of Space Settlement Design Competitions tell us that achieving effective communication is often the most challenging task of the weekend. This is true in industry, too. It is probably also true for most Qualifying Competition teams. If your team managers concentrate on effective communication, every other aspect of the design process can be accomplished more smoothly.