A group of 31 procurement experts recently shared their thoughts about defense acquisition reform, in a report published at the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs website.
They identified four emerging themes abut acquisition, issues which I believe expand across the board to other federal agencies.
The first theme was about the incentivization of the acquisition workforce. Basically, if we want a better acquisition process, we need to measure better things. A true statement if there ever was one.
The core concept behind this is something that goes back to the dawn of observation, and that is what you observe, what you measure, is what’s going to be paid attention to. While that seems simplistic, failure to analyze the effect of that phenomenon is what gets us into terrible trouble.
Here is a simple example of how this works: Say I have a problem with a piece of equipment, like my TV, computer or phone. I call up the help desk and tell the operator about the problem.
One of the metrics used to evaluate that operator is how long they’re on the phone with me. Three minutes, let’s say, is the standard. Any calls that are three minutes or less, great. But if my problem is more complicated to explain or solve, now I begin to screw up the metrics.
People want to help their customers, but they also want to do what it takes to show they’re doing a good job. In this case, there is a conflict between those two things. That operator is going to want to get me off the phone as close to three minutes as possible. But then I’m not going to be a happy customer.
I believe so strongly in the power of this measurement concept that I created a unique methodology for TAPE called Behavior-Based Performance Metrics Methodology (BBPMM)®. With BBPMM®, we empower our help desk operators to refer more complicated calls to technical experts. You reduce the average time involved because the expert is better equipped to deal with the problem more quickly, and the caller gets specialized help for their problem – both lead to satisfied customers.
The issue in acquisitions is that there is nothing that incentivizes an acquisition expert (contracting officer) to shut down a problem acquisition. There is no measurement for that. In fact, the only measurement is on completion of the acquisition – getting to a final signed contract.
With a complicated procurement that requires a lot of information, sometimes you need to pull back and start all over again, but then that screws up the metrics. It’s this kind of problem people are facing in defense and across the board in the procurement sector.
Here is a direct example of how this works in practice: There’s a procurement we’ve been working on for 18 months, and we had expected the RFP would come out earlier in 2014. It did not. But it’s entered into the formal process by which a draft of the final RFP will be issued.
Last week we found out that the review would happen a year later than we had been estimating. It’s obvious they’re overestimating to make sure the RFP comes in on time, so they don’t screw up their metrics. They know that more bids could come along they hadn’t accounted for, or any number of other factors that could delay the process by six months.
Understanding how the acquisition workforce responds to the metrics by which they’re measured is an issue that has to be looked at much more closely than it has up until now.
U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) recently released a bipartisan report, Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go From Here? A Compendium of Views by Leading Experts. You can download the report from the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs website.
In the opening of the document, they summarize the sentiments of the experts – 31 current and former officials in the procurement world – and identify four themes. I believe these four themes have applicability for acquisition across the federal government.
#1 – Incentivization of the acquisition workforce
This is not about the traditional incentives that we use like giving people more money. Yes, there are opportunities for bonuses for federal employees, but this is a more subtle problem that goes back to a key principle we’ve talked about before, which is that people pay attention to the metrics by which they’re measured.
If we want a better acquisition process, we need to measure better things.
#2 Attracting and training a qualified acquisition workforce
We talked recently about the interplay between education, certification and experience, and this is the same problem. At the government they’re concerned about experience, because it translates directly into better acquisition actions and service.
On the other hand, there are places you can get education and certification in acquisition activity, including one sponsored by the Department of Defense, along with other agency programs such as the VA Acquisition Academy.
Fundamentally the biggest problem is do you want certifications, experience, and/or (and what is the trade-off) education?
In the case of an acquisition workforce, you have to be aware that you’re not likely to get, for example, an expert in jet airplanes, let alone war planes, to become your contracting officer, even though you’re going to wind up spending literally billions of dollars to create those airplanes.
#3 Realism in program requirements and budgets
I completely agree that this is a big problem across the board. All too often, the requirements are inadequately specified, which means that as soon as you actually start a project, you’re kept busy figuring out what you really need, as compared to what the RFP said you’d need. And every time you get into that kind of mode, costs expand exponentially.
#4 – The role of the service chiefs in the acquisition process
This is more of an organizational issue, pointing out that better acquisition procedure is not just a procurement problem; it is an operational problem and a procurement problem. That means the joint chiefs of staff have to be involved in the procurement process, and with improving the procurement process.
We’ll take a deeper look at some of these themes in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!
A little while ago I met Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld, two amazing folks who were in the US to bring their concept of employee engagement and the information revolution to fruition.
At my company, we are on the cusp between small, and thinking about being “not small” pretty soon now (this “launch point” is one of my passions in the small business community). We are working with a strategic planner to write the story of our business, as a pathway to bringing out our true goals as entrepreneurs and as a business.
Preserving employee and company culture is one of the hardest things about this stage of growth, which is why our strategic planner introduced us to Irit and Ron, and why I invited them to present their concepts here for your reading and reaction.
Did Our World Turn Upside Down?
A guest post by Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld.
Do you sometimes feel that you are holding your business intact with your bare hands? Do you set goals that seem reasonable to you and find yourself pushing your target dates or compromising on scope continuously? Do you feel sometimes that getting things done, the way you want them, is almost an impossible task? Did you ever get to a point that you’ve asked yourself, “Did our world turned upside down?”
If you have, you are not very far off. Our world did turn upside down is some way. Sounds crazy? Let’s look at the facts.
It is common knowledge that in the last 10 years we went through a revolution which most experts call “The Information Revolution.” Did you ever stop and think, how did that revolution impacted me and my business?
Revolution is a very strong word, and it is used to describe extremely impactful events. If we look at the revolutions that we had in the last few hundred years, we can understand why.
Each revolution has profoundly changed our way of living. The agriculture revolution has enabled 90% of human kind that used to work in agriculture to change profession, while the industrial revolution brought us comfort that we didn’t know before and triggered more than 50% of the population in our world to move from rural to urban areas.
For most people over 30, we probably don’t need to elaborate too much regarding the technological revolution. If we just take five minutes to think how we grew up without internet, cellphone, GPS, automatic windows, microwave, etc., we would finish these five minutes extremely grateful.
What was the impact of the revolution that we went through over the last 10 years? The Information Revolution?
One thing that most people are aware of, is that it brought us to a state where almost every knowledge that we want, we can have within seconds in the palm of our hand.
It doesn’t matter if you are a cook who is looking for a good recipe, a traveler who is searching for cheap flights, a software engineer who is looking for a particular way to implement an application, a lawyer who is searching for a specific legal case, or, God forbid, a terrorist who is looking to prepare a bomb. You can find everything you need very quickly using your computer, your tablet, or your cell phone.
That was not the situation 10 years ago. Ten years ago the teachers in school were the source of information, the managers in the organizations were the ones to teach you how to do your job, and the leaders in your country were the ones letting you know what the hell was going on.
Today, on the other hand, teenagers can learn what ever they are interested in from the comfort of their home, any employee can learn how to do their job from experts around the world, and any one of us can, very easily, check the facts that politicians are telling us.
If you look at the situations in organizations today, the information is no longer flowing from top-down. The people who are dealing with customers, production, inventory, programing, etc. are the ones holding the important knowledge.
If knowledge used to flow almost exclusively from top-down, it is now coming mostly bottom-up. This seems very trivial when we look at the facts, yet let’s take a moment to absorb this critical and astonishing concept. If the flow of information has reversed, what does it mean about the role of management? Can we keep doing the same things and succeed? As the great Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If we are no longer the source of information for our employees, how can we get them engaged? If they have the knowledge, do we know how to retrieve it from them in order to make wise and knowledgeable decisions? Did we adjust the way we conduct business to support the new reality?
If we hadn’t, wouldn’t that be a disaster? Wouldn’t that be something very noticeable, something that would possibly threaten our survival, something that would make us feel as if our world has turned upside down?
Irit Oz & Ron Hirshfeld
Employee Engagement Experts
OH (Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld) are two unique individuals with 50 years of combined experience and hundreds of success stories. They have ONE purpose: To help transform your organizational culture to support your business strategy and assure that your desires become your REALITY. Learn more at http://ozandhirshfeld.com/.
Whether at a brick-and-mortar location or an off-site venue, open house events are used throughout various industries to showcase a business’s products and services to current and potential customers. This is especially true when competing for a complex government contract, which often requires the formation of a team in order to maximize capabilities, past performance, and resources.
In this situation, quickly branding the team is critical. An open house allows you to showcase your team’s potential to the customer, the competition, and future employees. Time is always the critical variable – it’s short and just gets shorter! Digital communication is the proven trend but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes you need to get close and personal.
In planning an open house, you’ll want to consider the following questions:
- How will you promote your open house (e.g., social media, mailed invitations, phone calls)?
- Why would someone want to come to your open house (what’s in it for them)?
- Where is the best venue for your open house (proximity to desired audience, parking, catering options, room size)?
- What will you include in your program (e.g., formal speeches, ribbon cutting ceremony, demonstrations, educational presentations)?
- What is the best time of day for your event (lunch crowd, after work crowd, or both)?
- What refreshments will you serve?
- How will you follow up with the people who attend your open house (e.g., registration table to capture contact information)?
For Team Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE (Team SPR/TAPE), our upcoming open house event provides an excellent opportunity to introduce our team: AMTIS, Inc.; ASI Government; CGI Federal; Project XYZ; and SIGMATECH, Inc. to the Orlando, FL community.
Our “Results Driven” team is engaged in a full spectrum of professional, managerial and technical services with specialized expertise and capabilities in modeling, simulation, and training. As a team, we offer the government the lowest risk solution with the highest level of commitment.
Team SPR/TAPE cordially invites you to attend our open house to learn more our team and upcoming opportunities. Enjoy refreshments while networking with our company representatives as well as the other attendees. Come and explore our company’s values and cultures. We look forward to meeting you and establishing a continuous connection!
Team Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE (Team SPR/TAPE) Open House
When: Thursday, November 6, 11:00-18:00
Where: Radisson Orlando – UCF, 1724 Alafaya Trail, Orlando, FL 32826
More information: 407-545-3366 or Team.SPR-TAPE@tape-llc.com
When contractors are responding to a federal RFP (Request for Proposal), there will be specific requirements for the staff who will be involved in the contract. These may be a level of education, e.g., college degree or post-graduate degree; certification, e.g., Microsoft certification for certain kinds of networking equipment; or experience with similar tasks in a similar environment.
A person can have no education and no certification, but be experienced enough to do a good job. Increasingly, however, RFPs require education and certification. This affects the federal contractor in two ways:
First, this situation will tend to favor the incumbent who already has people doing the job. Second, it tends to be more costly because you’ve had to invest in both education and certification for your people, rather than just time on the job getting experience. Someone with more education will also demand a higher salary.
Most companies in the industry do provide some kind of educational reimbursement, and a cost-offset for taking one of these certification tests. In order to be reimbursed, TAPE and most other companies require people to pass the certification or to get a particular level of grade with their educational degree. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Sometimes RFPs allow for a trade-off between education and experience. For example, if a college degree is required, an associate’s degree would be acceptable if coupled with two or four years of experience. For someone with six or eight years of experience, the entire educational requirement might be waived.
(Note that it’s far more rare for there to be a trade-off for certification. Presumably because it should be easy – though costly – for someone with experience to pass a certification test.)
Personally, if I were looking for the safest path, I’d want someone who was certified and had experience. The certification tells me an independent authority has tested them on the knowledge base required for the job, and the experience tells me they can handle situations that no one can predict.
I wish I could say I have some vast solution for this problem, but I don’t. There is an offset – a clear trade off between education, certification and experience. I know we’ll continue to wrestle with this topic with RFPs and otherwise.
One thing you may want to point out to a contracting officer is that if there are no trade-offs for experience, and if the certification and educational requirements are very specific, it can have potential anti-competitive effects.
Is it fair, for example, for an agency to require only agency-specific air traffic management certification and education? Wouldn’t FAA certification be sufficient, and possibly identical?
Between now and December, there is going to be a lot of vacant time before federal agencies get their budgets settled and begin to look at contract actions again. Now is the time to be planting seeds and be understanding what’s coming down the pipe.
Here are two key things you want to know about your government customers:
What keeps them up at night?
Remember the last time you engaged your customers in a conversation that wasn’t about the work in your current contract? It could be about baseball (just please don’t ask me about my Nationals), football, a TV show, or a photo on their desk. The point is to open up a dialogue so you can build a relationship.
You want to boost your rapport to the point where you can find out what they’re most worried about. What are their concerns? What keeps them up at night?
If they’re standoffish or don’t really want to talk, just come back to it later, or catch them when they’re sitting with a fresh cup of coffee. Emphasize the reason you’re asking, which is to make sure you’re doing everything you can to help.
Also point out that if you know what’s on their plate now and in the future, you can help with the advanced planning for anything you should be thinking about together.
Whatever your customer is worried about is an opportunity for you to do something to help them – either a new piece of work, or to improve the work you’re already doing. Either scenario will cement your relationship and increase your value to them.
How are they evaluated?
What is the top metric on your customer’s job description performance requirement list, i.e., what’s the number one thing that their boss is evaluating them on?
Do you know that? How can you find out? Obviously, that’s an important issue to that person, but it’s also crucial for you as a federal contractor.
Zig Ziglar said that you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. When you know how your customer is being evaluated, you can make them successful. The more successful you can make them, the more successful you will be.
The federal fiscal year closed on September 30th, a time when many federal contractors were out hunting for business (or waiting by the side of the road like a vulture). As Eileen Kent explained in her guest post, it’s likely you were doing a little of both. However, whether you were wonderfully successful with your year-end tactics or not, the issue now is what do you do next?
Here’s an example of how to capitalize on a success. On September 30th, at about two o’clock in the afternoon, someone from a federal agency called a member of our senior leadership team to say, “I’ve got a little money I need to put in your task order, how can I do that?” By 9:30 p.m. I was signing the contract papers.
While this certainly proves that when they want to, the government can move pretty fast, what it shows even more is that relationship building works in federal contracting. Yes, we had all the right things in place to make this happen – there was a vehicle, we had a task order, we’re going to fill the jobs, we’ll start the work.
That is the task execution part. That is essentially what the government is paying us for. But I guarantee we weren’t the only company this agency could have approached. The difference is that we had done our homework up to this point.
We did good work for our client, we kept in touch, and we consistently built our relationship. We didn’t know they had this extra money, in fact, no one we knew was involved, but our customer must have spoken highly enough of us to their colleagues that at the 11th hour they came to us and – sight unseen – gave us the work.
When the contracting officer sent over the fully-executed and counter-signed contract, he copied several people in the agency to say it was done. Some of them actually wrote back – using Reply All – to thank the contracting officer.
We might have stopped there, satisfied with the new order, but that’s not how relationship building works. So here’s what I did next: I replied directly to each one of them with the simple message, “Thank you for your confidence in our company.”
In a month or two, we’ll reach out to them again and continue building these new relationships.
That is what this blog is really about. These simple things. Task execution. Responsiveness. Acknowledging other people. It’s about showing somebody that you’re willing to go a few extra steps. That you value their personal contribution to your activity.
At the end of the day, our customers noticed our commitment to our relationship, leading them to recommend us as someone their colleagues could trust to hand over this bunch of money they had to spend before year end.
“Yeah, these guys will do the job for you.”
Truth be told, that’s the only advertisement that counts. The one that comes from your customers.
I talked to a friend of mine the other day who has been building his small business doing something we did a lot of early on at TAPE. We call that phase of our company history “Rent-a-Bill,” where we did capture management and proposal management for other people.
Fast forward to today, and it was my friend who has filled that role for us, becoming the piece of the puzzle we needed for our own proposal development.
We were discussing his strategy for this capture and proposal work. Instead of hiring a bunch of experienced folks, such as retirees or long-time industry veterans who really understand the ins and outs of federal contracting, he’s been going another route.
For the same dollars it would cost to hire one experienced person, he explained, he can bring on two or even three recent college graduates. Instead of spending the dollars, he spends his time to train them. He knows they may make lots of mistakes and step on some toes, but in the meantime, some of what they build will stick – and they can get around to twice as many places.
It’s certainly an interesting concept. And while I’m sure all of us grey-bearded folks are shuddering, times are changing. While long-timers know lots of people and have good relationships in place, with modern technology, thought leadership platforms like blogs, and sites like LinkedIn, it’s possible to build relationships and trust with people without actually knowing them.
If you’re willing to take the time to train your newbies on all the ins and outs and details about how to be compliant, put together a capture plan, and the other pieces that lead to success in government contracting, you may be surprised and delighted. While it’s true that some of the actions they take will not fly, some may be innovative technological ideas that those of us with grey hair wouldn’t see.
My friend says he’s having a lot of success. It’s an interesting solution to the age-old problem of how to keep costs down, and still cover all the bases of where you want to go to get more work.
What do you think?
This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa
A federal sales hunter scans the landscape daily with his own eyes and locates where the most potential for healthy-sized opportunities appear.
The hunter has been trained by other hunters to seize the moment when an opportunity arises.
The hunter approaches the client on a regular basis, and, when the ideal opportunity presents itself, the hunter “captures it” with a closing mechanism like a GSA Schedule, small business preference, or partner. No one ever heard about the opportunity coming, and never found out when the deal was closed and delivered.
We can only see it after-the-fact in the contract data – exactly how the hunter quickly captured the deal.
A federal sales vulture sits on the sidelines and waits for a lucky opportunity to come out on the public websites like fedbizops.gov.
But, by the time the opportunity “dies,” there’s nothing left in profits but a few scraps – and a lot of other angry vultures still fighting with you for the leftovers.
Look, we all have a little “hunter” and a little “vulture” in us.
A note from Bill:
This is sort of like being a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll (yes, I did like Donnie and Marie), and by the way, both strategies need to be applied judiciously. The hunter lands more of what they go after, because the capture is good, and the customer is ready. But, the vulture can get some tasty scraps in these days of LPTA. At TAPE we do have a scanning process (by vehicle, not FedBizOpps), where we look for the following:
- Know the function absolutely cold, with good past performance.
- Make sure the labor hours are specified. If they want you to guess or figure it out, you’re not going to win.
- Write a good, highly compliant response. Check everything to make sure there are no issues, this is critical because…
- Price that baby low, low, low. Profitable, but low.
Many years ago, I asked a big company, one respected for really doing good capture work, how they treated year end. They were candid, and said they like 2/3 of the work to be captured, but 1/3 will be over the transom, with good past performance, nearest customer neighbor, low price. They won a lot of them (well, great proposal shops can write to anything), and it fueled growth.
Our hunter side has found out from the client that the deal is “coming out soon” and then we want to sit tight like the vulture…… waiting …. waiting…waiting for it to be posted.
But it is advised that while you’re waiting for the postings at fedbizops.gov and end-of-year spending, that you still could be a hunter by continuing to scan the landscape and talk to all of your clients about opportunities now – and in the future. If the opportunity has not hit the streets yet, you may still be able to do something to get them to make it a set-aside or to use a contract vehicle with little competition.
And in the coming year, you want to change your tactics to be more like a hunter all the time….or hire a hunter to comb the landscape, get to your customers in the field, and close the deals quickly and quietly.
For more information about having a federal sales action plan built for you so you can focus on the “hunt,” contact Eileen Kent at 312-636-5381 or visit http://federalsalessherpa.com/.
This post originally appeared at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140812023632-5572608-in-federal-sales-are-you-a-hunter-or-a-vulture and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
When TAPE was first founded, my wife (CEO/President Louisa Jaffe) and I were sitting around with not much to do because we were just getting started. So we volunteered with the local chapter of AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association) to lead their small business program. We were a small business ourselves, so this made logical sense.
Now it did take a little time, to find speakers for the various small business programs, and coordinate to make sure everything went well. But in return, we got incredible business development opportunities.
First of all, we were able to reach out to actual potential customers, and other folks in the local government community, to invite them as speakers. These were no cold calls, but we were still making valuable connections!
Second of all, we always got two free passes to attend the events. That meant one of us could be in the small business program, while the other could be with the “big boys” in the other room – a free networking opportunity.
More than 10 years later, and hardly with much spare time to sit around, we’re still getting involved and we’re still making important connections through those efforts. Louisa, for example, is on the board of the Army Women’s Foundation where she meets all sorts of retired army women now working in the contracting industry.
Down here in Orlando where I’m working with a company we acquired last year, I have been volunteering for a source selection improvement group – an industry/government partner group looking at problems in the source selection process.
This has given me the chance to meet a bunch of people I would have never met otherwise – contracting officers and other companies doing business in the same realm as our Orlando division – and work together to solve problems that affect us all.
These are two very good things, and all it costs is some time.
So get involved – there are government panels, committees putting on networking events, and many other options. You’ll be immersed into the contracting community and as you’ve heard me say many times:
There is business to be found through building relationships.