How to Build a Game – The Serious Game Design Workshop at I/ITSEC 2017

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This is a guest post by TAPE’s Information Systems Analyst Jeff Long.

The Serious Game Design Workshop occurred on the last day of the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), an annual five-day convention held in Orlando, Florida. The TAPE group in attendance included Business Analyst Walt Long, CEO and President Louisa Jaffe, and our PM TRASYS contract team.

The I/ITSEC showroom floor had closed when we walked into the workshop and were greeted by our two instructors for the day: Peter Smith, an assistant professor of game design at the University of Central Florida, and Vance Souders, founder of Plas.md, a creative studio focused on developing innovative immersive solutions for health, wellness and education for DoD, government, and commercial entities.

This was an excellent experience that I think didn’t got the attention it deserved. I believe everyone from beginners to advanced would benefit from this high-level overview about making a “serious” learning game (definition below). The entire course was done with pen and paper, with no programming required.

One engineer at our table commented that it was great to see non-game designers interested in the inner workings of what can be a complicated process to understand. “We don’t see enough manager types in these classes but I noticed we have a great mix today.”

So what is a serious game? A serious or applied game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment, typically for training.

We began with a high-view concept of what kind of planning and stages it takes to make a simple serious game. Then we were split into various groups, taking on roles related to instruction (instructional designers, trainers, and instructors), game (game designers, game developers, and producers), subject matter experts (who might have experience with procedures/tactics/equipment regarding a profession, or other processes to be used as curriculum within a game), and technical/management (software developers, managers, and artists). Each participant chose a role and we acted in that role over a series of 15 exercises throughout the day.

Analysis

Our first task was in the realm of analysis. Before we could make a game we had to ask ourselves a few questions: What purpose does it serve and who would be the audience? What’s our game concept? What are our learning objectives? What are we assessing? These great questions helped focus our plan of attack. Without knowing these basics it would have been easy to go off the rails. Each group collaborated to answer these questions and develop the initial idea of what their serious game could be.

Core Design

Next we moved on to core design. Here we would take our assessments and begin to develop a story, one that was relevant to the interest of the audience we identified during the analysis. The next step was to figure out how we would take the learning objective and teach our audience the required skills.

This is where a creative mind can go just about anywhere. In general gaming there is almost an infinite number of genres, with new ideas showing up daily. My four favorites are role-playing games (RPG), real-time strategy (RTS), first-person shooters (FPS), and virtual reality (VR). A quick Google search of any of those terms will reveal countless games to find inspiration for your game.

Finally, we asked this very important question: What shouldn’t be in our game? It’s easy to lose yourself in a wish list of features, but each feature will need to be created and with limited resources having too large of a scope can run your project over budget and behind on development time. Having an ambitious project is great, but don’t go overboard, especially if it’s your first rodeo. Distilling your ideas so not to overburden the player will result in a better gaming experience.

Experience Design

Here we started with a small discussion about common pitfalls. The instructors provided a helpful overview of the concept of design patterns. This is about establishing reusable systems so people don’t end up reinventing the wheel. (See this excerpt from Robert Nystrom’s Game Programming Patterns for more on the concept of design patterns.) Using these wherever possible will help ensure that your game design is easier for your team to create, understand and implement.

In experience design, we explicitly define and iteratively refine each of these learning game elements: goals, control, actions, assessment, guidance, and feedback. Each of these concepts help the player understand and move through your serious game.

Revise

In this stage we did a mental walkthrough of the game from the player’s perspective. We wanted to identify issues that the player could experience, such as edge-cases, poor performers, “gaming the game,” or bored players. You want to be a devil’s advocate to find anything that breaks immersion, flow, or buy-in.

Finally, we tried throwing a wrench into the works like what might happen when real life intervenes, like what happens when a customer doesn’t think the game is fun, or wants to go deeper? Or when students don’t like the game or it isn’t producing the desired learning outcomes? What if it takes too long to play? Or your budget is reduced or money runs out before you finish creating the game? What if the players aren’t taking the game seriously?

Any of these problems have the potential to tank the entire project. While we can’t predict or avoid every problem, we can imagine these situations and try to have a plan when possible.

I personally hope they bring this workshop back and that we see a larger group there for 2018. If you are interested in making a serious game, this workshop was designed around a book called Design and Development of Training Games Practical Guidelines from a Multidisciplinary Perspective, edited by Talib S. Hussain and Susan L. Coleman. If they don’t have another workshop in 2018 or you can’t make it to I/ITSEC, this book might be for you.

Good luck and have fun!
Jeffrey Long


Team TAPE and Operation Blended Warrior at I/ITSEC 2017

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This is a guest post by Walt Long, Business Analyst at TAPE, LLC.

In this post we’ll continue our recap of the 2017 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), in Orlando, Florida, the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference.

While we were there, we visited Marines conducting a training exercise as part of the 2017 Operation Blended Warrior (OBW), a yearlong collaborative, live-virtual-constructive (LVC) planning and execution event that culminates during I/ITSEC with the purpose of uncovering and documenting the challenges in the rapid development and integration of diverse simulation systems and components.

We’re proud that this work was supported by our Orlando TAPE office in Research Park. There, we provide contracted subject matter experts to support the Program Manager Training Systems (PM TRASYS) program office. In this specific case, we provided analysts who supported the set up, execution, and breakdown of the OBW demonstration at I/ITSEC.

In a video for I/ITSEC TV, OBW Manager Kent Gritton discussed the need for this type of event:

“There are multiple ways of doing training: you can do it live where you actually jump into your aircraft and go fly with your actual system itself; you can do it virtually, where you are in a simulator actually controlling the event – it’s a man-controlled event; or you can do it in constructive where it’s a computer controlled event.

Each of those capabilities are used for certain objectives in the training world. With the richness that [an LVC event] can provide by blending all these three together we have a better training environment for whatever we want to accomplish. Plus we have some warfare capabilities now that cannot be trained solely within the live realm and so it’s a necessity to go ahead and bring that virtual and constructive into the live domain so that we can train all of the capabilities of the new warfare platforms.”

Team TAPE devoted extensive time and effort over these many months in setting up the network infrastructure, developing the scenarios, and coordinating with multiple government and industry participants to execute the four-day Ground Scenario portion of OBW. Team TAPE’s professional presentation of the ground operations set a high mark of achievement and received many accolades from senior government and industry personnel.

Carlos Cuevas, project manager of Orlando team, shared the support team’s highlights from the training event:

• Operation Blended Warrior (OBW) is a unique forum to assist military services, industry and academia in meeting tough challenges associated with live-virtual-constructive simulation environments. I/ITSEC 2017 was an overwhelming success. PMTRASYS/TEAM TAPE were among the 38 government and industry organizations that participated.

• Team TAPE PTSS support to I/ITSEC/OBW was comprised of extensive coordination prior to IITSEC commencing. This included, but was not limited to loading specific software on designated laptops and creating and rehearsing scenarios in Virtual Battle Space (VBS), and working directly with the Reserve Detachment; these Marines would serve as the actual operators for the OBW demo.

• Upon I/ITSEC start, Team TAPE personnel participated in the setup of the TRASYS booth and assisted in booth duties as required throughout the week. During this time, several OBW scenarios or “vignettes” were executed; this required communication, coordination with other entities participating, as well as any last minute troubleshooting.

• At the conclusion of I/ITSEC, Team TAPE personnel assisted with the teardown of the booth, and return/accountability of the equipment utilized. Additionally, all provided detailed after-action report comments.

In the final post in this series, TAPE’s Information Systems Analyst Jeff Long will share his notes from the I/ITSEC Build a Game workshop.


VR & Game Technology Showcased at I/ITSEC 2017

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This is a guest post by Walt Long, Business Analyst at TAPE, LLC.

In Fall 2017, I joined TAPE’s Information Systems Analyst Jeff Long, and CEO and President Louisa Jaffe Louisa Jaffe, as well as several others, for the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), an annual five-day convention held in Orlando, Florida. Orlando has many good facilities for large conventions and the nearby University of Central Florida (UCF) plays a major role in modeling and simulation research as well as implementation for the US Military.

From the official I/ITSEC webpage: “I/ITSEC is the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference. Held near the beginning of December in Orlando, Florida, USA, I/ITSEC consists of peer-reviewed paper presentations, tutorials, special events, professional workshops, a commercial exhibit hall, a serious games competition, and STEM events for teachers and secondary students.

I/ITSEC is organized by the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA), which promotes international and interdisciplinary cooperation within the fields of modeling and simulation (M&S), training, education, analysis, and related disciplines at this annual meeting. The NTSA is an affiliate subsidiary of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). Hence, I/ITSEC also emphasizes themes related to defense and security.”

Having attended the previous year’s conference, I saw that there were some interesting evolutions happening on different fronts. In the few booths I visited where I experienced virtual reality (VR) thru a VR headset/goggles, I was able to see that VR comes a little further every year in sophistication.

Once you get past the fear of how you look to others who are outside of your virtual world, it is pretty amazing to put on VR goggles and really experience how real everything looks that you are seeing in the virtual world. You can usually look in any direction and see detail that stretches out quite a ways. It’s always fun to see what folks come up with each year in the way of virtual landscapes.

The other type of software that impressed me was a set of learning games in the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge section, as described on the I/ITSEC website: “The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge (SGS&C) celebrates the use of games and game technology as a delivery medium for instructional material. The Challenge is divided into categories: Business, Government, Student, Mobile, and Special Emphasis. After a rigorous evaluation, the top entries from all received are selected as finalists and invited to Showcase their Games on the exhibit floor during I/ITSEC.”

These game products were specifically designed to put the user into a workplace setting where they faced other people in difficult situations and needed to make tough decisions in managing those people as well as other resources. The games introduced levels of stress in terms including people that were difficult to deal with and/or a stressful fast-paced office environment with many choices needing to be made in a relatively short period of time while navigating one-on-one conversations, phone calls, and subordinates requesting direction.

Unlike other sections of the I/ITSEC showroom floor, some of these games had nothing to do with combat or even in some cases the military. One was about how to deal with a white collar office environment and make choices about email content and how to manage a piece of work.

Another game was designed for veterans’ hospital staff, on how to speak to ill and sometimes poorly informed veteran patients about their treatment and expectations of what healing they might be able to accomplish in partnership with VA staff.

In subsequent posts we’ll highlight how TEAM TAPE in Orlando, Florida had their work showcased at I/ITSEC, and Jeff Long will share notes from the Build a Game workshop.


We Need to Blur the Line Between Education and Training: Former TRADOC Commanding General David G. Perkins

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We’ve been highlighting ideas from the keynote speech of retired Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida in November 2017.

In Parts 1 and 2, we recounted General Perkins’ three aspects of training that require innovation from industry. In this third and final post, we will present his ideas about the differences (and similarities) between education and training.

General Perkins stated that we have to redefine the idea of “education versus training.” He went on to describe that during a recent combined arms field training exercise, an Army major approached him with the question, “Are you educating us or training us?” In other words, the major understood education as learning concepts at a high level of thinking, while he understood training as learning potential courses of action to apply to real life. General Perkins indicated that as a commander, his greatest need was to strive to blur the line between education and training. He wants to see the two concepts combined into one practice.

General Perkins discovered that soldiers want to be trained, which in their understanding, often means they WANT to be told what to do and how to do it. He believes that trainees often do not believe that they need critical thinking (thought of as part of education) because they mistakenly feel that this will not prepare them for the “real world,” where they face the unknown. In actuality, General Perkins thinks education, and the critical thinking that comes from it, better prepares us for the unknown. He suggests incorporating critical thinking, decision making, and leadership into training events, even virtual and constructive ones.

General Perkins believes the Army must adapt future Programs of Instruction to a changing world. His question is, “How do we bring that changing perspective into the educational domain?” He added that the military cannot tie itself to only one domain; training must incorporate all the domains: land, air, sea, space and cyber.

General Perkins explained, “A lot of times as I was growing up in the Army, we would have a training strategy with various gates and sometimes some of our simulations and training aids and devices weren’t all that great. But it would be put in the strategy like, ‘You have to do this first, then you have to do this, and you have to do this.’ And it may not have actually been a particularly useful tool for getting at what you want to get at, but it was a requirement. You can’t do this until you get to this, and so it was a little bit of a check the block.”

Ultimately, General Perkins advocated for “command, training, and student (training, education and the art of command)” to come together so that training is an integral part of command and not something different or extra. He wants to see not just industry change their technology ideas, but for the Army culture to change regard training as integral with command and operations. His challenge to industry is to help the Army make this happen.


Training is a Tool, Not a Task: TRADOC Commanding General David G. Perkins

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In a series of three posts, we’re highlighting remarks from retired Army Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command from his keynote address at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida in November 2017.

This is a guest post by TAPE President and CEO Louisa Jaffe.

In Part 1 of the blog series, we discussed three innovative aspects of training that a commander needs from industry as identified by General Perkins. In this post, we delve deeper into the third aspect – that we must see training “as a tool, not a task.”

General Perkins stated, “What we need to do is make sure that when we take a look at our training capabilities and training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations (TADSS) that commanders will say, ‘This actually solves one of my training problems.’ It’s not a tasking to do it. It’s a tool that I can use to get better.”

He exclaimed that he does not need “a tool that is just a tool to train, for training’s sake.” General Perkins specified that he needs industry to innovate a tool “that I can use to train for specific missions – mission rehearsal exercises.” He sees a future where a commander, when given a mission to conduct an attack, will also, “look immediately at what training capability [is needed] to get ready for that mission.”

General Perkins called upon the Army to completely integrate training in a mission from its inception. Moreover, he challenged industry to develop the type of training tools that the Army could use across the enterprise from education to training to mission rehearsals. He does not want any more “one trick ponies.” Using General Perkins’ framework, soldiers would waste less time learning multiple training tools and the training data inherent in the tools would benefit commanders across multiple domains.

General Perkins provided key insight into industry’s difficult task of innovating for military training. In Part 1 of this series, we detailed that he not only wants to see the emotional and practical experience of a large-scale live exercise, but one that is put into live, virtual, and constructive (LVC) environments to scale a combined arms training experience.

General Perkins further wants to see all possible domains – land, sea, air, space, and cyber – be interactive in LVC environments. To buttress his goal to integrate training into mission-accomplishment strategy, General Perkins wants to see TADSS become integrated tools for operations instead of separated tasks.

General Perkins envisions innovative training that becomes an extension of the service member at the same time it becomes an innovative extension of leadership itself up to the highest levels. He affirms that the Army is open and receptive to innovations “that connect useful powerful tools with mission strategy.”

The third and final post in this series will explore General Perkins’s innovative views about the concepts of education versus training.


Industry Innovation: What Today’s Military Leaders Need

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Do you have innovative training ideas to offer the U.S. Army? Well, TAPE President and CEO Louisa Jaffe was fortunate enough to hear now-retired Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), speak from experience about what a military leader at his level (and all levels) is seeking in today’s Army.

General Perkins delivered the keynote address at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida in November 2017. The event occurred a few months before his recent retirement on March 2. In a series of three articles, we will present Louisa’s key takeaways from General Perkins’ I/ITSEC speech.

General Perkins started his speech by explaining that TRADOC serves as the proponent FOR and deliverer of doctrine, training, simulations, and education TO the entire Army. He spoke of the long-term requirements of TRADOC’s mission and articulated his vision of industry support from an unusual perspective – not speaking in terms of technical Army requirements or existing contracts coming up for recompete.

He said, “I’d like to talk to you from the point of view of a commander, not as the commander of TRADOC, but as ‘a commander.’ And so, what does a commander expect from his ‘training enterprise’? What does the commander expect from his ‘simulations enterprise’? What does the commander expect from his ‘education enterprise’?” General Perkins spoke in real and genuine terms about what any military leader needs from industry with respect to innovation in training.

He emphasized three main aspects of training that innovators need to consider:

1. Training serves as a “forcing function” to introduce new intellectual ideas. General Perkins explained that one of the impediments to that effective function is overcoming the “tyranny of training.” He defines this phrase as the enormous costs, logistics, labor hours, planning time, and execution of a practical combined arms training exercise – a simulation event that can only train a fraction of those who need it.

Because of high overhead, the exercise cannot really provide the needed repetition for trainees. Innovation from industry must provide not only the “forcing function” of training, but also all the benefits of a large, practical exercise at a fraction of the overhead costs, and perform it locally at the trainees’ home station. General Perkins stated, “I see that as sort of the next training revolution coming into the Army and probably the Joint Forces. We need to change how we view what is done day-in and-day-out as we prepare for the large collective training events – getting rid of this sort of ‘tyranny of training’ and high overhead.”

2. Innovation must bring together all the domains for training. We have to redefine the training requirement from the very beginning as a converged requirement with all of the domains: land, air, sea, space, and cyber. Commanders need training to give participants the experience of “inter” and “intra” domain communications and leaders/commanders the practical experience of commanding within and embracing all these domains. He stated emphatically, “This is an innovation that commanders need from industry.”

3. Commanders (and therefore industry innovators) need to see training “as a tool, not a task.”

Our next blog post will discuss this third aspect of innovation in training. The third and final blog post will explore General Perkins’ innovative views about the concepts of education versus training.


The Team Approach to Capture Management

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This is a follow up post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.

It’s important to understand that there are different intelligence zones involved in capture management – customer, competitive intelligence, program, staffing, and pricing. Being able to define it in those chunks helps us understand the kind of solution that we need to write towards in our proposal. Each of those zones have some basic questions and KPIs (key performance indicators).

We looked at client relationships and competitive intelligence in Part 1. Today we’ll look at staffing, and how the TAPE team works together and decides what to bid on.

Staffing is one of the most important aspects of capture to get right because clients don’t buy products or companies; they buy people. Having the right people on your team is critical for success, but who are the right people?

It’s important to distinguish between the key personnel and the rest of the team. Your key personnel are usually the people who lead the program, and their resumes are usually required to be submitted with the proposal. If they’re not already on your payroll, letters of commitment are often required.

The right key personnel will have all the required certifications, training, and years of experience, are known to the customer and have a good reputation, and can help you write the proposal.

For non-key personnel (other team members), it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible before submitting a proposal. Staffing matrices are typically required, listing all of the positions and hours assigned to the project.

If the only names in the staffing matrix are those for the key personnel, the program looks unstaffed and therefore more risky to evaluators. That’s why it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible (those with all the required certifications, training, and years of experience) before submission.

TAPE’s capture team

Because TAPE is a small business, we often have to wear a lot of different hats. There is always a locus of intelligence in one area, for example our senior vice president, administration and our chief financial officer will certainly help with pricing, but so will others who can bring the customer intimacy and program knowledge – perhaps someone who’s been in government and knows the program or its people. That person may be on staff at TAPE, or we’ll hire subject matter experts who can provide us that information.

It’s a shared responsibility amongst the team to go out and find this information, and my role to coordinate all these efforts and all of these people. What’s most important is having a team you trust, because you can’t do everything. Trust is the biggest component – trust, good working relationships, and good communication.

Also important are positivity, a can-do attitude, and being able to see things from multiple perspectives to gather what’s really important and what can wait, as well as graciousness and thankfulness for everyone’s efforts. At TAPE we always put a high value on our working relationships and communication – things are just so much easier when everyone’s on the same page.

Some days there is bound to be confusion. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt can be difficult but at the end of the day it keeps us communicating and honest with each other.

Successful relationships require trust and credibility. So often we deal with teammates who are not a part of TAPE. When we’re not teaming, we’re competitors – it’s a friendly competition, but building and maintaining trust in those relationships is vital.

Yes or no?

A big part of capture is about continually vetting and re-vetting opportunities to understand exactly what it is you’re investing in. So often there’s a huge disconnect or built-in conflict between the business development and capture proposal sides of the house. Business development wants to say yes to everything and capture proposal wants to say no to everything. It’s essential to build a bridge between the two because proposals often get seen as Dr. No and business development seen as snake oil salesmen.

When you do decide to qualify a bid and devote capture resources to it, you’re making an investment – though not all investments are equal. Sometimes you invest in a contract that will lose money so you can establish a relationship with a customer; other times you make a smaller investment by teaming with someone. But in all cases these are investments in time and resources, and you must understand exactly how that investment impacts your bottom line.

Thinking back to Lohfeld’s wise words that the best informed win, we can look to the data for this purpose. When discriminating what will remain in the pipeline and what we’ll invest more into, we need to know how much a proposal will cost. Do we have the necessary internal resources, or will we have to hire out? What will that cost?

Capture management means having a systematic way of reviewing an opportunity to determine your probability of win, and how that equates to what you’ll see in revenue and return on investment. Measuring those things and collecting that data in order to make an informed decision is an important component of what we do in capture.


The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act – A Summary of Changes

soldiers

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This is a guest post from Dave Moyer, part-time senior analyst for TAPE, LLC.

As a member of a group of adjunct professors for the Graduate School USA, we collectively develop abstracts of pertinent, current legislation for use by the group in multiple class presentations. We attempt to author papers that enlighten our students and occasionally will develop papers that are of use to entities working in the government arena.

The follow paper was developed by four of the financial management professors and contains information that would be of interest to government contractors. In my ongoing capacity as a senior analyst for TAPE, I condensed this information, which is available in the public domain, in an effort to make it a handy thumbnail of the latest NDAA.

On December 12, 2017, President Trump signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (Public Law 115-91). It contains many significant changes to DoD operations and organization, as well as some government-wide changes. Here are some of the important changes, starting with a new law with government-wide applicability:

Subtitle G of the NDAA is referred to as the Modernizing Government Technology Act. It establishes a Technology Modernization Fund and a Technology Modernization Board. The Act also authorizes any agency (not just DoD) to establish an information technology working capital fund (WCF) to improve, retire, or replace existing systems, and for any project, program, or activity related to IT modernization.

An interesting aspect of these WCFs will be their funding sources, and the length of availability of the funds. Agencies are given the authority to transfer other appropriations into the fund, and the WCFs may also receive discretionary appropriations. Thus, the WCFs won’t rely on sales to customers to earn revenue.

In addition, due to their nature, currently WCF balances are always available without fiscal year limitations (that is, no-year). This is no longer true, as these WCF balances will be available for only three years after the year in which funds are transferred in, or the appropriation is received from Congress. After three years, any unobligated balances revert to the general fund in Treasury.

Section 806 of the NDAA amends Title 41 of the US Code and applies to all federal agencies. The micro-purchase threshold increases from $3,000 to $10,000.

The following are some DoD-specific provisions to be aware of:

  • Section 827: Directs a pilot program on recovering costs from contractors whose protests are denied by the Government Accountability Office.
  • Section 831: Redefines Major Defense Acquisition Programs and Defense Business Systems.
  • Section 832: Prohibits the use of lowest price technically acceptable source selection process for engineering and manufacturing development contracts for major defense acquisition programs.
  • Sections 841-844: Numerous enhancements relating to the acquisition work force.
  • Section 854: Pilot program for multiyear contracts up to 10 years in length.
  • Section 905: Adds qualifications for appointment as the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Deputy CFO. Adds duties and powers to the Under Secretary’s position.
  • Section 906: Redesignates Principal Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense as Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense.
  • Section 910: Establishes a Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense. This will be the number three ranking person in the department, below the Secretary and Deputy Secretary, but above the Under Secretaries.
  • Section 921: Adds qualifications for appointment as the Assistant Secretary for Financial Management in each of the three military departments.
  • Section 925: Moves background and security investigations from OPM to DoD.
  • Section 1002: Adds a new chapter to Title 10 consolidating, codifying, and improving authorities and requirements relating to the audit of DoD financial statements. Among many other changes, the Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR) plan is now called Financial Improvement and Audit Remediation (FIAR) plan.
  • Section 1004: By mid-March 2018, DoD must submit a report to Congress ranking every DoD component/agency on their auditability.
  • Section 1103: The temporary authority for DoD to offer Voluntary Separation Incentive Program payments up to $40,000 (rather than the old $25,000) will not expire on Sept 30, 2018. It is extended to Sept 30, 2021.
  • Section 1648: Requires a report to Congress by May 1, 2018 on the termination of the dual-hat arrangement for the Commander of the United States Cyber Command.
  • Section 2802: Operation and Maintenance (O&M) appropriations may be used for construction up to $2,000,000 (up from the previous $1,000,000). Also, the unspecified MILCON limit goes from $3,000,000 to $6,000,000.
  • Section 2803: The Secretary of each component will adjust the $6,000,000 unspecified MILCON limit each fiscal year to reflect the local construction cost index, but the limit may not exceed $10,000,000.
  • Section 2805: The Secretary of each component may use O&M funds to replace building damaged or destroyed by natural disasters or terrorism incidents, with a limit of $50,000,000 per fiscal year.

Click here to access the 2018 NDAA.


Organizing for Capture

capture team searching for leads

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Here’s a guest post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.

A large number of my family and friends live outside the “beltway.” So when I tell them I’m a capture manager, they give me a blank look – and you might, too. Unlike medical and legal professions, capture management is a profession that doesn’t get a lot of attention outside of the beltway. But today, we’re going to break it down and understand what capture is and how small businesses can use it to grow.

What is capture? 

Selling to the Government is like a chess game with three phases:

  1. Opening – this is where businesses identify who they are, what they’re going to sell, and the clients they’re going to target. In essence, this is how businesses condition the marketplace to be successful.
  2. Middle – this is where businesses, focusing on specific accounts, manage the client relationship and develop opportunities. This middle game focuses on gathering information and then shaping the client’s perceptions. In essence, this stage of the game is all about conditioning the client.
  3. Endgame – this is where businesses write proposals, negotiate, and sign contracts. This endgame is where businesses condition the deal.

As in chess, when businesses wait until the end to try and win, they’re more likely to lose. Chess games and business contracts are won or lost a majority of the time in the middle game.

Capture is the middle game. It comes after making contact with a prospective client, and before an RFP is released. My colleagues and other industry veterans will tell you that a prospective client’s buying decision is typically 40-80% complete before proposals are even submitted. This means that the middle game constitutes as much as 70% of a company’s probability of win.

Considering these statistics, it is no wonder that large government contractors (LGCs) have dedicated capture teams. In addition to their capture personnel, though, LGCs have also developed a capture discipline, or set of processes, by which they organize, monitor, and evaluate their capture efforts.

Many small businesses cannot afford the cost of a dedicated capture team, but none can afford to neglect building a capture discipline. The question, then, is how can small businesses go about developing a capture discipline?

Developing a capture discipline

One way to begin developing a capture discipline is to define the activities and outcomes that reliably predict success. Since capture is all about conditioning the client to prefer your solution, at TAPE we use the following five characteristics to predict success:

  1. Strong client relationships
  2. Client-centered solutions
  3. Robust competitive intelligence
  4. Secure staffing
  5. Competitive pricing

When clients know you by name, when you’ve collaborated with them to develop their solution, when you’ve used your knowledge of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses to refine your solution, when you’ve identified staff in your solution that the client knows and trusts, and when you’ve priced it competitively you have effectively positioned yourself to win the contract.

Accomplishing all of these goals takes time and persistence. It also helps to have a shared understanding of the steps one takes to achieve these goals.

Building strong client relationships

Before I moved to the DC area, friends here told me that it’s not what you know, but who you know. While this is probably true everywhere, it is especially true for DC. Knowing the right people – and being known to the right people – is critical for success. To ensure that we’re building strong client relationships, we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Does the client know your name?
  2. Does the client understand your company’s capabilities?
  3. Has the client met with you to understand and/or develop their requirements?
  4. Does the client trust you?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, our team meets to devise a plan that changes those answers to yes. We assign tasks and record our progress so that our team operates from the same page. This data helps us measure our progress and make key decisions,

Developing client-centric solutions

This is the heart of capture, and doing it well requires that you know the customer’s needs, issues, and hot buttons. Client-centric solutions come down to four key steps:

  1. Meeting the needs of the customer
  2. Understanding the needs versus the wants
  3. Understanding the risks
  4. Developing a solution that meets the needs

Competitive intelligence

Knowledge is power, and what you don’t know can hurt you. My mantra for capture comes from industry titan Bob Lohfeld, whose book of collected articles is titled Best Informed Wins. The whole idea for capture is that we gain as much intelligence as possible to win bids.

That includes intelligence on the customer and customer intimacy, e.g., do we know who the program manager and contracting manager are, have we had conversations with them, are they comfortable calling us by name, do they know who we are, either as TAPE or individuals?

What are their problems, what do they see as possible solutions, and how do we help them solve those problems? Knowing all of that gives us customer intimacy, and the intelligence that comes along with that.

Then there’s market intelligence, e.g., who are our competitors, what have they done recently, and what are their significant strengths and weaknesses? Do we have everything it takes to provide solutions or do we need to team? Do we have the right people, who are of interest to the program office, that they know and trust? Are we able to get people quickly?

There’s also financial intelligence, i.e., knowing the costs, how much the government has to spend and wants to spend. Is cost their biggest priority or is it having the right people?

The more informed we are, the better proposal we are able to write, so capture management is a process of strategically uncovering all the information we need to make the win.

We’ll address the fourth and fifth characteristics of successful capture (secure staffing and competitive pricing) in a future post, along with some of the other elements that affect TAPE’s capture process.


Small Versus Large – an HR Perspective

Big dog nose to nose with small dog.

© alexzizu – Fotolia.com

Welcome back to TAPE’s Alexia Groszer, GPHR, senior human resources generalist. In a previous post, she answered some common questions about HR for small business. Today, we’re looking at size issues from an HR perspective.

Let’s look first at things from an employee’s view. What are the pros and cons of being employed by a small business versus a large business?

Small business:

Pros: Employees at a small company typically wear more hats, thereby getting exposure to more business areas and skills. The owners and management know employees by name. Good ideas can be implemented quickly. The employee often sees a direct impact of the work they perform and may feel an essential part of a team.

Cons: Job growth is often dependent on the company’s growth. If the company grows rapidly, this could be a pro for the employee who rides the wave of prosperity with the company. Employees who were with Microsoft and AOL in the early days benefited greatly from the rapid growth. However, few small companies have exponential growth. If the company does not grow, the employee may be feel their only option for growth is to leave the company.

Large business:

Pros: A large company may offer more avenues for career development (types of jobs, levels of management, and more internal job opportunities). Employees may be able to move up or laterally while gaining years of service and benefits within the same organization. Large companies often have more structure. They have tried and true processes which provide excellent on the job training for those new in their careers.

Cons: Since large companies often do work on a large scale, employees at a large company often perform a high volume of work of more limited scope. This could mean limited learning/ growth within the job depending on the position they are in. Large companies can also be very bureaucratic. New ideas may take a long time to get implemented. Employees may not feel any direct impact of their work. They may even feel that they a just a number or not essential to the organization.

One person may prefer a smaller more personable environment where they know everyone by name and can make an immediate impact. Another may thrive working amongst many people at a large corporation with brand recognition and the security of a larger and more established pipeline of continued work. Choosing an employer, small or large, depends on many factors. Researching potential employers and comparing it to your own list of preferences is a good place to begin. 

As a small business grows, their HR needs grow and change with them. When should a small business have an in-house HR department versus outsourcing to an HR vendor?

Each company has different business needs, so there is no absolute answer. However, as companies grow they will likely have a bigger need for human resources support. Often they will move from outsourcing to in-house support due to cost.

For start-ups or small companies (5-25) employees, outsourcing HR may be a more cost-effective option, especially if their needs are mainly payroll/benefit administration with only an occasional compliance issue. Advantages of outsourcing include: the employer pays the vendor for support only when it is needed instead of paying for a fulltime employee, they have access to different HR disciplines/experts but only pay for a few hours of advice at time, and they can easily increase or reduce hours of support to match their business needs.

When a company gets bigger and begins using their vendor 40 hours per week or more, they may discover it is more cost-effective to hire their own HR staff. There are advantages to an in-house HR department, too. An internal staff will be more vested in the company’s culture and mission. They can customize policies and processes to fit the needs of that business. The HR staff can build a rapport with employees, providing better customer service and continuity.

This can be especially helpful when there is an employee relations issue or when a manager is seeking general guidance. All of these can create a more cohesive company culture and greater employee engagement.


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