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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.
© Pixelbliss - Fotolia.com
© Pixelbliss – Fotolia.com

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.

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