Fear of the FAR – Is It Getting in the Way of Doing Business?

Fear of the FAR imageDo 1,883 pages of Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), comprised of 53 different Parts, dozens of forms, and a correction page feel like something to be feared? Does it keep you from buying what you need to support your agency?

Many government decision-makers look at the FAR as a significant obstacle to their acquisitions, but at its core it provides a consolidated framework for conducting the business of acquisition in a fair, predictable, and repeatable manner while protecting the interests of both the federal government and the people who would like to do business with it, while reinforcing good use of taxpayer funds.

Let’s look at the effect of the current environment on federal contracting, and why the FAR can be made to work for you, not against you. [Read more...]

Rudder Check – Engage and Educate New Team Members to Stay On Course

Rudder Check imageYou’ve won the contract!  You’ve hired the team, but they can’t start work at the same time due to delays with the suitability process.  You must execute the requirements of the contract with only a portion of your staff, while providing an orientation to the work and some on-the-job training.  You start with a couple of training classes and assign required reading, but realize off-the-shelf training courses won’t deliver the specific results you need to keep your project steering in the right direction.  What will?  Some hours dedicated to discussing real-life scenarios.

In the last installment of this two-part blog I discussed orientation, acculturation, and indoctrination as a quick process for on-boarding a new project team, focusing them on the task at-hand, and ensuring satisfactory delivery of service to the client.  In Part 2, I will relate a few activities as examples of continuous engagement with the team, in order to augment their understanding of the work and provide tips for delivering better service. [Read more...]

Welcome Aboard! Now what? – A Three-Step Process for Quickly Getting Your Team Up to Speed

Up to Speed photoAfter the excitement of a newly awarded contract, comes the implementation of the winning proposal.  Part of that is building the team to execute the plan and satisfy the contract requirements.  But what if the whole team isn’t available on Day One, or the team is new to the sector?

A common risk to staffing is the delay caused by the suitability process.  Often team members pass suitability in a staggered fashion, rather than having all planned personnel commence on the first day of the project.  As a result, the project manager must allocate resources in a strategic manner in order to satisfy contract work requirements.

Each team member brings a variety of skills and experiences related to the scope of work; however, they may lack familiarity with the specific work for the contract.  Soft skills like customer service and business analysis can serve as an excellent base on which to build the more technical skills needed.  The program manager must provide the tools to help teammates become successful as quickly as possible.

A method I have used successfully to address both these challenges  is a phased process of orientation, acculturation, and indoctrination.  This three-step process, which can be rolled out in a matter of days, sets up the team to hit the ground running.  In Part I of my article, I’ll describe the three steps and how to implement them.  In Part II I’ll provide a case study on how it has worked in real-time. [Read more...]

Three R’s of Acquisition Reform

Stan Soloway, President, Professional Services Council

Stan Soloway, President, Professional Services Council

Acquisition Reform – Industry experts have compared it to Groundhog Day and a complicated system of pendulums shifting between priorities.  The descriptions may differ but one thing most agree on is that with federal acquisition becoming ever more complex, fixing it isn’t getting any easier.  In fact, Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said June 13 he dislikes the term “acquisition reform” because it suggests “that there are dramatic things we can do to significantly improve acquisition. It’s more about a process of continuing improvement.”

So what are some ways federal acquisition can be improved?  Integrity Matters asked Stan Soloway, President and CEO of the Professional Services Council (PSC), who just published an article on innovation in which he describes the current acquisition system as “calcified and inefficient.”  He points out three places to start.  We’ll call them three R’s: Risk, Reward and Review. [Read more...]

Organizational Project Management – How OPM Connects Strategy to Results

OPM Arrow VisualAt a recent conference, I attended a break out session that focused on Organizational Project Management (OPM) and project methodologies, specifically an overall approach to implementing them as a practice standard, and the benefits of doing so.  The presenters spoke about today’s increasingly competitive global environment for Government and industry, and how these organizations are constantly striving to find ways to “improve their capabilities and performance in the delivery of strategy.”

They proposed OPM as a flexible, business-driven approach for tailoring the Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) globally recognized standards to the unique needs and circumstances of a Government or industry organization to maximize its delivery of strategy.

At the heart of this methodology is a framework which connects an organization’s highest-level mission and vision to the hands-on execution of projects. PMI has defined OPM as “the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios in alignment with the achievement of strategic goals.”  Project Managers (PMs) are often focused on “doing things right” (aka efficiency, process), however the OPM framework can help focus on “doing the right things” (aka line of sight between strategy and project delivery/results).  While some in the federal sector are trying to implement a type of OPM construct, particularly in lines of business/operations and IT shops, I have not seen many Acquisition/Contracting organizations buy into the OPM model.  Should they?  [Read more...]

Requirements Development is Key to Successful Software Development Acquisition

checklist 2Anyone who keeps up with national news is aware of a recent problematic website deployment.  Media pundits were quick to blame leadership problems.  A noted information technology pundit pointed to acquisition and contracting failures and the government’s inability to “hire” talented contractors.  An Inspector General review will undoubtedly identify functional and leadership problems that led to the ill-prepared roll-out.   However, I expect it will also highlight what I perceive to be a more basic problem and something that we should give more attention to: requirements development.

Fundamental to any requirements development process is the documentation of needs. Let’s look at why that’s so important and two processes to achieve it in software development acquisition: the Functional Description and the Software Requirements Specification. [Read more...]

How Integrated Product Teams Can Improve Performance and Save Money

Team ImageIn this time of tight budgets and mandates to do more or the same with less, the need for innovation through greater communication and cooperation is greater than ever.   The intelligent use of Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) that foster an organizational climate of cross-functional collaboration can drive innovation throughout your processes.

This is accomplished by having the right team making the right decisions at the right time.  Teamwork based on well-designed and executed IPTs facilitates meeting objectives for cost, schedule, and performance.

Here’s a look at why IPTs matter, plus ideas for creating a charter that lays out “the rules of the road” for a successful integrated team. [Read more...]

Using a Cross-functional Team for Effective Capital Planning Investment Control (CPIC)

cpicIt’s a commonly-used process, and yet so few manage to execute it effectively on a consistent basis. Capital Planning Investment Control (CPIC), if performed as intended, provides a strategy for capital planning that enables organizations to demonstrate and maximize value from scarce public resources. With the current funding environment, CPIC is ever-more important as a framework for agencies to defend their capital investments through sound OMB Budget Exhibit 300 “business cases.”

The pathway to success in CPIC implementation is based on teams that are cross-trained in various disciplines, such as strategic planning, budget and finance, program management, contracting and IT. The team should also have experience and expertise in the relatively softer skills of (cross-organization) collaboration, communication and creativity. Here are the reasons why a successful CPIC process with this key ingredient of a cross-functional team is so important.

[Read more...]

Applying Agile Methodologies to Acquisition Support – The Benefits (Part II)

Agile Acquisition Scrums VisualA new trend in acquisition – applying the modular method of “Agile” software development using daily meetings and lessons learned – is more productive than acquisition support done the “old way” because it utilizes necessary resources when and where they are required. Agile methodology applied to acquisition support is an increasingly preferred technique among Government agencies, that has brought valuable output, effectiveness, accountability and traceability to the acquisition process.

In a previous Agile Acquisition blog post, I outlined the basic components, participants and functions of the Agile framework (in Part I – The Basics).  In Part II, I will go into more depth by outlining the benefits that can result from this particular methodology in acquisition support processes. [Read more...]

Applying Agile Methodologies to Acquisition Support – The Basics

Agile Acquisition Support Image

Agile Acquisition Support encourages close collaboration and real-time updates.

Increasingly in today’s economic climate, Agile methodologies are the answer to the Government’s constant search for ways to do more with less.

In its July 2012 report, “Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recognized that a growing number of federal agencies are using Agile techniques to develop and purchase software. The use of Agile can also be very beneficial when used in acquisition support.  This effective methodology, aligned with best practices in a host of project management activities, capitalize on flexibility and speed to deliver needed solutions while reducing investment risk – the ideal solution for today’s most pressing issues in Government acquisition.

So how do Agile methodologies manage to accomplish this? What is the recipe for success that has allowed them to rise to the top as a preferred method in the Government contracting industry? And how, in particular, can we apply the Agile method to cradle-to-grave acquisition support? This blog post will identify what Agile Acquisition Support is and who the participants are, before describing how Agile Acquisition Support works. Next time in Part II, I will go beyond these basics to outline the specific benefits of this methodology for little “a” acquisition support. [Read more...]