Get Off the Lessons Learned Treadmill: Simple Ideas for Continuous Improvement in 2015

treadmill photoAs a Program Manager, have you noticed a trend that your program keeps on repeating the same lessons learned or mistakes?  As a program, when completing a yearly reporting requirement, do you hear yourself stating to your staff that we did not complete x, y, or z in order to fulfill our operational requirements?  If you have, there is no better time than year’s end to develop and implement a continuous improvement plan into your program’s 2015 operations.

Are we talking about Kaizen, Total Quality Management, or Lean Six Sigma?  None of these approaches to continuous improvement may be applicable to your program or your program manager’s style or time constraints.  There are simple steps that can be taken, with very little time investment, which will allow program managers to bring continuous improvement to their program’s operations. [Read more...]

3 Tools Worth Reading to Spur Innovative Federal IT Acquisition

Innovation Road Sign PhotoIn this time of tight budgets and potential loss of global technological superiority, the need for innovation is greater than ever.   As Frank Kendall, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics shared with an audience of defense industry leaders recently, “We have to focus more on innovation, and we have to get better capability in the hands of the warfighter.” That focus pervades Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0, the latest iteration of a Pentagon initiative designed to achieve dominant capabilities through technical excellence and innovation.

These are needed across many areas, including acquisition, where it can improve the management of scarce resources. Indeed, the website reported last year the Government spends $74B on Information Technology, though 26% of major IT Investment Programs (which comprise 32% of IT Budget) are “mismanaged,” according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Mismanaged is defined as duplication and cost overruns. Undoubtedly, many of these cost overruns are related to schedule overruns. In addition, many digital services have poor outcomes, such as unmet user expectations or unused or unusable features.

How do you acquire and deliver IT in more innovative ways that enable successful mission outcomes, dominant capabilities and maximum taxpayer ROI? In addition to the latest iteration of the well-known BBP series, a wave of recent tools are available offering new and stimulating alternatives to drive innovation. These evolving tools (in contrast with adding to an already bountiful set of policies and directives) include TechFAR, Digital Services Playbook, and Innovative Contracting Case Studies.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each of the tools, their importance, and a few of my observations. [Read more...]

Are You Making the Business Case for Federal Cybersecurity?

hands typing photoCybersecurity has been one of the fastest growing sectors in the federal government over recent years, with round-the-clock threats in an online world.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in June that “the number of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies increased in fiscal year 2013 significantly over the prior three years,” and that “24 major federal agencies did not consistently demonstrate that they are effectively responding to cyber incidents.”

At more than 46,000 cyber incidents in FY13 and growing, greater assets will be required to fund these programs.  Have you asked your team: “What are we doing to ensure budget allocation for cyber security not only today, but in the coming years?” The best way to justify return on investment (ROI) in cybersecurity programs is the development of a business case through the Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) process. And as I describe in this week’s Federal Times Solutions & Ideas section (p. A22), the best time to finesse business cases through CPIC is right now. Here’s why and how. [Read more...]


Since 2001, software developers have used the Agile methodology, employing short sprints and cross-team collaboration, to bring products to market faster with earlier customer input. Others have begun to apply the tenets of Agile beyond IT to the general field of acquisition. Why?  To speed results, lower risk, and benefit from lessons learned throughout the acquisition lifecycle. This is a way to do more with less in a tight fiscal environment.

Agile Acquisition at GCMSAt the National Contract Management Association’s (NCMA’s) Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS), I led a presentation on what Agile acquisition is, who is involved when practicing it, and what benefits it brings. I also described some of the real-world considerations I’ve seen when applying the Agile methodology to acquisition and contracting support.

For those who couldn’t make it to GCMS, here’s a primer on the realities of applying Agile methodology to Acquisition. [Read more...]

Better Acquisition Decisions through Financial Analysis – Part 2

financial analysis imageNo matter how products and services are being acquired, financial analysis can help in decision making to acquire the requirements in the best and most cost effective ways. Federal Government acquisition uses frameworks and processes that leverage several financial tools to maximize the value procured from the solution while decreasing the risk of wasted resources.

In part 1 of this blog post, we explored the importance of financial analysis as well as some of the major tools available for Federal acquisition professionals. Here in part 2, we will see how these tools are used in three Federal acquisition and acquisition support processes: Acquisition Review Process (ARP); Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE); and Capital Planning Investment Control (CPIC). [Read more...]

Better Acquisition Decisions through Financial Analysis

stock investmentGovernment spending has become a political football, and with budget cuts and sequestration, there is greater pressure to spend taxpayer dollars in the most cost effective way and to be able to prove that we are doing so. It seems like a daunting challenge, as more scrutiny has been placed on Federal programs that are competing for the limited funds in decreasing Department budgets.

Is it really that difficult to justify and obtain the funding that has become harder to acquire? With rigorous financial analysis and accurate reporting, this challenge becomes less of an obstacle.

Financial analysis throughout the entire acquisition lifecycle is one of the best practices for ensuring and providing proof of cost efficiency. Federal Government acquisitions use frameworks and processes that leverage several financial tools put in place to maximize the value procured from the solution while decreasing the risk of wasted resources, and ensuring that the best alternative is selected.

In part 1 of a two-part series, I’ll describe the financial analysis tools at the disposal of Federal programs for in-depth analysis, planning, reporting and tracking, to reduce risks and promote success in the conduct of acquisitions. In part 2, I’ll discuss three specific frameworks. [Read more...]

Use the “A” Team for Integrated Acquisition Planning

Big ADoes this sound familiar? Mission and business owners define their requirements, “throw them over the fence”, and then the contracting and contractor community conduct activities to obtain and deliver the contracted solutions. But what about rapid changes in technology, short development time frames, reduced budgets, or greater complexity? These risks in execution lead to schedule delays, cost overruns, performance problems, and even mission degradation.

What’s needed to prevent these risks? A paradigm that may seem recent to some, yet retro or vintage to others. That’s because it’s both.

I describe this paradigm fully in an article in the October 2014 PSC Service Contractor magazine. Here is a quick look at the paradigm, which revolves around three main areas and provides “point of view checks and balances” for ensuring your organization is both doing the right things, AND doing things right. [Read more...]

Best Collaboration Tools for Project Teams

Collaboration Tools imageImagine you’re an analyst who has recently joined a project team. Your job duties include generating large, complex program documents on tight deadlines. Producing poor quality deliverables will put your stakeholder’s schedule and budget at risk. You know accomplishing this task will require the input of various team members, many of whom are scattered across multiple program management offices. Furthermore, you’ve been tasked with tracking team deliverables for stakeholder approval.

How can you overcome the challenges of remote workers, multi-office teams and inclement weather? Collaboration tools are the solution. Here are five ways to use collaboration tools so federal government teams and those who support them can work faster, better and smarter. [Read more...]

With A Great Contract Management Plan, The Sky is the Limit

Sky is the limit imageYour team may have spent hours and hours considering the program management, risk management and quality assurance issues involved in letting a new government contract. But have you pulled the key information about how that contract will be managed into a single plan?

A Contract Management Plan (CMP) is one of the primary tools the Government can use to make sure that a program achieves everything it wants and that it gets what it is paying for from a contractual perspective. It is a key document guiding the coordinated efforts of the contract management team throughout the term of the contract. Not all agencies use them, but here are three reasons why they’re important, and 11 questions the CMP should ask and answer. [Read more...]

Gold Plating vs Value Engineering– Recognize the Difference for Smoother Project Management

Keyboard image of "Change"You manage or are part of a project and decide to add additional features or functionality to the product or service you provide. You think it will please the customer and make the team look good. But what if it slows the project, adds costs or isn’t what’s needed?

There is a proper and an improper way to introduce new features in a project. It’s the difference between value engineering versus what’s known as gold plating. Let’s look at how the two can be confused and the impact that can have on project management. [Read more...]