How an Integrated Master Schedule Can Avert Program Management Disaster

DAU sample IMS Gantt Chart

Image Credit: Defense Acquisition University. Sample IMS Gantt Chart.

Congratulations! It’s your first day at your new job as a Program Manager (PM). The last few days have been a whirlwind. You got the call from your director that you had been selected to replace the PM for one of the smaller programs in the portfolio. The previous PM had been reassigned and you barely got a chance to exchange greetings as you moved into your office.

Because of the program’s size, you don’t have a large staff – just a handful of people to take care of day-to-day activities. Your initial impressions after meeting the team and getting briefed on the program are that things seem to be in good shape. You’re excited about the new job as you begin getting up to speed and into the daily rhythm of the program.

Two weeks later and it happens. Your Contracting Officer (CO) just sent you an email reminding you the draft statement of work for the follow-on contract is due by Friday, two days from now. You recall one of your staff members telling you on your first day that the contract needed to be re-awarded “next year”, but there was no hint that any actions needed to be taken at this time. Soon after you get that email, you get a call from the Director’s office reminding you that your quarterly Program Management Review (PMR) update has been scheduled for next Wednesday and the read-ahead is due Monday. Your immediate thought is “What quarterly PMR??” You step out of your office to ask about the PMR, and when you get back to your desk, there’s another email. This is from the Comptroller’s shop telling you that there’s a budget review meeting next Monday and you need to be prepared to discuss and defend your program’s funding. You’re wondering two things – how am I going to get through the next seven days and what’s going to happen next?

Does any of this sound familiar? Is there a tool that you could have implemented on Day 1 to prevent the seeming catastrophes that are hitting on Day 14? [Read more...]

Is Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) Always The Best Deal?

LPTA imageIn the current fiscal environment, there is an even stronger focus on being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. That is certainly commendable and definitely what is expected by John Q. Public. The recent trend to uphold that trust placed in the Government has been toward awarding contracts on a lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) basis. On the surface it seems reasonable. Why would or should the Government pay more than necessary for what the contract requires?

The obvious answer is that it shouldn’t. Doing so would be a waste of taxpayer money and potentially land the agency on the front page of the papers with another story about a golden hammer. If we examine the situation a little deeper though, we may find that the obvious answer is not always the correct answer. [Read more...]

Ready, Set, Go… Cross the Acquisition Package Finish Line by Fiscal Year End

finish lineThis is sprinting season for any acquisition professional working on completing acquisition packages, negotiating offers and awarding the proposals. Contracting Officers (COs) should be proactive in doing all that needs to be done to ensure the requirements are awarded in a timely fashion.

While each agency has its own internal policies and regulations, there are some common must-do steps for both modifications on existing contracts and new requirements. [Read more...]

The Double Down Strategy of Contract Management Risk

double down photoIn blackjack, there is a strategy known as doubling down, in which players double their bet to get one more card in addition to their two card hand. Doubling down increases players’ chances of winning, just like risk management increases the chances of success during a contract’s lifecycle.

Risk is an inevitable part of any contract—as Murphy’s Law says, “anything that can go wrong, will.” Tight budgets, short timelines, and technological complexity in today’s acquisition environment, make risk more prevalent than ever. Adverse situations, including protests, can cause schedule delays, cost growth, performance degradation, and other intangibles which can have a large, negative impact on the success of a program. Being aware of risks and developing a risk mitigation strategy early in the contract lifecycle, prevents risks from becoming crises.

As presented at the National Contract Management Association’s (NCMA’s) 2014 World Congress, here’s a look at how doubling down early and in all steps of the contract lifecycle can reduce source selection risk and increase chances of success. [Read more...]

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...]