In the past, the relationship between project managers and procurement officers often has been a clash of wills. Now it’s time for all to focus on cooperation instead of confrontation.
Project Management: Partnering With Procurement
By Ed Rinkavage, Patricia Bennis, and Chuck Gault
According to the Project Management Institute, project management is "the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of the particular project." Beyond that basic definition, project management in the federal marketplace has taken on an increasingly important role in the success of the acquisition life cycle--and a more visible role with offices.
In the past, the relationship between project management and procurement often has been a clash of wills. (We've all heard the stories.) But with the increasing importance of the project manager to the procurement initiative, and with the obstacles facing most procurement offices, it is time to focus on cooperation instead of confrontation.
The challenge to the project manager, then, is how to partner with procurement in a way that positively impacts the project life cycle.
The Cooperation Challenge
The field of federal project management is ripe with tales of project managers and procurement officers who, for whatever reason, do not work well together. Sometimes they don't work together at all. It's not uncommon to hear of a project manager at a federal agency who is forced to outsource procurement support in order to better serve his or her customer. In those instances, while customer focus is retained, the relationship between project management and procurement only deteriorates further--which can spell big trouble for another customer down the road.
However, before the issue of project management vs. procurement degenerates into finger-pointing and name-calling, project managers need to realize that they can take positive steps to address this challenge.
More often, it is a simple matter of educating the project manager about the requirements and challenges present in the procurement process. Between downsizing and attrition, procurement offices are facing staffing problems like never before. In fact, over the last 15 years, the contracting work force has been reduced by one-sixth--yet the procurement workload has doubled. It's up to the project manager to keep the procurement office informed--and in a timely fashion--so that procurement can fulfill its role of supporting both the customer and the project manager.
Treating the procurement office as a separate and potentially hostile entity isn't helpful to anyone. Instead, project managers must recognize that the application of basic project management techniques to the procurement aspect of the project can move things along more smoothly. Keeping the procurement office well informed, understanding and respecting procurement procedures, and developing a joint acquisition plan and applicable milestones that everyone can support--on both the project management and procurement teams--can mean all the difference for the ultimate success of the project.
Procurement can learn from the project management side as well, because the procurement process is a project in and of itself. The contract management community, in recognition of the advantages of project management and procurement offices that speak the same language, has begun a push to integrate the skills and techniques of project management into the procurement field. Perhaps it is as simple as vocabulary, but both sides of this equation have to work together to best complete the project and meet the needs of the customer.
Project Management "Dos"
The "dos," or best practices, for project managers are straightforward. In order to be effective in the world of project management, these skills are crucial:
- Leadership--The ability to influence program results over a broad spectrum of disciplines with the appropriate leadership and management attributes.
- Communication--The ability to explain what you know, and to ask for what you don't know, can make or break your project. Consistent and ongoing communication with the procurement office is particularly important to the health of the project at hand.
- Planning--In the field of project management, the importance of planning is elementary. But, the importance of including procurement in those plans can be dangerous to overlook.
- Appreciation of the Big Picture--Instead of bogging down the project's momentum in minutiae, focus on the goal: Keep procurement up-to-date, stay in touch with the customer, and never lose sight of the reason the project exists in the first place.
- Attention to Detail--This is not always easy with today's compressed time lines and demanding customers, but the devil really is in the details. The project manager has to stay on top of the details in order to ensure ultimate success.
- Financial Management--The ability--and the willingness--to track budgets and understand value in a project is a key strength of a good project manager.
- Knowledge of Applicable Laws and Regulations--In federal markets this skill is vitally important.
Because of the way projects are administered, failure to abide by laws, rules, and regulations results in a project that breaks the law. The project manager must know, understand, and respect the laws and regulations that govern all aspects of the project--including procurement.
All these skills are important to the good project manager, but one makes a great project manager. The hallmark of a great project manager is leadership, which is the ability to move a project forward. Even when the project manager does not possess particular expertise in the different systems needed, a skilled leader in project management can bring the team together to get the job done. It is leadership that advances the required processes while taking care to involve all stakeholders, from procurement to IT development to the customer. The quality of the project manager's leadership sets the tone for the entire project life cycle.
Project Management "Don'ts"
While there are many ways to fail at the complex and challenging task of project management (some spectacularly sudden and some slow and insidious), there are two categories of thinking that the best project managers avoid completely:
- Don't Think You Know it All--Ask questions! No one expects the project manager to be an expert in every aspect of the project itself, but an effective project manager must recognize the limits of his or her own knowledge, appreciate and take advantage of the expertise of team members, and understand the importance of things not known.
- Don't Lose Sight of the Customer--At the end of the day, the project manager works to address the specific requirements of a particular group of customers. It is easy to become buried in details, lose focus, and, ultimately, produce an end result that does not meet the needs of the customer. It may sound simple, but maintaining that all-important focus on the customer requires a significant and ongoing investment of time and attention. Particularly in the field of weapon system and information technology acquisitions, the customer is sophisticated and exacting, and losing track of what the customer wants is a critical mistake.
Bridging the gap between project management and procurement can be as simple as taking a step back-- learning what before working on how. Everyone has his or her own important role to play in the acquisition life cycle, and recognizing those roles can go a long way
toward easing the sometimes-painful relationship between project management and procurement. In the end, success will not happen unless everyone works together.
Editor's Note: Ed Rinkavage, acquisition management vice president of the LEADS Business Unit at ITS Corp., has over 25 years of federal contracting experience and is the president-elect for the National Contract Management Association, Tysons Corner Chapter.
Patricia Bennis, PMP, is Program Manager for the U.S. Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) IT Support contract. She has over 30 years of experience in federal contracting and information technology management.
Chuck Gault, the executive director for intelligence programs at the LEADS Business Unit of ITS Corp., is a DoD level 3-certified acquisition program manager. Previously he served as a member of the federal senior executive service.
Program Management Yields Procurement Success
By Andrea White
In a results culture, achieving improved performance after contract award and throughout the contract life cycle enhances an agency's chance of meeting goals and effectively supporting its mission. So it follows that the application of the same disciplined management approach that is used for program management after contract award yields more successful contracting and procurement actions if it is applied before the award is made--during the contracting procurement process.
Applying the discipline of program management to the acquisition of large systems historically has demonstrated success. Over 30 years ago, the Department of Defense (DoD) began a formalized program for acquisition management that articulated the need for a disciplined and focused program management function--the DoD series 5000--which, although significantly changed from its original version, is still being followed today for major system acquisitions.
More recently, the use of program management has been encouraged to improve performance across a broader range of programs in the federal government, and not just for major systems acquisitions. Because there are such similarities between running a competitive procurement action before award and managing a complex program after award, the chances for a successful outcome of the procurement action are significantly enhanced if a disciplined program management approach is taken to the procurement action itself.
Apply Discipline Early
The program management triad of "people, process, and tools" applied to running an effective procurement as well as to the post-award program activities will achieve improved performance results throughout the entire program life cycle.
A recent procurement at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a good example of where applying the discipline of program management to pre-award activities resulted in success. In 2003, FAA executives embarked on a major competitive and complex procurement/contracting action requiring adherence to a new set of rules related to the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76. The new rules required a strict timeline for the procurement. The contracting action affected 2,500 employees, and the services being competed related to aviation, which required heightened safety and quality considerations. Consequently, in addition to the goal of more cost-effective operations, the FAA needed to achieve technological and performance objectives in order to meet their agency's mission and goals.
To accomplish these goals, the Director of the FAA's Office of Competitive Sourcing, Joann Kansier, decided early on to instill the discipline of program management into the pre-award procurement process.
According to Kansier, "Delivering the benefits we had promised to the general aviation community and the taxpayer was of the utmost importance. We had designed a performance-based contract requiring specific metrics to define acceptable performance and stringent financial incentives--positive and negative--to ensure these benefits were attained in a consistent, ongoing manner. Both the criteria for success and the monetary components for making the contract happen had to be developed in the pre-award stage."
Integrate People, Process, and Tools
In considering the successes achieved by the FAA by adopting a traditional program management approach to the pre-award procurement process, here are some things to note when addressing the three areas of a program management triad for your successful procurement.
- Early in the procurement process, educate your procurement workforce on how to be business managers to foster their development as valued partners.
- Require contracting personnel to align the outcomes of the procurement action with the strategic goals and mission of the agency.
- Form procurement teams with members that have deep experience and skills in these areas:
- Strategic planning and long-range goal setting;
- Operational effectiveness; and
- Compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
- Establish a program process that accommodates your agency's unique review requirements. For example, in the FAA case, the agency needed to integrate its Joint Resource Council (JRC) cycle into the A-76 circular process.
- Create a process map that graphically depicts outside reporting or approval requirements as well as the internal process steps to be taken by the procurement team.
- Use a management dashboard reporting mechanism to make sure that visibility is given to every appropriate level throughout the planning and procurement phases, one that can evolve into a useful part of the management process for the program after contract award.
- Integrate regulatory schedules and formats (acquisition plans, milestone schedules, etc.) into a Plan of Actions and Milestones (POAM) that will identify impacts to critical path elements if changes occur.
- Use scheduling and tracking tools to assist in monitoring the progress of the procurement stages and ensuring the right resources are available at the right time.
- Obtain program management assistance from outside sources, if necessary. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available today to procurement officials to support more effective contracting and procurement actions. The GSA Management, Organizational and Business Improvement Services (MOBIS) multiple award schedule is the perfect tool to help government agencies put together operational and business improvement programs. This schedule is a mature contracting vehicle that permits great opportunities for government agencies to purchase organizational improvement services in a streamlined and timely manner.
Success Will Breed Success
Instilling the discipline of program management at the earliest phases of the procurement cycle supports the government's continuing drive toward a results culture. It is no longer sufficient to set up a program management office to oversee the performance of services after contract award. Instead, the procurement workforce must begin to adopt these same disciplined approaches to running the procurement before award. Not only will this approach help to accomplish the procurement on time with better defined requirements and stakeholder buy-in, it will establish the beginnings of the documentation and systems necessary for effectively managing the contract after award.
The success of any program--and by extension, any contract--depends on effective integration of people, process, and tools. Thoughtful integration of program management before, during, and after contract award ensures closer alignment with an agency's mission and, therefore, a successful outcome.
Editor's Note: Andrea White is Vice President of Contracts and Business Support for Robbins-Gioia, L.L.C. She also is a Certified Professional Contracts Manager (CPCM) who has been working in the services arena for more than 20 years. Throughout her career she has furthered contract management effectiveness both as a corporate contracting official and at the project management level on various government and commercial engagements. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Management Techniques Before Award Can Minimize Investment Risks
By José A. Marroig, PMP, President, Project Solutions Group Government Consulting, Vienna, VA
Contracting Officers (KO) play an integral role in the success or failure of projects. Statistics show that IT projects continue to struggle, with only 29 percent completed on time,
18 percent failed or terminated, and 53 percent behind schedule and/or over budget. KOs can minimize the risk of their investments becoming statistics by reviewing and enforcing project management practices before awarding contracts.
Most contractors claim to understand the science of project management and believe they correctly apply it to their engagements. In practice, they need help with project management, and KOs and their contract teams should provide the framework for that help.
As a KO, here are some items you can ask your vendor to address before you award a contract.
Contract Type: First and foremost, choose the right contract type. Many KOs believe that fixed-bid contracts place the risk on the contractor--if the contractor makes a mistake, they will have to assume the cost. In theory, this is a good strategy. However, rarely does a contractor absorb the cost of his mistakes. When something goes wrong on a project, the contractor typically finds something in his response, or in the RFP, that is ambiguous. He rightfully and successfully requests a change in scope and thus changes the cost of the project.
Use of Earned Value Management (EVM): Obtain accountability and visibility for your projects. EVM was developed by the Department of Defense in the 1960s and is widely considered the best method of tracking and controlling project performance. Earned value provides leading indicators of future problems, as well as the magnitude and significance of performance issues in current and past periods. Project managers who use earned value are able to see trends over time and impacts of their decisions on project cost, schedule, and risk.
Schedule Reviews: Review the project schedules with the contractor to make sure they have a solid and actionable plan. This is your opportunity to question and gain more insight into the contractor's management practices. Not only will potential areas of concern be uncovered, it also will help build a healthy working relationship between the organizations.
1. Ensure that the plan has contingencies for potential risks.
2. Tasks should be properly staffed and resources should not be scheduled for more than 40 hours a week.
3. Ascertain whether the level of effort associated with the task is reasonable.
These basic activities will help you minimize the risk of your investment and help you during the vendor selection process. Good and consistent project management starts at the beginning of the contracting process, not just when projects begin or, worse, when problems arise.