Michael W. Derrios
Are We Training For The Same Sport?
One of the things I'm most passionate about is developing others and cultivating their talents because agency missions and taxpayers benefit from a strong Acquisition workforce. But when I think about how our 1102-series workforce is developed across the Federal government I often wonder if we're training them for a completely different sport than the one that our Industry counterparts are preparing for because it tends to show in the outcomes we achieve (or don't) in the GovCon procurement community. The certification requirements to become a warranted Contracting Officer are certainly rigorous, but I think they only train folks on the Federal side for half of the equation. In my humble opinion, there really needs to be more emphasis for those in the 1102-series on how the 'business of government' works on the Industry side.
Think about it. When it comes to just about any sport, all the athletes study their opponents before a big match-up. (Not that I'm suggesting anyone in the GovCon community - Federal or Industry - should be viewing themselves as an adversary to the other.) Perhaps a better analogy might be running a race. Sometimes it seems like folks on the Federal side are training for a 10K and our peers on the Industry side are training for a half-marathon. It's easy for those of us in the Federal government to view the Request for Proposal (RFP) process as a short-term endeavor. And that makes sense when you're dealing with a large volume of transactions every year. But our Industry counterparts tend to view government RFPs through a more long-term lens because they have a very sophisticated and disciplined approach to winning specific government contracts based on their limited bid and proposal budgets.
For the most part, Industry uses the Shipley Business Development Lifecycle process, or variants of it, which is a multi-phased approach separated by decision gate reviews throughout where senior managers decide whether to advance to the next phase, defer, or end the pursuit of an opportunity. It is a very milestone-driven model that emphasizes planning in order to identify potential business opportunities that align to a company's strategic focus, direction and capabilities and results in very well-informed Bid/No-Bid decisions. The Shipley process, for all intents and purposes, has been adopted as an industry standard when it comes to business development for both commercial and government markets. Yet, it always surprises me that many Contracting professionals in the Federal government have no knowledge about the Shipley framework or how Industry goes about their capture process to win a government contract.
So, why is it that we're not teaching our 1102s about the Shipley process so that they can see how their Industry counterparts understand and react to our Federal environment? Sure, there are some great immersion programs out there that offer Federal employees and military members a chance to work on a short detail assignment at a company but that education can only go so far. I think a better approach would be to integrate the way that Industry views and plans for government business into the actual certification process for the 1102-series community. Perhaps we need a Level IV Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) that really hones in on this important component. I'm sure most 1102s that reach the coveted Level III would prefer not to have to attain yet another level of certification but I really think it's an important missing ingredient. And even if it's not officially linked to the FAC-C curriculum, perhaps those of us on the Federal side need to start investing in getting our Contracting professionals certified through the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP).
Gaining a real perspective for how proposal management works on the Industry side would really help those of us on the Federal side to understand the importance of collaboration. For example, if government Contract Specialists understood the Shipley process they'd realize how important those RFP milestone dates are to their Industry counterparts and might be apt to communicate more frequently as the fluid process on the Federal side changes. Shared visibility into where the government is at on its side of the RFP process can go a long way toward helping a company determine if they should stay the course with a particular business opportunity or abandon the effort to pursue something else. If that whole dichotomy could be bridged better it would result in the right companies bidding on the right government contracts, which would theoretically result in better outcomes across the board.
I've never met a seasoned business development professional on the Industry side that doesn't know the Federal contracting process just as well as I do and it begs the question why those on the government side aren't investing more to gain that same level of intimate knowledge about how our Industry peers do their work. Again, in my humble opinion, our training for 1102s just isn't going deep enough. We can teach them how to be great negotiators, but getting to a win-win on a poorly designed RFP that was rushed through the process with a lack of communication with Industry will invariably result in the wrong, or limited, pool of contractors and potentially the wrong one selected, which isn't good for mission or taxpayer dollars. And when companies are suffering through a bad contract, it's certainly not good for them either because, ultimately, we all want and need to have a healthy government industrial base. Companies want to bid on the right contracts that are a good fit for them and government definitely wants that as well. And both sides understanding each other's process is the only way to build the necessary collaboration it takes to achieve that common goal.