Earlier this month, I was sitting on a stage with several government technology leaders, when one of them said something that cut through the usual noise.
“If you don’t do right by the people involved, the whole thing will fall on its face.”
The speaker was David Wennergren, the assistant deputy chief management officer for the Department of Defense. His point is relevant to all of us, both in government and industry.
It’s easy for us to focus on the numbers and the technologies. We wring our hands about where the money will come from to finish out the quarter, how to navigate budget cutbacks and still grow our businesses, and how to get a foot in the door with an agency. In the process, we can neglect the human dimension of the complementary challenges the government faces.
The buyer on the other side of the table, after all, is in a difficult place too. For government acquisition professionals, it’s not terribly difficult to make mistakes. They can accidentally spend in advance of appropriations, task the contractor to perform unauthorized work, inject bias into a source selection decision – the list is as long as your arm. Then there’s the additional stress of working within a risk-averse, rule-bound culture that limits options on a daily basis.
The acquisition workforce faces a tougher job today just a few years ago. With the chronic delays in congressional appropriations, these federal employees are now finding themselves halfway through the fiscal year and still uncertain about what funding they might receive and whether there will be any strings attached. As a program manager in the commercial world, you’d be frustrated.
There’s an old saying: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over again?”
An over-extended government acquisition workforce, short on qualified professionals, doesn’t always have time for either.
The best business leaders in our industry understand this. They work to help keep government acquisition professionals from getting in a bind. They know that if their government customer makes a mistake, it falls partially on the contractors’ shoulders.
Keep quiet when you know about a tactic that customers could use to solve their problems and you deny the taxpayer an efficient solution, limit the agency’s resources, and — consequently — limit your own opportunity to grow.
That’s why, increasingly, I think the key to success in our industry will be the people skills necessary to have a constructive conversation with an acquisition professional. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it requires a particular skill set. At the heart of it is an intimate knowledge of the world she works in. So study the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the financing rules. Attend events where people like Wennergren explain their challenges. Sit down with the customer and offer a new approach to s a program. Few contractors do these things.
But those who do find a receptive audience. During my time as a federal procurement official, I saw contracting officers with 15 years or more of experience approach me with a solution to a problem that they wanted to explore, courtesy of a contractor. Risk-averse culture or not, their minds could be expanded.
The lesson here is simple. When you see a way forward, pick up the phone. Coach them, guide them honestly and objectively. “Do right by the people involved.” Together you’ll find the solution.
— by Ray Bjorklund, Chief Knowledge Officer, Deltek – published by the Washington Business Journal – November 22, 2011 at http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/fedbiz_daily/2011/11/the-human-dimesion-to-federal.html.