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Friday, August 1, 2014

Vital Tips for Project Management in Small Business Federal Government Contracting



INTRODUCTION
Good small business project management focuses the resources on a plan for contract execution, the schedule, budget and customer requirements baseline and the status of a given effort among other concurrent projects to give visibility into problem solving and management trade offs. 
If you are a small enterprise selling off-the-shelf commercial items under FAR Part 12 or marketing commercial products on a GSA schedule, you may be initially challenged by the government contracting venue. With persistence you will establish selling relationships through agencies and prime contractors. Your project management challenge is minimal.
 
A service contractor faces a far greater challenge in understanding the nature of government contact project management and succeeding at it.

PLANNING IS KEY

Strategic thinking must be applied to structuring a government service contract project management capability in your company. It must involve long term planning and designing a business system as well as establishing rates and factors to bid new work and control it while interfacing with the customer.

When one plans in detail to define the product or the service one reduces performance risk. 
The project management challenge is not to launch significant and costly resources before the specification for the product is sufficiently defined, obviating the need for costly revisions or abandonment, yet knowing when the product definition and plan are suitable for release.
Good project management starts early.

Without a well written Statement of Work (SOW) and associated supplies  and services specifications there is unacceptable risk in the future  contract and is it exceptionally high risk to bid or contract the job. 

Both the contractor and the customer must come to an understanding regarding the scope of effort to be performed. That understanding is conveyed in the Statement of Work (SOW) and confirmed in the specifications referenced therein.  A good SOW should have the following principal attributes:

* Clear identification of the products, services, skills, materials and performance factors required to complete the contract

* A description of the conditions under which the contractor will be required to perform and any related environmental or location factors

* Specific references to product specifications that govern an acceptable product or services performance outcome and delivery  acceptance

* A schedule for the contract that identifies discrete delivery dates for products and specific start and end dates for supporting labor.

* A precise description of customer furnished material or facilities required and when it will be made available to the contractor.
 
If your customer does not provide the above, offer the document during the comments period, during your proposal or during negotiations that represents a version to which your company will commit.

 
Do not let the fact the program is competitive sway you from the facts. Signing off on a poorly written SOW results in a difficult contract to manage, a high probability for disputes during the  contracting period and a poor past performance record you will have to  deal with in the future on other jobs.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT RULES OF THUMB
A secondary and related challenge is managing the baseline for the product or service to avoid scope creep, superfluous bells and whistles and other diversions that risk the basic completion objectives. 
Set a baseline for what can and cannot be achieved for the resources and time that have been committed to the job and present to the client.  Use it as a bench mark for discussion to establish a plan going forward. Then control it using sound baseline management.
Stay away from "Scope Creep" that can kill a contract, a customer relationship and a past performance record, all of which are important to your business. Stay in front of "Scope Creep" by communicating positively with the customer to control the baseline, keeping cost, schedule and technical performance integrated and synchronous.

Use the below rules of Thumb to control "Scope Creep":

KNOW - The contract value and its ceiling amount

KNOW - The incurred cost to date and commitments

KNOW - The scope of work and whether or not your current efforts are supporting it or some other objectives

KNOW - The estimated cost at completion based on where you are at today

KNOW - Your customer and who among the customer population is prone to direct out of scope effort.

 KNOW - WHEN TO SAY "NO" to "Scope Creep" and say it officially in   writing to the contracting officer specified in your contract.

For baseline management and earned value techniques in achieving the above, please see the articles linked below:




CAREFULLY SELECT YOUR PROJECT MANAGER(S) OR PERFORM THE ROLE YOURSELF

The following are the more esoteric project manager attributes necessary in the government contracting industry:

DEVELOPING the ability to cross organizational lines and make disparate groups or functional organizations work together with only a power of persuasion and a contract.

EVOLVING the art of directing resources without having them as direct reports while keeping home departments and functional bosses happy at the same time.

MANAGING to convince the executives in the company that specific project (s) are the most important in the firm.

LIVING with the prospect that if the project is late, fails or otherwise disappoints the powers that be, replacing the project manager will be the designated corrective action.

GROWING to crave the satisfaction that comes from succeeding at the above challenges and you would not have any other job because no other pursuit makes your day go as fast, grows you skills as sharp and totally occupies your intellect.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Unsolicited Government Contract Proposals - A Multiple Stage Challenge















  
image ostglobalsolutions dot com

INTRODUCTION

Most enterprises in government contracting encounter the possibility of submitting an unsolicited proposal.  The perceived opportunity arises as a result of observing a requirement that the company could uniquely fulfill, but for which the government has yet to issue a formal solicitation.

These opportunities are normally  large enough so they can't be sold off a GSA schedule or an existing contract delivery order, and do not fall under FAR Part 12, "Commercial Contracting”  

CHALLENGES AND STRATEGY

Since your product or service is not on the funding docket with the agency it does not have a funding I.D. Your job is to get the technical and project personnel enthused enough about it to carve out a niche in their program area and support a funding request for it. They do so by  to obtaining a solicitation I.D; money and authorization to buy from you.
The key to achieving the above is a good presentation revolving around your capability statement but supplemented by a pitch that should emphasize specifically how you understand the agency mission and that your offerings could further it.
Your objective should be to submit a hard hitting summary with a proposal in letter form, protected with the standard proprietary markings, through the contracting officer with whom you have already had discussions to the technical lead man in the agency and request a meeting to make the full pitch in person. 
WORK YOUR PROPOSAL IN STAGES
The following link is the FAR guidance on unsolicited proposals:
Be advised that you need to assert your rights in technical data and software on anything you give them that is product oriented because you have made an investment in it. When they start putting money into its further development you find them pressuring you for a deal on licensing and free use of it in exchange for funding and orders for services. That is the normal course of events and it can be managed.
Another approach is to carefully locate a platform provider that could use your product services and team with them on a larger scale, bundled program that may be going to formal solicitation.
In either of the above instances, carefully protect your idea using the tips in the below article:
You will note that the FAR guidance specifies that cost and pricing data must be submitted so the proposal may be evaluated.  Naturally you must provide that ultimately, but it is recommended you do not do so with your initial proposal submission.  Simply state you will be pleased to include the agency in the scope discussions in terms of types and quantities of product and services, after which you will price the result of their input for planning purposes, pending a formal solicitation with funding commitment.
If the agency or a prime gets enthused, they will ask for a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) estimate for planning and funding purposes on what your product or services may cost. Be careful to make it conservative because those things get cast in concrete and caveat any ROM with a written statement that your ROM is not a formal commitment to a contract and that you will be pleased to commit with a formal proposal from the government through a duly authorized contracting officer under a funded solicitation.
I have had clients that have even been requested by agencies to write a statement of work for such a solicitation
The government fiscal year is a key driver in terms of available funding and getting it earmarked. Keep in mind funding for a program using your idea or a platform using it must fall within a funding cycle that begins 1 October, picks up heavily in July and August and must conclude in September.
CONCLUSION
Success in unsolicited proposals is a process:
1.   An initial unsolicited proposal submission after focused marketing is the gateway

2.   A strong presentation to the customer in person is key.

3.   Rough order of magnitude (ROM) pricing permits planning by the customer

4.   A funded solicitation is a green light for a firm contract proposal.

5    A Formal proposal submission under a funded solicitation, committing to negotiable price, schedule and delivery terms wins the contract. 


In addition to the articles linked above, please review the following 2 additional articles for guidance:
 


Sunday, June 1, 2014

GOVERNMENT CONTRACT BID PROTESTS - POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES IN " SOUR GRAPES"


Image: Island City Dot Net

How good are your chances of winning a bid protest?

"Washington Technology"

"Your chance of winning a protest may be better than you think, but that depends on how you define winning.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office decided only 3.43 percent of its protests cases in favor of the protester, but that is only part of the story.

In a large number of protests, the procuring agency took voluntary corrective action granting some form of relief to the protester, thereby preempting GAO from rendering a protest decision. When adding these cases to those GAO decided in favor of the protester, the effectiveness rate for protests soars to 43 percent. In this article, we will take a closer look at what this means for bidders and what they might expect from protests.

Protest sustainment rate

In GAO’s 2013 annual report to Congress on bid protests,  GAO reported that it sustained bidder protests for 87 protest cases out of 2,538 cases it closed that year. This is a protest win rate of 3.43 percent for all protest cases closed. Of the 2,538 cases closed, 259 cases, or about 10 percent, were attributable to GAO’s bid protest jurisdiction over task orders or delivery orders placed under indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts.

The most prevalent reasons for sustaining protests in 2013 were:

       Failure of the procuring agency to follow the solicitation evaluation criteria.
       Inadequate documentation of the record.
       Unequal treatment of offerors.
       Unreasonable price or cost evaluation.
       Voluntary corrective actions

In over 1,000 bid protest cases last year, the procuring agencies voluntarily took corrective actions granting some form of relief to the protester rather than defend the protest on the merits of the case. Corrective action can occur at any time during a protest.

An agency’s corrective action may involve a re-evaluation of proposals, a new award decision, an amendment to a solicitation, or other actions. Typically, GAO dismisses a protest if an agency takes corrective action that resolves protest arguments or provides the relief sought by the protester.

If you filed a protest in 2013, you had a 39.5 percent chance that the procuring agency would take voluntary corrective action that would result in some form of relief for the protester. When the number of cases where the agency voluntarily took corrective action is added to the number of cases decided in favor of the protester, the effectiveness rate for protesters rises to 43 percent.

Protest effectiveness rate

The protest effectiveness rate (protests sustained plus voluntary corrective actions divided by total of all protest cases closed) has been pretty constant over the past five years, ranging from a low of 42 percent to a high of 45 percent.

 Similarly, the sustainment rate for protests (protests sustained divided by total number of protests sustained and denied) has largely held constant, ranging from a low of 16 percent to a high of 19 percent.

While these rates have remained fairly constant, the number of protests brought each year has generally increased. From 2009 to 2013, the number of protests filed increased from 1,989 to 2,429 or an increase of about 22 percent. The number of protests filed each year from 2009 increased every year with the exception of 2013, when the number of protests declined from 2012 by about 2 percent.

This decline is presumably due to reduced government spending and reduced number of procurement actions in 2013.

Not all protests go the distance. Only about 20 percent of GAO protests are actually decided on the merit of the protest, so there is a 4 out of 5 chance that the protest will be dismissed by GAO because the protest had a technical or procedural flaw (such as lack of timeliness or jurisdiction), the agency took corrective action that addressed the protest, or the protester withdrew the protest because it decided it could not win.

Your best protest outcomes

If you are planning to protest, probably the best outcome would be for the agency to voluntarily take corrective action quickly so GAO could dismiss the protest early in the process, saving you some legal expenses. Your chance of this happening is around 40 percent.

If the protest goes the distance, your chance of winning drops to less than 20 percent.
So if the agency doesn’t voluntarily take corrective action, you might want to consider pulling the plug on your protest and saving the little bit of money you have left to bid other jobs where you have a better chance of winning."

 About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is robert.lohfeld@lohfeldconsulting.com