|Image: Australian Naval Institute|
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.
A Framework For Small Business Federal Government Contracting Business Systrems
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:
Baseline Management In Small Business Contracting
Earned Value Management Systems
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.