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5 Things Harry Potter Can Teach Us About Government Contracting

I originally posted this on GovWin for the release of Harry Potter, and realized a lot of this still connects to federal employees as well. For the broad information that does relate to just contractors, it will at least provide some insight from our side.

As J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard franchise prepares to close with last week’s release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, let’s see what lessons government contractors can draw from the series:

Harry Potter costumes
Harry Potter fan costumes image by Flickr user rmkoske, used under Creative Commons license.

1: Keep your friends (connections) close

Harry generally hangs out with his two friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. As a government contractor, you are constantly making connections with potential partners, federal customers and prospective employees, so it’s important to keep an open line of communication with everyone.

Harry’s relationship with Hermione can teach contractors to have a subject matter expert or teaming partner nearby, as the contracting world is quite complicated and contracts often have varying requirements.

While Harry may be the proverbial chosen one (prime contractor), Hermione can complement his current service offerings with her expertise. If Harry needs to provide a product, she might also be able to provide some other magical items that are required to fulfill their current adventure.

Ron, on the other hand, is like the faithful employee, offering his services and loyalty whenever they are necessary, and sometimes filling in unexpected gaps.

Having your friends or connections close by will improve your success in fulfilling a contract, getting a contract or simply being in the know.

2: Have a good mentor

Throughout the books, two characters constantly acted as Harry’s mentors: Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid. Dumbledore was the headmaster of Harry’s school, which created a teacher/student role, whereas Hagrid provided information to Harry and his friends in an informal setting.

When small businesses begin their adventure in the government contracting world, it’s difficult to know where to start, but by having a mentor or taking advantage of connections, you can learn the process from experienced professionals.

Dumbledore can be thought of as anyone in a standard professional role, such as a consultant, or internal resources who have a vast amount of experience with the capture process. In return for Dumbledore’s (the mentor) experience, Harry contributes more to their end goal (winning more contracts).

Hagrid, on the other hand, is the type of mentor you get through connections and information in books and articles. Similar to the mentor-protege program, Hagrid can also represent a prime contracting company offering advice to a new or existing subcontractor (Harry and friends).

Coat of arms of Hogwarts, the fictional school created by J. K. Rowling for the Harry Potter novels, with motto in Latin: Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon. Image: Wikipedia Commons.

3: You never know who might be a Death Eater

When I first joined GovWin, I wanted to learn as much as I could about government contracting, so I took my questions to those with more experience. I posed a simple question on LinkedIn, and though the responses may have seemed genuine, a majority of them were in fact consultation pitches to get my business.

Death Eaters are those who work for villainous Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle), but pose as everyday people. While this may be a stretch (So? So is this whole article…), it’s important to note that if you are seeking advice, not everyone who provides you answers is doing so out of kindness.

When soliciting free advice, make sure that the answers that you’re getting address the challenges you face, and not the services they want to pitch.

4: Pay attention to your rivals (competition)

Government contracting is incredibly competitive, which is what the customer wants. Competition allows the government to get the best price for the best service. Harry was unaware in his earlier days, but Lord Voldemort actually has a direct connection to his mind. Voldemort was slowly trying to take Harry over, thus eliminating the only thing threatening his rise to power. Similarly, competition can use information that you reveal to early and knock you out of the running.

Social media tools are an important resource for learning about the activities and needs of your partners, competitors and customers. However, make sure you and your employees are using them wisely, and not revealing proprietary information about your bids, strategies, or other information that could jeopardize your opportunities.

Remember, you can learn a lot online from other government contractors, and even from your competition, by monitoring hot topics and sharing lessons learned and best practices. That’s one of the reasons I developed GovConversations, a weekly report that highlights important government contracting discussions across the internet.

5: The invisibility cloak shouldn’t distract a good leader

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry uses a cloak that grants him the power of invisibility so that he can sneak into Hagrid’s home and eavesdrop on a conversation. Unlike everyone else in the room, Dumbledore was aware that Harry was in the room.

Whether you are a project manager, task order supervisor or developer working on a project, you can be a great leader. The key to being a great leader is often information, so don’t let rumors (or boys in invisibility cloaks) cloud your judgement.

Being a great leader also means being able to act as a role model to others during trying times. My final days as a contractor was a test of this idea. Our contract was one week away from being awarded to our company (or a competitor), which meant rumors were coming from many directions. During situations such as that one, it was important to tell “might be” from “will be, and to be the role model who doesn’t spread unnecessary worry.

Bonus Round 6: Though Reparo may be a spell to magically fix things in the wizarding world, nothing beats hard work and determination in our world.

What do you think Harry Potter will teach us about contracting in the final chapter?

Elliot Volkman is an expert in new media communications and the Community Manager of GovWin, a Deltek network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.

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James E. Evans, MISM, CSM

I was hesitant to read this blog; thinking it would be a waste of time. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. I’m a big Harry Potter fan; just not a big go-to-the-movies kinda guy. Looking forward to the responses and the DVD or Netflix.

Elliot Volkman

Thanks James 🙂 I am quite a fan of the books, and happen to be related to quite possibly one of the largest Harry Potter fans there are. She “fact” checked everything for me to ensure they relate.

Brad Christy

Excellent post – terrific access to important industry resources too. Thanks for the exceptional effort – keep it up

Allison Gould

Great post. The themes and messages about determination and team work in Harry Potter can be applied to practically everything. Thanks Elliot!

Jack K

I am a government contractor, according to my experience i feel that for working with government… Make sure that your company meets the requirements for the bid and to win any contract use simple and understandable language in the Government Proposals.