If you’re a Project Manager, you’re probably also a Contract Manager

A lot of Feds out there think of themselves as Project Managers but for the most of us that run projects where a contractor is doing the actual work, I hate to be the one to break it to you but you’re not just a Project Manager, you’re also a Contract Manager. Meaning, you’re responsible for managing some agreement between you and your contractor and that agreement essentially constitutes a promise, guarantee, and/or obligation to do something. So if you’re just the “Project” Manager, then who’s holding your contractor accountable for that agreement?

This is one of the biggest problems with the Federal Government. We don’t really understand accountability. Accountability isn’t just a promise. It’s also the motivation for ensuring that [whomever] follows-through on that promise. There’s no accountability without consequences. There’s no accountability without consequences!

We talk tough about performance metrics, service level agreements, QASPs (if you’re a Fed reading this and you don’t know what this is, you better look it up), performance work statements, etc. and I’ve seen some stellar examples. But they always forget one little detail. What happens if they don’t do it?

There needs to be incentives or disincentives that motivates [whomever] to do the “right” thing. And don’t just think about it as defining incentives for performance. Think about it also as the kind of behavior you want to encourage.

I once managed a project/contractor which required several deliverables be completed and submitted according to a given schedule. If the contractor didn’t deliver by the due date, then they ate the additional cost. For one of the deliverables, I knew for a fact that they could’ve submitted it 2 weeks ahead of schedule but they didn’t because that meant they couldn’t continue burning at their agreed upon labor rate for those remaining 2 weeks. The metric was to ensure that they weren’t late but I should’ve also incentivized them to deliver early as well. Instead, I effectively only incentivized them to deliver on-time.

So the next time you’re putting together an “agreement,” make sure it includes these 3 things:

  1. Mechanisms to measure performance
  2. Incentives that motivate the “right” behavior
  3. Consequences if [whomever] doesn’t follow-through

And make sure you also tell them what they’re actually supposed to follow-through on.

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Lloyd R. James

I work for the state of Florida Employment (DEO); even though your Blog is not about employment is cause me to understand what a project manager is and is not.

I had to look in up

QASPs – The Wifcon Forum And Blogs

My agency would like to take a “pro-active” step to request a waiver to the new DoD Final Rule “Service Contract Surveillance (DFARS Case 2008-D032), see http http://www.wifcon.com/discussion/index.php?showtopic=633

I’m not a fed

Keep Blogging;

Your information very useful to me as a state employee


Josh Nankivel

As a contractor project manager / senior system engineer on the other side I completely agree. Clarity in the RFPs and contracts is essential; otherwise we end up arguing about interpretations. Effective CCBs for agreeing on contract mods is also very important to either resist contract mods based on the whims of stakeholders, or get them properly into the contract and expectations when they are necessary and approved.

Jeff Chao

You make a good point Josh. It’s a two way street. I’ve encountered folks that complain about something their contractor didn’t do but when you look at their SOW, it doesn’t require them to do that.

Chris Hamm

100% agree. All of GSA FEDSIM’s Project Managers accomplish their project goals through the award and management of contractors. The two duties of a PMs and CORs are technically distinct, but they reside in the same role.

Peter G. Tuttle

The bottom-line is you have to manage both the contract and the project, since they are both essentially inseparable. The contract at its most basic form is the formal “agreementl” which consummates a relationship between a buyer and seller, and details the required performance outcomes of the relationship. Even though the actual contract document is administered by the issuing office, both contracts and program management professionals form an integral part of any acquisition team – industry or government – same for both. Close and proactive collaboration between the various acquisition players is key to the success of any program, large or small.

Patrick A Reilly

Sometime us folks on the procurement side of the house are viewed as a stumbling block for project managers to get things done. Especially to those PM’s who come from outside of Government. I think you have tapped into the holy grail of value that procurement professional offer their project management counter parts….good agreements. I’m not saying there aren’t procurement folks out there that simply find creative ways to not get things done…we need to deal with them. But, when you have an acquisition team (CO&PM) that gets it and can deliver a good agreement and there are sufficient resource to administer the agreement, you’ve got a winner.

Jeff Chao

I completely agree with you Patrick. A contract should not be looked at as a way to deal with failure. The goal should be to get a contractor that performs because their success is your success.

Glenn R. Brule

Great article – i would add that if you are a project manager and contract manager you are most likely a requirements manager and developer, and likely exhausted from wearing 3 hats! 🙂

Andrew Krzmarzick

Patrick raises an important question: how often do the CO and PM get together (on the front end, in the design phase of a procurement)?
Perhaps that is a separate question for a forum…

Josh Nankivel

@Andy, in most cases I’d say the preferable arrangement is that the COR and Government PM are the same person. Perhaps you have a CO who these COR/PM roles report to (like we do here on my contract with the USGS) – but if you separate those roles I’m afraid it’s going to be very difficult to hold feet to the fire and/or mod the contract when it’s necessary.

Jaime Gracia

I am not a big fan of PMs being CORs for the same project. The reason being is that this multi-hatted approach leads to different priorities, and objectives. Further, any contract, regardless of PBA or not, should have established measures and metrics for quality and adherence to cost, schedule, and performance objectives.

Every organization should have a formal COR program, that manage portfolios, and free up PMs to manage performance, not contracts. CORs should be managing contracts, and that is the distinction.

Jeff hits the nail on the head by the statement that there is little accountability, and I believe that is the case. PMs and CORs need to meet with their contractors on a formal basis more often, especially when Agile techniques are used, and specifically with Scrum methods that outline work packages into days and weeks, not months and years. It allows baseline analysis, and corrective measures on the spot. Most monthly IBRs that I have seen as of late are useless, and don’t provide federal managers with actionable intelligence and oversight on their programs.

The federal government is drowning in data. There needs to be a focused approach to use better aligned data to help make decisions.

Jerry Rhoads

Jeff, what are your thoughts on value engineering? If a contractor comes up with a way to save money on their contract — the government and contractor split the difference. This can be a motivator to complete work early.

Jeff Chao

VECP or Sharing in Savings I think is a good idea in theory but this GAO report probably best captures some of the challenges, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05736.pdf

I imagine it would work best with commodity oriented costs but for services (particularly where performance improvement may be the key metric) quantifying savings may be too subjective.

Jeff Chao

The PM and/or COTR debate can be a tricky one. Someone should probably write something about it. I think the opposing arguments are “separation of duties” and “efficiency/effectiveness” and I’m not sure there’s one right answer. I’m sure there are lots of things to consider like skill sets, risks, and organizational culture. I have managed projects dual hatted myself and I have to admit, there were times I felt as if I was playing myself in a game of chess.