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Moving The Better Buy Project Forward: An Exercise in Change

From The Better Buy Project blog

After attending the recent Better Buy Project panel this past week, I blogged about my observations and some issues that came up from that conversation.

That lively discussion continued on the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community. Although many commentators took different takes, I think we all agreed that one of the central tenets of successfully implementing Gov 2.0 can focus on one principal area: change management.

Like the Better Buy Project and all Gov 2.0 projects, these initiatives are typically undertaken to changing the overall business environment, and the federal procurement process for Acquisition 2.0. Whether trying to improve the requirements definition process, change roles, or define new ways of doing business, and effective Change Management Process is paramount to stress the benefits, demonstrate long-term value, and minimize the resulting impact on current projects.

Implement a Change Management Process in Gov 2.0

Unlike most projects with a typical project manager, I do believe in the need for the extra project leadership via change agents; committed leaders who are willing to take the risks associated with these initiatives and drive them to fruition. Due to the nature of the current environment in Government procurement (e.g. risk-aversion and status-quo mentality), change is a difficult pill to swallow. This mindset is further exacerbated by the perception of disrupting productivity, as the acquisition workforce has been forced to do more with less. Many past improvement initiatives have also not been driven by change agents, and thus go nowhere. In regards to Gov 2.0, many procurement officials feel they do not have the time to bother with yet another program from leadership that only makes one roll their eyes with the perception of no real value or benefit to helping one do their job better, faster, and cheaper; another passing fad. Thus the need for real commitment from the top and the change agents as demonstrated with Better Buy, as the project is showing real value and a commitment to execute.

Successful implementation will rest with Change Management, which is defined as the process of monitoring and controlling change within a project. By managing the implementation of Gov 2.0 initiatives in regards to acquisition, leaders can:

* Reduce the negative impact on current acquisition projects

* Identify new issues and risks, and implement lessons learned as a result of changes implemented during execution

* Ensure that implemented changes do not affect overall desired objectives and outcomes

* Control cost of implemented changes

Successful Change Process: A Four Step Model

Change Management in itself is a project within a project. It is already being executed at the General Services Administration (GSA), where projects are actively being sought to pilot the inputs from Better Buy users. Nonetheless, implementing and executing on Gov 2.0 initiatives can follow these Change Management steps:

Identify: The first step in the change process is to identify the need for change, which is apparent in federal acquisitions. This is the overall objective of the Better Buy Project, where any member can suggest a change to the process. Some of the discussion at the panel included capturing statistical data of the user community and their input. However, it is the relevancy of the input that is most important. Further, anonymity can be a powerful tool to providing desired input, free from possible managerial reprisals. The Better Buy Project will hopefully serve as a template for capturing input for change, and helping leaders identify needed focus on process improvements and areas to retool business operations. The Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) program is another example of real benefit through collaborative processes, although these types of tools should be done with more frequency. Identifying the need to change is driven by value added; describing the change, and identifying drivers, benefits, costs and likely impact of the change on the project, process, or agency.

Review: This is what the Better Buy Project is currently doing in its Phase II, which is to investigate the recommended changes to identify feasibility and impact, both long and short-term. GSA experts are looking for the low-hanging fruit, and those suggestions that can be successful delivered to have the greatest impact with the least disruption. Normally changes which are not critical to project delivery should be avoided whenever possible to prevent "scope creep," but the Web 2.0 construct seemingly turns this project management dictum on its head. Implemented changes will have impact on project delivery, specifically by buying better, faster, cheaper. It is the disruption on current delivery that can not suffer, and why Butter Buy implementation will be so difficult. Finding ways to implement gradual change is preferred, as lessons learned can be studied, reviewed, and implemented with more meaningful impact.

Approve: Experts have to review the recommended changes and input, as some recommendations are real and others use these forums as an outlet for venting frustration. Nonetheless, it is the naysayers that can also have value on the conversation, as they may point things out that are not always clear to those who are committed and engaged towards success. As discussed at the panel, the suggestions on Better Buy with the greatest number of votes does not necessarily mean ranking, so leaders do need to weigh the value of the input. More importantly, these decisions need to be communicated to the user community, as members should be able to see what input is being considered, and what is not. Ultimately, these decisions should be based on the level of risk, impact, benefits and cost to the overall project or process, and the decision may be to decline, delay or approve the change request. Either way, this level of communication and transparency can go a long way to refining input. More importantly, input will hopefully keep coming as users can see execution is the real end goal, and the initiative is a worthwhile investment of time to participate.

Implement: Here is another way to use collaboration tools with user input. Who knows best on the projects or processes that can be improved than users? Of course members will no doubt vent some more, but that is why input is vetted by experts and leaders to ensure the cream rises to the top. Leadership needs to ensure proper input gets implemented, and also ensure that proper communications strategies are put in place such that changes are scheduled and implemented accordingly. After implementation, leadership, helped with the users, can review the effects of the change on selected project and processes to ensure that they have achieved the desired outcomes. This in effect creates a change agent community, which helps leadership further communicate outcomes and execute more efficiently. Further, these successful changes then need to be broadly communicated to the overall Gov 2.0 community, to further build bridges and roadmaps for successful implementations across Government.

Throughout a sound Change Management Process, Government leaders can monitor and control changes to selected projects and processes by communicating often, and in turn ensuring that communication is broadcast using the same collaboration tools and keeping track of changes that have been accepted, rejected, or in review. This in effect creates a transparent, up-to-date Change Register.

By completing these steps, Government leaders can carefully monitor and control project and process changes, which in turn increase the likelihood of success. I look forward to further actions by the Better Buy Project, and other initiatives that are leading the way in changing how the Government operates.

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