There is a great deal of innovation in the government contracting (aka GovCon) acquisition space these days, and that is great to see. However, there is still a significant reliance on written proposals to evaluate vendors and make source selection decisions. Today’s blog recommends that agencies go even further with minimizing written proposals and putting greater emphasis on “show-don’t-tell” (or SDT) acquisitions.
Think about how hiring generally is done. Candidates submit limited written material (in many cases, a simple, short resume or their LinkedIn profile), and the evaluation is done in real time interviews. In the GovCon space, in many cases tremendous effort is expended by both government and industry in crafting a solicitation, putting together a proposal to bid on the program, and evaluating those proposals. All that effort leads to a lot of time and cost. What are the goals we are trying to achieve? Procurements that lead to getting the most qualified vendor selected at a fair and reasonable price, in the quickest time possible, in order to meet an agency mission need.
In recent years, there has been a push towards more SDT acquisitions, with the government using oral presentations, live Q&A and/or scenario challenges, or real time coding or design challenges. These SDT exercises are advantageous for several reasons:
- SDT acquisitions provide greater transparency; they allow the government to get a better feel for who they would be working with, similar to a job interview, and how those folks will perform if they are selected. Evaluators can actually meet and interact with the proposed team, vs. evaluating a written proposal that could be completely outsourced.
Speaking of transparency, it’s been interesting to watch the developments with CIO-SP4, Alliant 3, and OASIS+ in the GWAC space. There are similarities and differences of note. While all use self-scoring, OASIS+ shared award thresholds with industry in the draft solicitation, making it very clear what it will take to secure an award, and exactly what they could do to raise their score. With industry always looking to optimize their investments with limited B&P resources, this type of transparency is greatly appreciated.
- Another advantage to SDT acquisitions is the government can see if the proposed vendor has done their homework. The government can ask them questions in real-time interactions to see if they understand the governments’ challenge and what they are trying to achieve. Do they understand the agency culture? Do they understand what types of approaches may or may not work in this agency? What does success look like?
- Next, SDT acquisitions allow the government to see how the vendor will work during execution. How will the vendor gather requirements, and what is their proposed delivery approach? Has that approach been used with past clients and is it tailored to your environment? Are there any political sensitivities that need to be discussed that could influence their approach?
- Finally, SDT acquisitions allow the government to see what kind of vision the vendor has for a future state. You can see how the bidder thinks through challenges and what kind of vision and innovative ideas they can bring to the program to build on your requirements. Are they just giving you a vanilla response to your requirements or are they looking to push the envelope to advance your mission?
One may argue that vendors can address these points in written proposals. But as in any communication, effectiveness will increase with real-time (in person or virtual) interactions.
There is nothing worse for industry than an acquisition that gets cancelled after the proposal is submitted, or an acquisition that is held up for months or years due to protests. This only increases overall cost to the market, and those costs industry bears ultimately get incorporated into their pricing models — meaning that they will get passed on to the government eventually. Everyone wants competitive prices, so use SDT to manage acquisition costs.
SDT acquisitions are being used by many agencies — but their use could be expanded. (At the same time, use of large written volumes could be reduced.) SDT acquisitions have benefits that empower government agencies to select the best private sector partner for their work.
Ben Marglin has 25 years of experience in public sector management and technology consulting. He spent 17 years with Booz Allen Hamilton, and also worked at Karsun Solutions and AMS. His areas of expertise include digital strategy and transformation, acquisition, and IT program management. He has a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Colby College. Ben lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, son, and goldendoodle Sophie. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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