Article By John Coombs, Fellow, CFCM, DAWIA III
On a trip to San Diego I watched a Navy destroyer slip quietly under the Coronado Bridge. I remembered a phrase I’ve repeated many times throughout my career as a procurement leader and manager: “Don’t try to dial up an aircraft carrier in port to the perfect position. Just get it steaming in the right direction, and adjust its course along the way.”
In my mind’s eye, I could see the impractical scene of multiple tugs trying to perfectly align a massive vessel in the narrow harbor, only to have to correct the course repeatedly as the ship made its way to open sea.
Our federal procurement processes can be a lot like dialing up that aircraft carrier. We strive for weeks to consider and address every possible detail, and run our document drafts up and down the masts of our procurement and acquisition chains of command, through legal reviews, solicitation review boards, and peer reviews, all within the confines of the harbor. We feel compelled to adjust and re-adjust the course of our acquisition plans, strategies, and solicitations before ever beginning the voyage, all the while knowing we can never fully account for changing winds, weather, and current along the way. And when we finally release that request for proposal (RFP), and dozens of questions break over the bow from industry, we may feel defeated, already drained by our exhaustive preparations.
Educate to Empower
As procurement leaders we must ensure our teams of professionals learn to get their procurements steaming in the right direction early and how to adjust course along the way. And we must empower them to take actions while underway that help facilitate course corrections. We cannot keep the acquisition tied up until the weather is perfect – this causes unnecessary delay and frustrates the team.
Info Exchange Speeds the Process
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) released Myth Busting and Myth Busting II instructing and empowering procurement professionals to get their procurements underway. The OFPP asserts that industry is often the best source of current market information and best practices critical for program managers and procurement officials as they develop acquisition strategies, seek small businesses opportunities, and negotiate contract terms.
By communicating with industry early in the acquisition process, we can help answer questions about performance, incorporate industry standards, understand market influences, and identify emerging technologies and incorporate these into our solicitations. Yet, some question how effective the Myth Busting campaign has been and many acquisition and procurement professionals are still unclear on the rules around industry communication.
I encourage you to perform the following best practices before every major acquisition:
- Review OFPP’s Myth Busting memoranda
- Develop and execute a vendor communication plan
- Hold industry days
- Release and maintain an accurate acquisition forecast
- Meet openly with vendors to discuss the procurements in the forecast
- Release draft RFPs to solicit industry input
These engines of success can get your procurements steaming on the right course with fewer course corrections like proposal amendments, revised work statements, and lengthy Q&As.