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Take the Acquisition Program Assessment Plunge!

By Michael Ipsaro, PMP, CCE/A from Integrity Matters blog

How a deep dive review can lead you to program gold.

Routine monitoring of your acquisition program is important but is it enough to prevent problems that could damage your mission? Conducting a program assessment can reveal insights on a program’s health that will not only lead to a better outcome, but could also improve other programs and the organization as a whole.

Gauge Internal Control of the Acquisition Function

Clients have an enormous responsibility to meet their missions through efficient and effective stewardship of taxpayer funds, which are often spent on acquisitions to obtain needed capabilities. OMB Circular A-123, Management’s Responsibility for Internal Control, requires agency managers, including the Component Acquisition Executive (CAE), to continuously monitor and improve the effectiveness of internal control related to the acquisition function, including their programs. Fulfilling this requirement involves focusing on four interrelated cornerstones:

  • Organizational alignment and leadership
  • Policies and processes
  • Human capital management
  • Information management and stewardship.

Why Take the Plunge?

Many organizations perform routine program monitoring activities. However, possessing the capacity or ability to perform a comprehensive deep dive assessment may not seem viable given your organization’s limited time, resources, or specific expertise. Consider though, that a timely effort could prevent more work later. An unintended consequence of not performing these types of assessments is relying on formal audits to find out what’s wrong, or worse finding out through schedule delays, cost overruns, and mission degradation.

Communicating Value is Key

Performing these reviews or assessments can be challenging. First, how do you communicate the value of this comprehensive assessment to the assessed? It can be difficult, as many programs perceive it as an “audit” leading to a defensive or elusive posture. They may think the results will be used negatively or not constructively. Second, organizational politics may arise causing impediments.

In my experience, it takes a team with the expertise and finesse to implement a structured solution to garner user adoption. The solution should be developed jointly with the stakeholders and lay out objectives, criteria, approach, and methodology in a clear and concise way.

If performed correctly and holding all else constant, I’ve seen assessments effect positive impactful change to programs and organizations. For example, I’ve observed changes in behavior after initiating the deep dive assessment with respect to more diligent program planning and execution. Specifically, people were attending critical weekly meetings, communicating more frequently, reallocating resources to meet critical deadlines, and implementing recommendations regarding the update of key planning documents.

No Time Like the Present

Here are some specific situations when it makes sense to perform an acquisition program assessment:

  • The need to remove programs from high risk or watch lists
  • Demonstrate senior leadership and commitment in doing the right things and doing things right
  • Demonstrate progress in implementing corrective measures from previous reviews or audits
  • Identify any structural gaps in organizational performance
  • Pull programs out of a tailspin by bringing senior leadership together
  • Increase rate of positive change in areas such as culture
  • Identify if organizations need stronger governance or control over programs
  • The need for an independent perspective to perform the assessment

Avoid the “Bends” During the Deep Dive

Without communication and meaningful discussion, assessment recipients could ignore or give low priority to implementing recommendations. This can lead to disastrous formal audits when the time comes, or worse, further stagnation and decline.

To fully accrue the benefits of a program assessment, an organization or program must:

  • Select dive instructors who have a proven track record
  • Communicate so that everyone understands the value and utility of the assessment
  • Explain the results clearly and how they were obtained
  • Discuss differences of opinion to prevent defensiveness during and after the assessment

Deep Dive Can Lead to Treasure

Organizations that routinely perform and use acquisition assessments effectively increase their chances of acquisition success, which ultimately increases contribution to mission success.

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Jaime Gracia

I recently conducted acquisition focused training for PMs last week, and our case study for the course was this acquisition assessment via OMB A-123. It was a good example of how poor communications has the caustic affects plaguing this specific organization, as many in the class could either not answer, are unaware of their own responsibilities, or simply had the answer they were given “we don’t do that here.”

It was a useful tool to help this particular group of senior-level PMs understand morr roles and responsibilities they were not aware of, and to help them work better with the contracting office.

Would be interesting on the outcomes to see how KOs would perform the assessment.