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Thoughts on sharing draft Concept of Operations and/or Operational Requirements Document with industry
January 11, 2010 at 2:41 am #88908
I’m the PM for a major system acquisition within the Coast Guard. We’re going to be incrementally replacing a number of custom-coded legacy systems with COTS tools. I’ve asked our Contracting Officer to consider sharing our draft CONOPs and ORD with industry as part of a Sources Sought notice that’s on the street now. Having the draft will allow industry to better prepare for capability demonstrations we’re holding in March. This level of transparency isn’t typical in my organization, but I’m trying to nudge us in that direction.
Often it’s helpful for to help people along if they hear an idea although new to us, has been done by others before. So that’s my question for the group: does anyone have experience with sharing draft CONOPs and ORDs with industry early in the acquisition process? Thanks for any insights you can offer!
January 11, 2010 at 2:54 am #88934
I agree and believe it or not the FAR agrees too. See FAR 15.201 that begins “Exchanges of information among all interested parties, from the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals, are encouraged.” You shoud read the complete passage. I will cut n past4e below as I am having trouble inserting the link.
The problem I have had with RFIs and draft RFPs is that we (the government) do not have a plan to collect resulting feedback and use it for good purpose in fine tuning the acquisition strategy and final RFP.
15.201 Exchanges with industry before receipt of proposals.
(a) Exchanges of information among all interested parties, from the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals, are encouraged. Any exchange of information must be consistent with procurement integrity requirements (see 3.104). Interested parties include potential offerors, end users, Government acquisition and supporting personnel, and others involved in the conduct or outcome of the acquisition.
(b) The purpose of exchanging information is to improve the understanding of Government requirements and industry capabilities, thereby allowing potential offerors to judge whether or how they can satisfy the Government’s requirements, and enhancing the Government’s ability to obtain quality supplies and services, including construction, at reasonable prices, and increase efficiency in proposal preparation, proposal evaluation, negotiation, and contract award.
(c) Agencies are encouraged to promote early exchanges of information about future acquisitions. An early exchange of information among industry and the program manager, contracting officer, and other participants in the acquisition process can identify and resolve concerns regarding the acquisition strategy, including proposed contract type, terms and conditions, and acquisition planning schedules; the feasibility of the requirement, including performance requirements, statements of work, and data requirements; the suitability of the proposal instructions and evaluation criteria, including the approach for assessing past performance information; the availability of reference documents; and any other industry concerns or questions. Some techniques to promote early exchanges of information are—
(1) Industry or small business conferences;
(2) Public hearings;
(3) Market research, as described in Part 10;
(4) One-on-one meetings with potential offerors (any that are substantially involved with potential contract terms and conditions should include the contracting officer; also see paragraph (f) of this section regarding restrictions on disclosure of information);
(5) Presolicitation notices;
(6) Draft RFPs;
(8) Presolicitation or preproposal conferences; and
(9) Site visits.
(d) The special notices of procurement matters at 5.205(c), or electronic notices, may be used to publicize the Government’s requirement or solicit information from industry.
(e) RFIs may be used when the Government does not presently intend to award a contract, but wants to obtain price, delivery, other market information, or capabilities for planning purposes. Responses to these notices are not offers and cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. There is no required format for RFIs.
(f) General information about agency mission needs and future requirements may be disclosed at any time. After release of the solicitation, the contracting officer must be the focal point of any exchange with potential offerors. When specific information about a proposed acquisition that would be necessary for the preparation of proposals is disclosed to one or more potential offerors, that information must be made available to the public as soon as practicable, but no later than the next general release of information, in order to avoid creating an unfair competitive advantage. Information provided to a potential offeror in response to its request must not be disclosed if doing so would reveal the potential offeror’s confidential business strategy, and is protected under 3.104 or Subpart 24.2. When conducting a presolicitation or preproposal conference, materials distributed at the conference should be made available to all potential offerors, upon request.
January 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm #88932
I appreciate the quick feedback. The FAR was the first place I’d looked to see if anything prevented sharing the info, and as you say, nothing does. The thing that makes this different from the norm is that the CONOPs and ORD are broader than what will eventually be in the solicitation (or draft solicitation). The purpose it would serve at this point in the process for us is to focus the vendor demonstrations that we’ve announced we’re soliciting in March (the announcement is in FedBizOpps http://bit.ly/cglims_sources).
We don’t yet have a draft solicitation to share, but I do have a draft CONOP and ORD that will help government and industry get the most value out of the demonstrations.
I think part of the reluctance to share is that since those planning documents are not and never will be part of the contract, it’s best not to share them, and to simply wait and only share what will eventually be part of a solicitation. I’ve always been of the “if there’s no rule against it, get it out there” camp, but I know this community is full of folks who have “been there and done that,” who may be able to share either success stories or horror stories of sharing government CONOPs and ORDs for IT systems.
January 11, 2010 at 1:39 pm #88930
Dan – thanks for thinking out of the box!!! Felton provides you some great input. If you start sharing your thoughts with industry early-on in the acquisition process you may actually be able to harness the power and innovation of the marketplace in helping you further define what is possible for satisfying your agency’s needs. Sure, it’s “safer” not to share until you get to the RFI or RFP stage (in the long run, however, it may not be smarter IMHO), but by that time you’ve invested quite a bit of resources and you may or may not be headed down the right path. I am sure your contracts guys will want to place all the usual caveats in any release in case the planning does not progress into final requirements, but that’s only smart. Also, check out some of the “BetterBuy Project” discussions. acquisition-related communications. There are some pretty good ideas on how to use social media to invigorate communications. You may try posting a Wiki and see what happens. Anyway, good luck. Feel free to contact me off-line if you want to discuss further. Cheers. Pete
January 11, 2010 at 2:41 pm #88928
Peter, I appreciate the reply. You’re absolutely right about BetterBuy project discussions. I’ve already found one idea I’m going to try to do with this project. Frankly it was some of the discussion on that site that got me thinking about sharing the draft ORD and CONOPs to support the sources sought notice.
My project staff has done some experimenting with a wiki tool to collaborate on (non-acquisition sensitive) planning documents within the project office. Putting the Sponsor’s draft CONOP and ORD out with the solicitation is just a baby step in the right direction in my mind…. if the government is not willing to share these in draft form, it’ll be hard to get support for collaboration using a wiki.
Thanks for your feedback!
January 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm #88926
If it helps anyone to help me, here was my quick evaluation of benefit and risk before I asked our contracting shop to consider sharing the drafts. There are additional risks that I deleted that impact other acquisitions but don’t change the basic issue. If there are additional downsides that are obvious to some of you who have done this, I welcome that feedback as well.
-Industry has better idea what we want, without us having to do any extra work to spell it out for them.
-We’re more like to get focused feedback from industry that’ll help us put together RFP or help sponsor with next update to ORD.
-Consistent with our approach to do this as transparently as possible. The contract specs will be acq sensitive until awarded, the ORD isn’t. Putting it out there will also level the playing field.
-Consistent with gov’ts goal of transparency
-CONOP and ORD are still draft, final version will change, industry may not like change. I think we can accept that.
-Contract language will be different from ORD. I think we can accept that. I think everyone understands CONOP and ORD are not contractual documents.
-Someone may ask for an extension to the current deadline. We can mitigate that by just adding a week to the response deadline.
-Could generate lots more questions, creating admin burden for KO and PM. Accept risk. We can manage how we respond. We’ve shown that we can be brief. Just knowing what the questions are will help us put together solicitation down the road
January 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm #88924
Dan – your last risk is what I think a great deal of any underlying angst is. I was a Army CO back in the dark ages and I understand that more work being placed on my already overfull plate is not particularly desirable. Looking at the long-term, however, more effort spent up front in the process communicating and possibly-just possibly-arriving at some type of common understanding of agency requirements will be time and effort well spent. Hey – you may not actually waste millions of tax payer dollars refining (dare I say defining) requirements after award. Industry wants to make their money, but we want to be efficient and focused too. One caveat – folks need to realize that early-on communications takes more effort and may not actually result in requirements, etc. Is this wasted time? I don’t think so if the process ultimately creates greater understanding of an agency’s missions and needs on the agency. Let’s call it ……..an investment in future success. Cheers. Pete
January 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm #88922
Pete, Roger the workload risk. As the PM, I can’t afford to waste my time or the CO’s.
One of the risks I didn’t share had to do with minimizing workload as well… minimizing workload involved in protecting release of acquisition sensitive information while still ensuring we have appropriate involvement from agency SME’s (both gov’t and contractor). My thought (which we’re still working through) is that you can eliminate that information protection workload by sharing the early CONOP and ORD openly.
January 11, 2010 at 3:17 pm #88920
Dan: BTW if you are down at the USCG HQ at Buzzard’s Point, do you ever work with Patricia Williams? We were CO’s back in the day at US Army’s TACOM. Say “heh” for me if you see her.
January 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm #88918
I work just a few floors below Pat. I’ll say, hi for you! She’s not directly in the CO chain for this project, but I see her regularly.
January 11, 2010 at 3:30 pm #88916
Some great input here. My only concern is the workload issue which was discussed, in particular the last risk factor you mentioned in your mini-SWOT analysis. However, my argument is that the ideas and questions from industry are exactly what you are trying to solicit, as this is valuable market research that should be, and in my opinion, needs to be done. As Pete mentioned, the BetterBuyProject is a great resource for you, as I am glad to hear that an idea has spurned some interest for implementation on your end.
My point being is that the power of these collaboration tools, the Gov 2.0 or Acquisition 2.0 tools and methodologies in this case, allow the exchange of information to produce the ultimate objective; innovation. Therefore, I would implement tools to manage the information exchanges. I believe Wikis was suggested, and this is an effective tool for managing the workflow without overloading personnel, who as we know are already overloaded. The constraints, documents, EA, etc. can all be posted, and let industry help craft requirements. Of course managing information is vital to prevent unfair competitive advantage, so that is why requirements need to be managed, but certainly not stifled.
I am a strong proponent of allowing industry to increase information exchanges with government, not only for transparency, but ultimately to get a better solution. This can only help the government, and I would further argue, decreasing workload by allowing for a more focused approach to program management, oversight, contract administration, and ultimately managing for outcomes.
The current process is a “Black Box,” and this effort you are undertaking can be a critical, and a revolutionary way, to create needed change and improve outcomes early in the process.
Look forward to your decisions, and hopefully its implementation.
January 15, 2010 at 1:46 am #88914
Thanks to all for your advice / caution / encouragement / support / assistance. I appreciate being able to use this forum to engage with professionals on common challenges. It’s been helpful for both me as the PM and for Contracting Officer.
I’m pleased to share that we got the right heads together, made a decision this afternoon, and have updated the Sources Sought notice on FedBizOpps. That’s the forum we’re using for discussions with industry about the substance of the Acquisition.
Our answers to industry’s questions, the DRAFT CONOP, and DRAFT ORD are here:
I appreciate the spotlight that Steve Kelman pointed at this forum and the forward leaning leaders who started it. His post and the responses are here:
Celebrating little steps in the right direction! Dan
January 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm #88912
Dan – thanks to you for “walking the walk!” Pete
March 25, 2010 at 1:22 am #88910
This is a quick note of thanks to all who provided insight in this thread. Tomorrow we’ll complete the 27th demonstration from firms responding to the sources sought described above. There’s no doubt in my mind that the responses have been much more focused than they could have been without the CONOP and ORD. Several of the companies told us how much they appreciated the early visibility into requirements.
I also stole an idea from BetterBuy that’s worked out great for us: Someone suggested live streaming pre-solicitation meetings triggered a thought that I ought to explore using some sort of desktop sharing to allow government folks outside the room to participate in the market research demos. We decided to use GoToMeeting and it has worked out great for us. Without any government travel, we’ve been able to include stakeholders and end users from throughout the Coast Guard participating in the process. It seems obvious know, but I wouldn’t have thought of trying it if I hadn’t seen the related idea suggested in BetterBuy. So thanks all for helping me think smarter!
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