Buy Lines: Award opens door, but contract management keeps you in

Bob Dickson

The process is all too familiar. Teams of the best and brightest from government and industry work long and hard in the run up to a contract award. An agency works to ensure the solicitation and competition get it the best solution at the best price. Vendors strive to win the business.

But after the contract is awarded and work on the project is ready to begin, many players from both sides move onto the next big project, leaving contract administration to others.

Part of the problem has been that, historically, the success of contracting offices has been measured in part by procurement administrative lead-time.

That's the time it takes from when the procurement office acknowledges the requirements package as ready for competition to the point of contract award. But this measurement misses the project's more relevant goal: Solving the agency's problem and helping the agency meet its mission requirement.

Consequently, it's time for post-award contract management to be better recognized as a long-term, mission-critical function.

And the key to success during the post-award phase is "managed relationships."

Managed relationships rest on the first guiding principle for the Federal Acquisition System: Satisfy the customer in terms of cost, quality and timeliness of the delivered product or service.

This principle requires the engagement of executive and management personnel from both government and industry to ensure effective public-private partnerships. Contractors and agencies accomplish this using a team approach with clearly delineated roles and responsibilities and an effective communications process.

In one recent case the agency and the winning bidder on a major procurement entered into a Contract Performance Management Strategy. This agreement established a set of guiding principles to govern the management of the contract. Among them:

  • Trust and open communication

  • Strong and involved leadership on both sides

  • Ongoing, honest self-assessment

  • Ongoing interaction

  • Creation and maintenance of mutual benefit or value throughout the relationship.

These "enablers" allow both parties to continually focus on ways to improve while reducing operational cost, to ultimately achieve the desired results.

Successful contractors and their agency partners have adopted some related techniques for post-award management. These techniques may seem obvious, yet they aren't regularly instituted. Successful government and industry contract teams:

  • Develop a contract management plan that assigns roles, responsibilities and accountability to all parties -- in both government and industry -- for managing contract performance.

  • Conduct a post-award kickoff conference that brings together the leadership and industry and government players. This ensures that everyone is on board with the project's strategy and goals.

  • Establish a process to validate that players have read the relevant portions of the contract and understand their roles.

  • Link incentives for government personnel and contractor personnel to the agency's mission.

  • Recognize that continuous improvement is an important element of effective management by meeting regularly in a Contract Performance Improvement Working Group to review contract performance.

These principles and techniques of performance management will enhance the traditional contract administration process and make it a solid acquisition tool in achieving the agency's mission. When effectively managed, contract administration also will significantly improve the working relationship between government and industry.

Remember, the contract award is not the ultimate goal. It's just the beginning.

Bob Dickson is vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., Chantilly, Va. His e-mail address is bdickson@acqsolinc.com.

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