Bob Lohfeld

COMMENTARY

To succeed, deliver what you promised

Contract failures often trace back to poor performance

The victory celebration is almost over, and people are starting to say it’s time to get to work on the new contract. All the parties involved have raised their glasses and toasted to the many contributions made by all the players: the business development, capture and proposal teams. All players deserve a share of the glory that accrues to the winner, and yet there is this nagging feeling that we should put away the champagne glasses and begin preparing to perform the newly awarded contract. For the next five years, it is the operations team that has to carry the ball and fulfill all the promises we made in our proposal.

Throughout our winning proposal, we made claims about how we would perform the contract if awarded. We bragged about the tools and technology we would use and how we would use those to deliver services that exceed the performance requirements of the contract. We talked about the corporate resources we would make available to the program and subject-matter experts we would shuttle in and out like players on a football team. And we set high performance standards for ourselves, assuring the customer we would meet, but mostly exceed, the performance requirements in the contract. Many of those claims were viewed as strengths by the evaluation team when they evaluated our proposal, and those strengths contributed to our firm being selected for this contract award.

Now that the award is in place, it is incumbent on our performing team to carry out the many promises and commitments we made. To do this, the performing team needs to build its book of promises into its contract execution plan. Do this systematically, starting with the executive summary of the proposal, which is often rich in commitments and promises, then go to the technical and management volumes of the proposal. Don’t forget the other volumes of the proposal because commitments are frequently made in volumes dealing with the transition plan, attached plans that we provided with our proposal, and even the contract volume. List each promise and describe what we committed to do.

Review your book of promises with your new customer and get their buy-in. I’ve found some commitments made in the proposal were not accepted by the customer and, in fact, were actually down-scored in the proposal. In other procurements, the proposal evaluation was done by an independent team not involved in contract performance. In those instances, the performing organization never saw your proposal or the promises you made. Before implementing your book of promises, make sure the customer concurs with each activity and endorses your plan.

As good project managers, you should manage each commitment as a separate task in your project performance plan. Assign responsibility for accomplishing each task to a specific member of the project team, set the schedule for accomplishing each task and identify the resources needed. Integrate those activities into your overall project plan and manage those along with your other project activities. Make sure you can report separately how well you are doing on fulfilling your book of promises.

Some government agencies will incorporate your proposal as part of the contract, and some will not. Some agencies might incorporate your promises as a separate page in the contract. When they do, and your proposal is firm fixed price, the promises made are delivered at the bidder’s expense. If the bid is cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-award-fee or cost-plus-incentive-fee, the cost of fulfilling your book of promises might be included in the contract, although that can become contentious.

Whether your customer does or does not incorporate your proposal, it is still your responsibility to deliver on your commitments. Some companies come up short in this regard and forget that promises made in the proposal should be delivered in contract performance. Don’t let your company fall into this trap. A promise made is a promise kept.

About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is robert.lohfeld@lohfeldconsulting.com.

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