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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Primes and Subs: Troubled partnership?

Our latest Washington Technology Insider Report takes a fresh look at the relationship between prime contractors and subcontractors, and the news isn’t all rosy.

The report, Subs Grade the Primes, is an update to our 2013 report exploring this critical relationship between primes and subcontractors. The research focused on what subcontractors felt primes were doing well and not well.

First, the good news: The importance of the relationship is not waning. A majority of subcontractors believe they’ll either partner more or at least as much over the next two years.

To conduct our research, we surveyed executives from across the market and asked them about the performance of prime contractors. First, we asked about the overall group of primes, and then we had them focus on their single best primes.

The full results of the survey are available to Washington Technology Insider members. Click here to download the report. Click here to get more information about becoming an Insider.

We see several things in this report. First, we see the general state of the market and the relationship. Partnering remains an important part of the competitive landscape. This finding was consistent from the 2013 report to the 2015 report.

Because of that, we think that it is important to look at how the overall group of primes perform, and then compare that to the performance of what respondents identified as their single best prime.

The gap between the best and the rest is instructive. Because partnering is such an important part of the market, you want to be the best partner you can be.

We found that when a prime performs well, they preform very, very well. We measured primes across key attributes such as technical expertise, teamwork, customer knowledge, process, and industry perception.

The collective group fell short in these areas, but the single best contractors often outperformed expectations.

The report goes into detail in each attribute and our gap analysis shows where primes need to focus to improve their performance.

Some aspects of the relationship are challenged by the current budget and competitive environment, which no one has control over.

But honesty and transparency, for example, falls on the prime and how they work with their subcontractors.

As you can imagine, subcontractors want more transparency and more honesty, not less.

We are in the process of writing part two of this research series, looking at the relationship from the perspective of the prime contractors.

The early results are that the relationship is a two-way street, so stay tuned, subcontractors: it looks like you have some work to do as well.

I encourage you to read the report and use this blog as forum to comment on it. We’ll continue to monitor this relationship because, as our findings make clear, it isn’t going anywhere. If anything, the relationship between primes and subs is as important and vibrant today as it ever has been.

Doing well with this relationship often translates into success in the market.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 27, 2015 at 9:34 AM

Reader Comments

Fri, May 1, 2015 Tom Skypek Connecticut

Part of the problem is that these relationships end up being 11th hour, arranged marriages instead of meaningful business alliances based on trust and transparency. The entire process by which these teaming partnerships are formed is inefficient and ripe for overhaul. At GovBizConnect.com, we're building a way to make the process more data-driven and targeted so that these partnerships are healthier. When this happens, it's good for the businesses, the government customer, and the taxpayer. Co-Founder GovBizConnect.com

Tue, Apr 28, 2015 Anne DC

One frequently hears comments like, past history predicts the future. Nowhere is this perception more grounded than in the Prime/Subcontractor relationship, at least in my experience. Both large and small companies have been "burned" when working as Prime to the other. (I've had the misfortune to experience both.) And they are very slow to forgive, and even slower to change. But some do change, and yet have great difficulty recovering from their past history. Once that initial trust is lost, it's very difficult to earn back. Lesson for all of us.

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