By Rick Gregory, PEO STRI Strategic Communications Support Staff
On April 15, PM TRADE hosted a panel of industry experts to give PEO STRI’s acquisition workforce a clearer understanding of the challenges faced by industry when competing for the various contract proposals fielded by the organization.
The members of the PM TRADE Industry Panel listen to introductions before the start of the panel discussions. U.S. Army photo[/caption]
The panel, comprised of five former PEO STRI leaders who have been working in industry since their retirement from the Army, included: Maj. Gen. Bill Bond, consultant; Col. Matt Fair, Tactical Micro; Col. Mike Flanagan, CACI, Inc.; Col. Jim Ralph, ALATEC, Inc.; and Col. De Voorhees, General Dynamics.
Rob Wolf, PM TRADE’s strategic requirements integrator, arranged the panel discussion to let the workforce learn firsthand the ways they can assist in improving acquisition efficiencies.
“Most importantly is that you identify what problems you think you can solve from what you learn today from the panel and how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day activities as you develop solicitations,” he told the PEO STRI attendees.
Flanagan, a former project manager for TRADE, kicked off the panel discussion by outlining the business planning process industry undergoes when looking at new business opportunities.
“Companies are looking far out in their business forecasting to determine what markets they want to remain in or get into,” he explained. “They buy market analysis reports that break down a market to help companies evaluate whether or not they want to get into that particular market.”
Good, consistent two-way communications was a constant theme heard from each of the panelists and Flanagan was no exception in driving that message home.
“When I was with PEO STRI, I had no idea how much industry invests on what we were saying to them! When you say you are going to put a Request for Proposal (RFP) out on a certain date, it enters everyone’s pipeline,” he said. “Now they want to come talk to you about it and understand it more. It’s a big investment they make in time, energy and money.”
He urged the audience to communicate as much detail as they can provide, including the vision, scope of work, timeline, etc., to help industry determine if it’s something they want to pursue.
Ralph, also a former TRADE project manager, followed Flanagan to discuss how companies determine the expenditure of their research and development funds.
“Internally company-funded research and development is driven by the anticipated return on investment, the market and the buying behaviors of the organization,” he said. “Do they cancel programs? Is it a Low Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) proposal? Are they incentivizing innovation or not?”
Ralph explained that those buying behaviors are important when they are going to their leadership and asking for funds for long-term investments, and stressed that solid insights into the requirements is imperative for him when trying to sell the program to his organization’s leaders.
“What we need is real programs, real dollars and real timelines,” Ralph pointed out. “What is said on the government side is parsed and interpreted. Communications is so critical. It takes collaboration between the contractors and the PM shops to make sure everything is understood.”
When De Vorhees, another PM TRADE alumni, took the floor he used an example of one of the challenges industry faces when a solicitation hits the streets.
“There was a solicitation that came out in December with the proposal due by Jan. 5,” he said, adding that it was not from PEO STRI. “Between that time there were three amendments and 187 questions. They extended the submission deadline by only one week. Imagine what was happening on the industry side during the process of trying to get it done!”
He also pointed out that at the Request for Information (RFI) phase industry is asked to submit a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM). That, he said, can lead to some challenges if the requirements aren’t clearly communicated with the RFI.
“The worst thing we can do is give you a ROM that says it’s going to cost $10,” De Vorhees said, using the dollar figure as an example. “Then your document comes out and we look at it and say ‘We can’t do that for $10! That’s a $30 requirement.’ When I tell you that, you say, ‘What! I budgeted $10.’”
To avoid that kind of situation when they have to submit a ROM in response to an RFI, he said his company will submit it on the high side.
“We do that to protect us and you,” he explained. “When I give you that ROM, it is one that we can operate on and execute at that given dollar amount.”
Moving to a discussion about the Sources Sought Notice phase, he said that’s when it is really important to fully explain the requirements. “The more information you can give us will make our proposals better, resulting in you getting better competition,” he said. “In turn, that will make it harder for the source selection team because you are going to get some very competitive proposals to select from.”
He emphasized that there is no interest from anyone in industry to write a bad proposal or get a technically unsatisfactory proposal. When asked by an audience member what the first thing he looks at when a proposal is sent out, without hesitation De Vorhees responded that he goes to the L (Instructions to Offerors) and M (Evaluation Factors for Award) sections of the solicitation packet. Others on the panel agreed.
“The L&M sections are really important to us,” he explained. “It tells us how you rank the technical versus the management, past performance, cost and how that comes together is really important to us.”
Fair, who had previously served as both deputy program executive officer and the project manager for ITTS, zeroed in on the compliance matrix and having discriminators in the proposals during his session.
“We use the compliance matrix because we can figure out what you want to hear about,” he told the audience. “I would also tell you that your compliance matrix is where you should identify your discriminators. If you don’t identify the discriminators you’re going to get proposals because everyone on the block thinks they have the best solutions.” He also pointed out that early on, industry needs to know if a demonstration is required because it requires a big investment in time and capital.
“Some companies will say they can’t afford to do demonstrations,” Fair said. “That’s the right answer because you need the right people competing on the programs, not just anyone and their brother.”
Wrapping up the session, Bond, the former commander of PEO STRI when it was known as the Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), reiterated how important communication is in the acquisition process.
“The key part of what we talked about here is relationships,” the retired general said. “We need to be able to build relationships and pass information back and forth so we can apply lessons learned and do things better. Each of us here on this panel wish we would have known when we were in your positions what we know today about how to communicate.”
He ended the panel session by complimenting the PEO STRI workforce on the job they do.
“You guys do a great job,” he said. “I’m telling you, though, you are leaving 25 percent of the capability on the table. We can do at least 25 percent more for you if we have better communications.”