Monday, December 21, 2009

Moving The Better Buy Project Forward: An Exercise in Change

Originally posted on the Better Buy Blog

After attending the recent Better Buy Project panel this past week, I blogged about my observations and some issues that came up from that conversation.

That lively discussion continued on the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community. Although many commentators took different takes, I think we all agreed that one of the central tenets of successfully implementing Gov 2.0 can focus on one principal area: change management.

Like the Better Buy Project and all Gov 2.0 projects, these initiatives are typically undertaken to changing the overall business environment, and the federal procurement process for Acquisition 2.0. Whether trying to improve the requirements definition process, change roles, or define new ways of doing business, and effective Change Management Process is paramount to stress the benefits, demonstrate long-term value, and minimize the resulting impact on current projects.

Implement a Change Management Process in Gov 2.0

Unlike most projects with a typical project manager, I do believe in the need for the extra project leadership via change agents; committed leaders who are willing to take the risks associated with these initiatives and drive them to fruition. Due to the nature of the current environment in Government procurement (e.g. risk-aversion and status-quo mentality), change is a difficult pill to swallow. This mindset is further exacerbated by the perception of disrupting productivity, as the acquisition workforce has been forced to do more with less. Many past improvement initiatives have also not been driven by change agents, and thus go nowhere. In regards to Gov 2.0, many procurement officials feel they do not have the time to bother with yet another program from leadership that only makes one roll their eyes with the perception of no real value or benefit to helping one do their job better, faster, and cheaper; another passing fad. Thus the need for real commitment from the top and the change agents as demonstrated with Better Buy, as the project is showing real value and a commitment to execute.

Successful implementation will rest with Change Management, which is defined as the process of monitoring and controlling change within a project. By managing the implementation of Gov 2.0 initiatives in regards to acquisition, leaders can:

  • Reduce the negative impact on current acquisition projects
  • Identify new issues and risks, and implement lessons learned as a result of changes implemented during execution
  • Ensure that implemented changes do not affect overall desired objectives and outcomes
  • Control cost of implemented changes

Successful Change Process: A Four Step Model

Change Management in itself is a project within a project. It is already being executed at the General Services Administration (GSA), where projects are actively being sought to pilot the inputs from Better Buy users. Nonetheless, implementing and executing on Gov 2.0 initiatives can follow these Change Management steps:

Identify: The first step in the change process is to identify the need for change, which is apparent in federal acquisitions. This is the overall objective of the Better Buy Project, where any member can suggest a change to the process. Some of the discussion at the panel included capturing statistical data of the user community and their input. However, it is the relevancy of the input that is most important. Further, anonymity can be a powerful tool to providing desired input, free from possible managerial reprisals. The Better Buy Project will hopefully serve as a template for capturing input for change, and helping leaders identify needed focus on process improvements and areas to retool business operations. The Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) program is another example of real benefit through collaborative processes, although these types of tools should be done with more frequency. Identifying the need to change is driven by value added; describing the change, and identifying drivers, benefits, costs and likely impact of the change on the project, process, or agency.

Review: This is what the Better Buy Project is currently doing in its Phase II, which is to investigate the recommended changes to identify feasibility and impact, both long and short-term. GSA experts are looking for the low-hanging fruit, and those suggestions that can be successful delivered to have the greatest impact with the least disruption. Normally changes which are not critical to project delivery should be avoided whenever possible to prevent "scope creep," but the Web 2.0 construct seemingly turns this project management dictum on its head. Implemented changes will have impact on project delivery, specifically by buying better, faster, cheaper. It is the disruption on current delivery that can not suffer, and why Butter Buy implementation will be so difficult. Finding ways to implement gradual change is preferred, as lessons learned can be studied, reviewed, and implemented with more meaningful impact.  

Approve: Experts have to review the recommended changes and input, as some recommendations are real and others use these forums as an outlet for venting frustration. Nonetheless, it is the naysayers that can also have value on the conversation, as they may point things out that are not always clear to those who are committed and engaged towards success. As discussed at the panel, the suggestions on Better Buy with the greatest number of votes does not necessarily mean ranking, so leaders do need to weigh the value of the input. More importantly, these decisions need to be communicated to the user community, as members should be able to see what input is being considered, and what is not. Ultimately, these decisions should be based on the level of risk, impact, benefits and cost to the overall project or process, and the decision may be to decline, delay or approve the change request. Either way, this level of communication and transparency can go a long way to refining input. More importantly, input will hopefully keep coming as users can see execution is the real end goal, and the initiative is a worthwhile investment of time to participate.

Implement: Here is another way to use collaboration tools with user input. Who knows best on the projects or processes that can be improved than users? Of course members will no doubt vent some more, but that is why input is vetted by experts and leaders to ensure the cream rises to the top. Leadership needs to ensure proper input gets implemented, and also ensure that proper communications strategies are put in place such that changes are scheduled and implemented accordingly. After implementation, leadership, helped with the users, can review the effects of the change on selected  project and processes to ensure that they have achieved the desired outcomes. This in effect creates a change agent community, which helps leadership further communicate outcomes and execute more efficiently. Further, these successful changes then need to be broadly communicated to the overall Gov 2.0 community, to further build bridges and roadmaps for successful implementations across Government.

Throughout a sound Change Management Process, Government leaders can monitor and control changes to selected projects and processes by communicating often, and in turn ensuring that communication is broadcast using the same collaboration tools and keeping track of changes that have been accepted, rejected, or in review. This in effect creates a transparent, up-to-date Change Register.

By completing these steps, Government leaders can carefully monitor and control project and process changes, which in turn increase the likelihood of success. I look forward to further actions by the Better Buy Project, and other initiatives that are leading the way in changing how the Government operates.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Better Buy Project Moves Forward

As collaboration tools, Gov 2.0, and other initiatives to encourage transparency and solicit input from stakeholders move forward, a pilot on this front met today to discuss implementing these ideas and creating further momentum via proof of concept.

The Better Buy Project, as I discussed in a previous post, is a collaborative initiative between the General Services Administration (GSA), the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) and the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA). The initiative is focused on collecting ideas to help shape the future of acquisition, with the ultimate goals of creating an acquisition process that is world-class through a concept of “crowdsourcing.”

Moderating the panel was Chris Dorobek of Federal News Radio, who was jokingly introduced as the Most Interesting Man in the World (I told him I would include in this post, so here it is!). Although I did not actively ask questions, and Chris did a great job moderating and going around the room soliciting input, my primary objective was to get the sense of the questions being asked and the level of awareness of the project. Further, I wanted to hear from the panelists, most notably Mary Davie of GSA, who has spearheaded the initiative through thoughtful and visionary leadership. Some of the issues addressed were interesting for what was discussed, but more so for issues that were left outstanding.

Of course one of the biggest issues to executing Gov 2.0 initiatives are the regulations and policies that need to be addressed to ensure compliance. The group discussed Section 508 and Federal Information Security Management Act or FISMA, in addition to overall security requirements most notably at Defense and raised by resident expert Noel Dickover. However, what remained mostly silent, and what interests me, is getting acquisition leaders interested and engaged. That seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to Gov 2.0; the metrics, the ROI, the impacts on the profession, and that real value can be difficult to measure or remains intangible. Although I think headway is being made on that front, certainly the need to communicate the real value added is vital for this and similar Gov 2.0 initiatives. For the Better Buy Project, and the overall Acquisition 2.0 movement, the message campaign is about buying faster, cheaper, and more effectively. Further, the tools should allow procurement professionals in both Government and industry to exchange meaningful information to create better requirements, facilitate market research, and help create the foundation for successful outcomes up front.

The Better Buy Project needs to do a better job of communicating to the user community what is being done with the ideas that are being posted and voted on, such that people can see that this initiative is for real. Just because an idea has the most votes does not necessarily mean it will get implemented. In fact, some of the ideas that have the most votes and commentary are  due in part because they are out-of-scope, or require more clarification to understand the user’s intent. Along those lines, these initiatives need to get better input from naysayers, those who think these initiatives are fads and meaningless. Their input is just as vital to those who are engaged and actively participating. Only through a holistic approach to soliciting  input can these pilots create the most value to overcome obstacles and come to fruition.

It is the end-state that ultimately matters, and to that end, GSA is actively taking input from Better Buy and looking for ways to implement them. As Chris Hamm, Operations Director of GSA’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM), and also a panelist mentioned, this is the hard part. Who is going to take the risk, and possibly the hit, for sticking their neck out to use these unproven tools in a risk-averse environment? What projects and in what state are needed? These are questions that of course need to be answered, but also prime areas for answers by Better Buy users. The collaboration could help GSA figure this out. Further, leadership and change management are again at the forefront of getting to the next step towards execution.

My end-state for federal procurement is to focus on outcomes and needs, and for Government to get out of the requirements writing business. The world-class federal procurement environment would be performance-based, with the focus on buying real best value through innovation, and to allow acquisition professionals to focus on oversight, surveillance, program management, and performance. I am a strong proponent of streamlining and standardization, as the uniqueness of agency missions, and in some cases, different organizations within an agency, is a canard to continuing status quo. I often consult with federal clients who have very commercial-like operations, yet feel they are unique and have to have everything custom built. Granted I am not proposing a one-size-fits-all approach, but looking for ways to streamline and standardize is not such a bad thing, and can go a long way to creating real savings through the elimination of redundancy and waste. These Gov 2.0 tools, and the initiatives like the Better Buy project, can go a long way to making this end-state a reality.

I hope that Better Buy and similar initiatives continue to find ways to engage the acquisition community, because I believe these tools are a badly needed tool for change. Combined with common sense approaches to process improvements, and working in the current environment without further legislation and laws that create confusion and ambiguity, federal procurement can once again be the starting point for successful government management and get the respect and positive attention it deserves.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Becoming Engaged with NCMA Enhances Professionalism and Mission Success

The NCMA recently published an open letter to Government employees on how to become engaged with the NCMA without conflicts of interest or ethical violations. NCMA provides a collection of neutral networks or communities, at the local and national level, where contract management professionals from all types of government and industry agencies and organizations can come together with a common goal: To enhance their professional expertise in a non adversarial environment, thus enabling them to more effectively accomplish the mission of their organizations.

Acquisition professionals are encouraged to read this letter, as many misconceptions can be addressed about government employees getting involved with the association. Only by working together can we help solve the complex problems faced by the government contracting community, and NCMA is at the forefront of leading this change.

Open Letter to Government Employees