Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Managing Collaboration Throughout the Acquisition Process: A Project Management Perspective

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

I’ve been researching how to measure the impact of improved collaboration on Federal procurement processes, starting with development of a “concept map” that organizes the major issues.

Recently I had the good fortune to interview Mike Del-Colle, Accenture’s Senior Manager, Federal Contract Policy Compliance. I met Del-Colle earlier this year at a meeting of the ACT/IAC Acquisition SIG and he graciously agreed to be interviewed. He made several very important points during our conversation that I wanted to report.

Are you improving or changing existing processes?

First, Del-Colle says that it makes a big difference whether you are using collaboration and communication technologies to improve existing processes or to change existing processes. The example he gave concerned the process formalities surrounding large DoD based procurements (and for some large NASA and DoE procurements). Much research and documentation goes into an initial assessment of the market for certain types of products and services. This market research phase, according to Mike, is an example where using documented communications and messages associated with use of collaboration and networking technologies would help support and even improve an existing process.

This certainly makes sense to me. How you measure “doing things better” and “doing things differently” often differ. For example, the former suggests process metrics as being important while the latter suggests outcome metrics as being more important; I’ve tried to capture both of these in the model.

Collaboration extends throughout contract management

Another point made by Del-Colle was that the use of collaborative systems for procurement management extends beyond contract award and extends into contact management. The sharing of information, the working to common goals, and the allocation of work across different teams doesn’t stop when the contract is awarded. These processes all must continue, albeit in modified form.

Yes, this does mean that relationships do change when, for example, responsibility for a contract on the vendor side shifts from a capture team to a delivery team. This is all the more reason, I believe, that sharing of information is critical so that the learning that about customer requirements and operational realities that emerges during proposal, award, and negotiations stages doesn’t get lost when the work moves from marketing to operations.

Procurement and Project Management

The points made by Del-Colle during our interview won’t be a surprise to experienced project managers since the importance of collaboration and information sharing has been long recognized as essential for successful project outcomes. In fact, some experts have explicitly connected project management and contract management; an example is shown in the presentation Procurement Project and Program Alignment by Michael Bevis, Competency and Certification Manager, Federal Acquisition Institute. Bevis devotes significant detail to discussing stakeholder communications and their importance to procurement processes.

This is similar to my own discussions of the role social media and social networking can play in project management; for an example see How Can Collaboration Systems and Social Media Complement Agile Project Management?

Practical questions

Once of the issues raised by the need for collaboration and information sharing across organisational and system boundaries is the impact on technology support. Telephone, email, and instant messaging are usually available to provide “plain vanilla” communication and collaboration frameworks. One question is how to move beyond these tools to collaborating and sharing in realtime when different groups use different collaboration tools. What if, for example, one groups uses SharePoint, another uses Jive, and a third uses a remotely hosted tool like Ning or Groupsite? Do you force everyone to use the same tool? Do you opt for lowest-common-denominator interfaces to allow for data and document sharing across systems? Or do you allow everyone to use the tools they feel comfortable with and provide, as unobtrusively as possible, administrative support to facilitate interfaces and data exchange between different systems?

These are tough questions and are typical of why I’m trying to look objectively at the contribution collaboration can make to acquisition processes.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald

Goodbye Washington Post (on Facebook, that is...)

"Better Communication" Won't Overcome Willful Scientific Ignorance

"Better Communication" Won't Overcome Willful Scientific Ignorance