“That was the highlight of my career,” one of my favorite attorneys told us when he retired.
I did a double take. He had to be kidding me.
“What was?” I must have misheard.
“That you invited me to that test.” For such a tough guy when it came to legal advice, I witnessed the hidden softy behind his eyes.
Or maybe just the human need to be part of something bigger.
To be appreciated.
To be included.
To be part of the team, genuinely, and not just when being a good team player was a threatened hammer to do what was needed after being excluded from any real decision-making.
I shook my head. Inviting my Rapid Acquisition Cell’s external staff–procurement analysts, lawyers, pricers, small business specialists, competition advocates, and Contracting Leadership–to a test or a tour or just to run their warm fingertips over cold hardware didn’t even get a second thought from me. Not anymore. I’d done it for years, successfully garnering buy-in from people who normally pushed paper and had no idea of the results of their advocacy…or their apathy. These were the staff who could make or break my lead times, and most of them never left their desks. They needed to understand their part in it all, but they also needed to feel like they were part of the team–because they were.
“In my entire career,” the retiring attorney continued, “I’ve never been invited to anything.”
I was a little stunned that someone with the strength and longevity of his career had never been included in something I now offered to anyone working with my crew. Granted, people who didn’t work with me often frowned at word of my invitations to meet the customer and see hardware because they considered these little jaunts to be unnecessary or a waste of time. In this case, I’d invited a procurement analyst, several new buyers on my team, and my alternate legal counsel to a classified test to see something in action that they would all be working on or had been already. My Program Office was on board every time I asked them to sponsor a tour for new team members or staff because they saw firsthand what happened when Government employees went from pushing paper to seeing the results of their handiwork, even hearing about it from the people whose survival depended on it.
As a procurement analyst ten years before, I had sat at my desk, listening to the party going on next door, and I’d felt sad not to be included. Like I was part of the team only when they desperately required my assistance and then forgotten. It wasn’t that I needed tours with that particular organization because I’d been a Contracting Officer working previous incarnations of their follow-ons, so I knew the tech and I knew the end users’ needs. I hadn’t wanted a policy job. I disliked it immensely, but I was in the midst of a custody battle and needed a job that wouldn’t require travel or overtime, so I made the best of it and focused not so much on doling out inspections and taskers as on rolling up my sleeves and helping the teams I worked with. I’d spent the bulk of my desk time helping the team next door deliver the contract on time, no protest, after a difficult source selection. It was a major win. When it came time to celebrate with cake and ice cream and kudos, my contribution was forgotten. It wasn’t the first time or the last, but I decided that when my kids were over 18 and I could afford to get back into the buying game again, I would do my best to build bridges with both internal and external teams.
I did, too. When I became a Contracting Chief, I made sure that every new recruit to my office, regardless of past experience, as well as any supporting staff, regardless of whether we liked each other or they liked my mission, were invited to see up close and personal how they fit into the mission. When we settled a difficult negotiation, I brought in fake champagne and plastic champagne glasses and handed them out to staff who helped us get there as a little thank you and recognition for their being part of my team. I took my Contracting minions to free-for-Government-employees NDIA conferences so they could see how they fit into the rest of the Acquisition world, even though there were precious few other Contracting Officers or buyers present. All these paid off in more cohesive teamwork, better lead times, more enthusiasm for the mission. (NOTE: I challenge you, next time you’re at an Acquisition-related conference, to stand up during the Q&A period and ask how many attendees are Contracting personnel and then ask why so few.)
We need to build bridges across our own small buying teams and across larger organizations. We’re great about talking about teams in Acquisition but not so great in calling it what it is: building relationships, honest ones. Between internal and external customers. Between other organizations we can emulate or advise. Between bridging the understanding gap between the paper on a desk or the pixels on their computers and the product or service that results in real-time, real-life suffering or success. Building relationships seems such a squishy term compared to the technology, but it’s every bit as vital.
I have learned more about other lone wolves of Agile Acquisition since I left my Contracting Chief position 4 months ago than in the previous…decades…of pushing innovative contracting tools. It’s not that I know more as a consultant. It’s through social media–LinkedIn and Slack specifically–that I’ve made new contacts and learned of organizations in the Army, Navy, and at OSD that I would otherwise not have been aware of. I know my former bosses were unaware of these, too, which I find a bit appalling now but…normal. Being open and participating instead of just lurking can vastly expand your network. I’ve learned about tools we should be sharing and precedents we could be leveraging, even if they weren’t set in our very own well-decorated silo. I might have known before and I might have been able to network quietly before, but my previous bosses actually wrote me up in my annual appraisal for being on social media and told me to GET OFF, even though I wasn’t discussing anything work-related. I was, however, making connections outside my silo and not just posting keto recipes to Facebook. I talk to Feds regularly who tell me they’re not allowed to network on social media, so they email me quietly. Yes, there may be inherent risk in having a social media profile–we’ve all had the training–but there is also an isolating effect if we aren’t networking because we are closed into our own little silos, not knowing what else is out there that might be substantially better. But that’s sorta where Government Acquisition is these days, isn’t it?
I am frustrated with how many innovators and innovation “lighthouses” are out there and no one seems to be watching them all to see what they’re accomplishing and what they can share. I am talking with different innovation hubs and cells across the DoD, but they don’t seem to be aware of each other. When I facilitate introductions, they are excited to share their successes and quiz each other on fixes for ongoing problems. And it’s exciting for me to watch. Networking across the galaxy is what I call it.
But how do we get them out of their silos? Or how do we tear down those silos so they can share, leverage, expand, unite, be more efficient through using what another has done, less wasteful of funds and manpower? How? Why isn’t there someone at a high enough level to look across all the consortia using Other Transaction Authority and keep a database that’s available to any Government agency or Department? I’d love to know, for example if the Department of Interior has a consortium that one of my Department of Defense teams might leverage. Who’s keeping the list of innovation hubs and their expertise, unless it’s a volunteer in a hub? What omnibus contracts are out there and available to all, including outside the Department of Defense? Why isn’t there a [redacted] database of all Other Transactions, 2373’s, Prize challenges, and PIAs? In the Government, we always hated the idea of reporting because it took at least some time, depending on how the tasker was set up, but also because we didn’t want the additional levels of review…even if many of those reports never were looked at or not in a timely manner. However, reporting isn’t just about gotchas–it can be a great way of sharing information if it’s put in a format/database that allows others to use it without starting from scratch on the same tool or contract vehicle.
What we need to push technology farther is to be able to tear down the silos we live in, get rid of the ego of our way being the only way and we being the only ones who do something well, and build bridges between us. We need to make sure our own functional silos have lots of air holes to truly be a cross-functional team and to understand the roles and responsibilities of each other as well as the technical requirements themselves. We need to build honest, cooperative, productive relationships with other organizations and experts across the galaxy of Department of Defense and any other organization we can learn from.
No man is an island, no team is a silo. Connect, connect, connect!
c 2018 Lorna Tedder
Effective 29 April 2019: Lead/Principal DoD Program Management and Agile Acquisition Subject Matter Expert at The Mitre Corporation
*NO LONGER ACCEPTING CONSULTING CLIENTS*
- Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018; Rapid Acquisition Consultant, 2018-2019.
- Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
- Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
- Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
- Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
- 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing.
- Message me on LinkedIn.