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  • 4 chapters on project management best practices
  • 4 chapters on project risk factors that harm success
  • 1 template for awesome team communication via email
  • 1 checklist to make you shine at your next IPR
  • 2 case studies to help you protect contracts from competitors
  • 1 status report template to make project updates easy to create
  • An insightful Program Health & Risk Assessment

Project Management for Contractors: Best Practices

How Project Managers Can Succeed

In Government Contracting

Successful Government contractors know how to consistently delight their customers. It's the most important principle in contracting success. Fulfilling a contract in an "ad hoc" manner can work, but it can only go so far.

If you want to become a contractor with a protected program, who new Government customers seek when they have projects to complete, you need a systematic way to successfully deliver every project to every customer.

We have perfected such a process, and because of it our CPARS scores are unheard of in the industry. These are four of our proven

Best Project Management Practices:

  1. Communicate
  2. Remind
  3. Report
  4. Serve

These four words might seem like bland cliches when it comes to successfully delivering projects. Don't be fooled; not only do these terms refer to specific and effective processes to follow (crafted from decades of experience), they will make delighting your customer the natural result of your actions, rather than a nice ideal to aim for.

In our blog we flesh out these four best practices in full detail, providing you Program Management templates, tools, checklists, and step-by-step strategies along the way to not only make you a better project manager / program manager, but help your company become the Government "contractor of choice" within your Agency.

You take online courses to improve as a project manager, become a Scrum Master, or pay for PMP certifications, but just the difference between getting a degree and real world experience, you soon learn that experience improves your skills the most.

Let us distill our experience into strategies and tools that will bring you success in real Government contracts.

 

 

How to Complete Project Milestones

Communicate: Best Practice I

Meetings can literally be the bane of your project. You need a systematic way to transform your meetings into fast, enjoyable, and results-driven processes. So how do you put this best practice, Communicate, into action?

Enter Scrum.

How to run a Scrum: Fast, Enjoyable, Results-driven Meetings

Gather your team together at the same time and same place each morning. Here's the simple agenda. Have each member of your team answer these three questions aloud for the team: 

  • What am I working on?
  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What is getting in my way or impeding project progress?

The goal with Scrum is for the project leader/program manager to identify:

  • Status Check - learn if is everyone on task or working on the appropriate task
  • Blocks - discover problems preventing task completion
  • Dependencies - see which tasks are being held up due to other tasks being incomplete

When the Scrum is finished, you will be able to:

  • Know what each team member is working on
  • Know what problems each member faces, and what you need to fix
  • Reassign new tasks to team members as needed (especially if their current task is blocked)
  • Make more accurate project time estimates

You can extract even more value from this best practice. On our blog we share how we use Scrum, there you can also download an email template to easily get a weekly Scrum-like report from your team.

 

 

Happy Customers via Project Updates

Remind: Best Practice II

Every government contract comes with a requirement to keep your customer informed about the project's status. Status Updates are an opportunity to Remind your customer that you are their hero by ultimately making them look like one.

When you provide a Status Update, your systematic, daily team communication will have already given you the following information:

  • What your team has recently accomplished
  • How issues are being resolved
  • What your team will be completing in the near future

Equipped with this information, you can simply plug it into a presentation template and share it with your Government Contracting Officer or any other managers you are accountable to. Your Status Update should include:

  • Significant work accomplished that week
  • Significant development milestones
  • Iterations, Risks, and Issues (along with date for each and current status)
  • Sub-slides with more details about specific Iterations, Risks, and Issues
  • Team tasks completed & current assignments
  • Team focus for the coming week
  • Deliverables & Approvals Timeline
  • and a Project Communication Schedule

It can actually be easy to regularly impress your customer through your regular status updates. A quality report takes a lot of time for a Project Manager to put together; so we've made it easier by sharing the template we use in our own contracts. Not only this, but you can read about the impact this type of status report has had in our own projects, in the full article on our blog.

 

 

Gain a Reputation for Excellence

Report: Best Practice III

Most contractors see program requirements as an ending point – hit those requirements and you're doing your job and the customer will be satisfied. If that is the company culture for program delivery in which you find yourself, then that is what you will be able to say in your next IPR: “The contract said for us to do X, so we did X.” If you deliver a program that aims to reach the status quo, you can expect a status quo level of approval from your customer.

To deliver an IPR that:

  • Stands out
  • Isn't associated with hum-drum/status quo IPRs
  • Government Officers look forward to hearing
  • And builds relationships with Government tech leads, PMs, and COTRS

Then you need to start with how your company approaches program management.

So what is the approach that will turn hum-drum IPR presentations into your moment to shine?

3 Principles & Practices in Government Contract Fulfillment

  1. Contract requirements are only a starting point
  2. Know the end-user of your program (your customer's customer)
  3. Keep a record of project progress

If you want to know more about these 3 Principles of Contract Fulfillment, which enable you to turn IPRs into a golden opportunity to shine, read more on our blog. If you're already convinced but just need some specific tactics on how to get there at your next IPR, here's an 8-step guide we've put together for you.

 

 

Protect your Government Program

Serve: Best Practice IV

When we refer to this Best Practice as Serve, what we mean is that you need to know and serve your customer's customer, the end-user. There are three reasons why it is of vital importance to know and serve the end-user:

  • Program Awareness
  • Program Protection
  • Program Innovation & Expansion

The Way to Valuable Awareness

If your program exceeds expectations, you gain two advocates: A) your Government customer, who will talk to others about the pleasure of working with you, and B) the end-user, who will be possibly more vocal about the product they appreciate and depend upon. Verifiable, enthusiastic testimonials are the most valuable kind of awareness you can have because they lead to the next two benefits.

The Way to True Program Protection

The value of high CPARs scores and a great working relationship with your Government customer cannot be overstated. But your relationship building must go further and deeper. You need to have a relationship with all of the stakeholders in your program, especially those who are the beneficiaries.

If the end-user sings the praises of your program, you can be certain it also makes your Government customer look good. Even if those in power (in other agencies or politicians) underestimate the worth of your program, it will be protected because both your Government customer and the end-user will come to its defense in time of need.

The Way to Program Innovation & Expansion

The third reason you need to know and serve the beneficiary of your program is because this is where ideas for program innovation & expansion come from. If the end-user isn't complaining and your program is running along smoothly, your Government customer is usually happy with the status quo. Only the end-user, the one feeling the pain of their situation, can best answer these questions:

  • How can this product/service be better?
  • What do you wish it didn't do?
  • What do you wish this product/service could also do?
  • What other needs do you have that are similar to the one this program serves?

The answers to these kinds of questions will generate the knowledge you need to innovate & expand your program. These answers reveal not only what the end-user wants and needs, but what they are willing to buy. We're in the business of making our Government customers look good, and there is no better way to do this than by working together to serve their customers.

Get the rest of the details about how to implement this best practice in this blog article, or read about the value its had for our own contracting in this case study.

 

Project Management for Contractors: Risk Factors

Project Risks to Avoid or Fix

The above series was about the Four Best Project Management Practices for delighting your Government customer. 

We promised you extremely satisfying results by following those four practices: 

  1. High CPARs scores 
  2. A Government contract safe from competition 
  3. Business growth through new task orders 
  4. Referrals and opportunities for new programs within your agency 

We provided tools to make it easy for you to implement these practices, and shared case studies to learn and apply our hard-won experiences and increase your own contracting success. 

But even after this—even while following best practices—there are still significant risks that can hurt your project or personal success. These risks you should not only pay attention to, but know how to mitigate whenever possible. 

Four Project Management Risk Factors That Contribute tFailure  

  1. 3 Kinds of Big Challenges
  2. Lack of Alignment Between Teams
  3. When Corporate & Customer Priorities Compete
  4. How Even Good Change Can Hurt Long-term Contracting Success

 

Big Challenges

Project Risk Factor I

Project/Program Managers face many challenges in their task to deliver successful programs to Government customers. There are three categories of challenges big enough that PM usually needs a lot of support to overcome them. We have termed these three categories:

  • Technical Challenges
  • Silo Challenges
  • Policy Limitation Challenges

1. Technical Challenges

Too often a project's requirement are communicated by the customer contracting team in one way, but in reality there are unspoken / unknown requirements beneath those written in the contract. They may not be needs that run throughout the life of the project, but they are part of the requirements that the customer did not ask for or did not realize existed.

2. Silo Challenges

Government agencies operate in silos—the vast majority of projects have to deal with challenges inherent to this "siloed" environment. This means that your project has an impact upon, and is influenced by, people outside your customer and your area of influence. The distance between your customer and these outside interested parties can be quite wide, which can be difficult to overcome.

3. Policy Limitation Challenges

What do you do when key elements of project management best practices conflict with security requirements?

► Read more about how to resolve all three of these challenges on our blog.

 

 

Lack of Alignment

Project Risk Factor II

The term Lack of Alignment is one way of describing a company that does not have a unified vision nor guiding principles to fulfill that vision. There are many ways a lack of alignment across teams can prevent you from successfully delivering projects, delighting your customer, and reaching personal goals, and in describing this risk factor, we will explore three of them.

1. Proposal Development: Bidding

If your company's Proposal Development team is guided by principles that are different from your Program Management team, there are bound to be problems in contract fulfillment. 

To succeed in contracting, it's extremely important that companies are both: 1) led by senior management with a unified goal (and a plan to reach it), and 2) enabled to have regular cross-team communication. These things ensure a company stays aligned in its Proposal Development and bidding. 

2. Business Development: Promises

Similar in action but (often) different in context and consequence is when the Business Development team is misaligned with the Program Management team. This situation occurs commonly in ongoing contracts, when project modifications are discussed, new task orders are created, or when contracts go up for renewal. 

It's natural for a Business Development team to get excited at the prospect of new business (in any industry, not just in Government contracting!) and in their aim to win it, turn the customer's every wish into an executable item in the contract. If you've experienced this, you can probably relate to the desire to go to your director of Business Development and yell, “You promised to deliver them what?!” 

Instead of affecting a new customer, (such as what happens when Proposal Development & Program Management are misaligned), a lack of alignment between Business Development and Program Management sets up the latter—the execution team—for failure.  

Instead of having the intended effect of delighting a customer (by giving them what they wanted), it has the opposite effect: a customer's expectations are set so high that even meeting their original desires will be disappointing in comparison to the grand vision promised by Business Development. 

3. Overall Company Vision from Opportunity to Project Close

Now that we've covered some consequences arising from of a lack of alignment between teams, we want to look at the underlying reason misalignment happens in the first place: when there is a lack of over-arching principles that guide the company in its Government contracting endeavors.

The most important question to ask in the context of this topic is: what are your company's goals for contract fulfillment, and what are your company's principles for reaching those goals? 

In our blog we look at how to resolve a misalignment and offer you our Program Health & Risk Assessment, to gauge how well-aligned your company is as a Contractor.

 

 

Competing Priorities

Project Risk Factor III

No matter how good of a program manager you are, some factors will impact your success over which you have little to no control. Perhaps the biggest factor of all comes from within - your contracting culture and company leadership. We're sharing here three ways company culture and even leadership can hurt your program and personal success.

1. Communication & Authority

When senior management keeps too much power or does not support the decisions their program managers make (or want to make), it creates project risks. No one knows the needs of the program and customer better than the program manager, and no one has more stake in a successful program and a delighted customer than the program manager. In general, the more authority a program manager is given, along with personal success and failure tied to the program, the better results that program manager will produce. 

2. Bureaucracy

Most small businesses don't have a significant problem with internal bureaucracy slowing down their effectiveness and speed. But in a big company, corporate culture, silos, bureaucracy, and complicated reporting structures can make a program manager's life extremely difficult, with the result that program success becomes an ice-climb instead of a walk around the block. 

3. Responsibility

This principle is very simple, but when a lack of support exists in your company’s chain of responsibility, your project's issues are going to go unresolved or spiral out of control. 

If senior management holds to the principle that the “buck stops here,” issues are naturally and effectively resolved. Problems linger in limbo when senior management pushes issues back down the chain of command, leaving the responsibility on the shoulders of “someone else.” 

Here's the key:

A constrained (albeit experienced & well-intentioned) program manager is a big risk variable for a project… an empowered, supported program manager makes all the difference.  

Now you can read about real-life stories of competing priorities from our own Government contracting experience, or assess the amount of risk your project has due to competing priorities in the Program Health & Risk Assessment.

 

 

Managing Change

Project Risk Factor IV

Do you feel like you get punished for doing a good job?

Sometimes when a project succeeds, the program manager can sometimes become a victim of that success.

Successful Projects Bring Challenges

All too often, the more a program manager succeeds, the less he or she can use experience and skills to solve problems, and the more he or she must act as a cog in the wheel of expansion. The program manager gets spread thin (trying to complete new tasks outside his or her areas of strength) and gets discouraged because success in the new role is less fulfilling. He/she wasn't dreaming of making operations an incredibly efficient machine, enabling the company to healthily expand; instead he or she had dreamed of solving real problems alongside their customer. What if your business development manager successfully leads the company in growth, but due to a lack of reflection and the necessity of getting business done, ends up in a program manager role instead? 

The Easiest Method To Discover Role Incongruity 

Are you choosing your bus seat, or is your seat being assigned? After all the change & growth in your projects, are you still in the right seat? 

The opportunity for senior management to keep a finger on the pulse of this congruity/incongruity is during performance reviews. These times are not merely a chance for senior management to provide feedback to you, but more importantly to ensure you are continuing in your trajectory toward career goals (especially when you are working on programs that are experiencing a lot of change).  

If a program is expanding and a technical program lead is being forced to manage more operationally, then look to move that person back to doing what he or she does best, and to bring in a person with an Ops skillset to take over the program manager role.

In the article on our blog, you can learn more about how to manage change in a project, and we share 6 ways to avoid or fix role incongruity.

 

PM Tools & Templates

We created these tools to make it easier for you to exceed your customers' expectations.

1. A template to help you easily create highly professional project status updates.

2. A checklist to turn your IPRs into reputation-building opportunities.

3. 10 tips to make the transition to ISO 9001:2015 as easy as possible.

4.The ultimate guide to succeeding in Government Project Management.

Costs were always below or within budget at all times; contractor even suggested ways to streamline and cut costs - amazing! They are consistently ahead of milestone completion times; production and processes never missed a deadline!

J. Rogers FED LOG

Contractor is always focused on how to control costs and maximizing the best cost effective solutions to the government. In a potential budget shortfalls the contractor even offered reduced cost structure to help [us] meet our budget goals and limitations. Contractor team is outstanding and provides some of the best response times and customer service I have experienced from contractor staff.

Chad Spittle DLA