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10 hours ago, formerfed said:

Vern, what do you think is the most important measurement for timeliness then?

To be frank, I'm no longer sure.

The reason I say that time from identification of need to contract award is not the most important measurement of timeliness is because it's too all-encompassing. You can measure it. That's easy. But it's hard to figure out what the measurement means in any given case.

How long should it take to develop a description of a requirement—a list of deliverables and a specification or a statement of work? How long should it take to develop a solicitation? How long should it take to select a contractor and make an award?

During planning, the answers to those questions will always be, "It depends." It depends on the requirement, on the organization conducting the acquisition, on the people conducting the acquisition, and on the situational context. But it's easy to say afterward that a process took too long. I say it all the time.

In manufacturing, the purpose of building a factory is to create an artificially controlled environment in which to conduct a highly repetitive process for which it is then possible for industrial engineers to set valid standards for cost, quality, and time. I don't think that's easy to do for the acquisition process. There are too many uncontrollable conditions.

What do you do with a process measurement if you are not producing a standard product under standard conditions and lack valid standards of comparison? During my entire 47 years in this business, PALT has always been an issue, and the lack of widely-accepted process standards has always been the problem with PALT. The standards have always seemed arbitrary, and they often were. You can try to categorize acquisitions and set category standards, but once you get past the purchase of standard supplies and services, most acquisitions are unique to some extent.

If you don't have process standards that process managers accept as fair and valid, then your measurements, and critiques based on them, will largely be for naught. Go ahead and measure, if you insist, but it won't do you much good. The most important process measurement is one that is both pertinent and for which you can set a fair valid standard. Acquisition is not done in a factory.

I doubt that you'll agree with me. But did I answer your question? Does the answer at least make sense?

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I doubt that you'll agree with me. But did I answer your question? Does the answer at least make sense?

Vern, it certainly does make sense.  Thank you also for taking the time and effort for that explanation. 

To me PALT is useful mostly as a comparative tool.  It’s not a precise measurement because of all the variables.   One can compare PALT performance by commodities, by program offices, by contracting offices, and even by contract specialists.  But a single or even a few instances doesn’t show much at all.  

If PALT data shows good performance compared to poor performance, that should lead to analysis to see why there’s a variance.  Lots of reasons are possible but by study, one can make changes and improvements.  I think the major benefit is it leads to digging into reasons why something occurs.  Ultimately improvements may be made.

One other useful aspect is program offices can look at historical data and see possible long long their new procurement may take.  It helps with planning.  I don’t think a program office cares that much about how long an award takes from issuance of a solicitation.  What’s more meaningful to them is when will an award be made based on our starting the process. 


 

 

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Couple last thoughts.

If you measure #1, it’s easy to add #2 and 3 in as well.

As far as 3, one major reason for delay is proposal evaluations.  When doing technical/price trade offs, competitive evaluations often drag on.  It’s definitely a challenge when identifying technical evaluators.  Program offices are reluctant to use their best people and you often end up with those with nothing better to do.  Training is another challenge.  Then getting the evaluations done in a timely manner can be difficult.  People sometimes consider evaluations as a collateral duty.  Evaluators take leave.  Work priorities can override.  Then getting everyone together for consensus can also take painfully long.  Often at some point, legal or procurement management criticize parts of the evaluators and rework is required.  This all doesn’t even get into redoing the evaluations after discussions.

Unless all this is documented and measured, antidoacural stories don’t carry much weigh persuading management to make evaluations a priority.   

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  • 3 months later...

I have thought a lot about this, especially since I got into management around 2013. I used to measure the crap out of PALT. I had a beautiful spreadsheet that would calculate the allotted PALT a specialist had to accomplish a given task. The allotted time was based on our local PALT allowances. I was able to say things like, "Contract specialist A, on average, delivers awards 10 days ahead of the allotted PALT." But it ended up being a meaning-free effort. Contract specialist A worked mostly on simplified acquisition, exercising options, adding incremental funding, and the like. I was certainly happy the work was getting done "on-time" but it doesn't say much about how effective contract specialist A is, nor do the aggregate results tell you much about the effectiveness of the entire office.

I changed my approach after coming to that realization. What I concern myself with most these days is ensuring my office writes solicitation procedures that sets the evaluation panel up for success. We've embraced oral presentations, limited essay-writing type proposals, and conducted advisory down selects. As someone said above, the length that an evaluation should take depends. But within the circumstances and context of an individual procurement, there are "smart" things we can do to reduce the chances we end up in evaluation hell for a year. 

So I kind of come down to this: if you're going to measure it, solicitation release to award is probably best. It does set up some perverse incentives (they've been mentioned, reluctance to enter into discussions, etc.). So does every other way to measure it.

Lastly, in the context of research and development, PALT from solicitation release to award doesn't make a lot of sense. If you are using BAAs, you may be engaging in process which includes a concept paper submission followed by a full proposal. Then you may seat a merit review panel, potentially of external experts. PALT isn't a measure of effectiveness in that context (If it ever is).

 

 

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So I kind of come down to this: if you're going to measure it, solicitation release to award is probably best. It does set up some perverse incentives (they've been mentioned, reluctance to enter into discussions, etc.). So does every other way to measure it.

When you get down to it, acquisition is a function that supports mission.  If a program office struggles for a year putting together a requisition package and PALT takes 120 days, is contracting successful?

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13 hours ago, formerfed said:

When you get down to it, acquisition is a function that supports mission.  If a program office struggles for a year putting together a requisition package and PALT takes 120 days, is contracting successful?

I think you'd have to look at why it is taking that long. It very well could be that the requirements for putting together a procurement package are too complex or the tasks are misallocated. A lot of contracting offices make the program offices write the acquisition plan, which I think is crazy. Of course the program office is going to struggle to write a procurement document! I've also seen requisition packages rejected because they were not accompanied by pencil whipped documents, which creates unnecessary delays. In those cases, contracting is unsuccessful. 

On the other hand, there is sometimes a lot of debate and disagreement in the program as to what should actually be procured. I have seen this a lot in our IT function--there is a cohort that wants to modernize existing systems and there is a cohort that wants to maintain the existing systems. Both parties have relevant points, though I fall in the former (I'm oversimplifying the controversy, of course). But in controversies like that, there's only so much I can do as a CO to push the project. I'm not an IT expert and I don't have to live with, necessarily, the consequences of doing the former vs. the latter. In these sorts of cases, I can't quite put the blame on the contracting function.

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@KeithB18 That is a major problem especially when a lot of the acquisitions involve major IT.  A couple of agencies partially solved that by creating organizations intermediate between CIO and Contracts.  The CIO office funded a few positions.  Some of those are IT specialists that take user requirements and convert to documents supporting the acquisition process.  Other positions are contract savvy people that have some IT knowledge.  

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It's not enough to just set PALT targets. Someone has to put together a group to map processes for various kinds of acquisitions, assign roles and responsibilities, estimate process times, set tentative goals, measure actual performance, compare performance to goals and diagnose, and then adjust. It's an ongoing process. It never ends. Moreover, PALT times are affected by workforce experience and education, and when the workforce changes so will PALT.

@KeithB18Keith, you seem to have thought about this, and you write clearly. Why not do a literature search, think some more, and write an article about PALT for Contract Management and Wifcon?

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