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Welcome Aboard! Now what? – A Three-Step Process for Quickly Getting Your Team Up to Speed

Up to Speed photoAfter the excitement of a newly awarded contract, comes the implementation of the winning proposal.  Part of that is building the team to execute the plan and satisfy the contract requirements.  But what if the whole team isn’t available on Day One, or the team is new to the sector?

A common risk to staffing is the delay caused by the suitability process.  Often team members pass suitability in a staggered fashion, rather than having all planned personnel commence on the first day of the project.  As a result, the project manager must allocate resources in a strategic manner in order to satisfy contract work requirements.

Each team member brings a variety of skills and experiences related to the scope of work; however, they may lack familiarity with the specific work for the contract.  Soft skills like customer service and business analysis can serve as an excellent base on which to build the more technical skills needed.  The program manager must provide the tools to help teammates become successful as quickly as possible.

A method I have used successfully to address both these challenges  is a phased process of orientation, acculturation, and indoctrination.  This three-step process, which can be rolled out in a matter of days, sets up the team to hit the ground running.  In Part I of my article, I’ll describe the three steps and how to implement them.  In Part II I’ll provide a case study on how it has worked in real-time.

Orientation

After each teammate receives the basic corporate orientation, including mission and vision statements, the next step is to familiarize them with the work at hand.  This extended orientation sets the boundaries for the work, identifies project goals and objectives, and explains internal team dynamics.  It focuses on an overview of the contract itself:

  • high-level overview of its purpose
  • corporate teaming arrangements (if applicable)
  • organizational structure of the client, including names of key client points of contact
  • a breakdown of the work elements (akin to a narrative on the work breakdown structure)

Acculturation

Now that the work objectives have been identified, the building of a knowledge base begins.  Acculturation frames the work in terms of the client being supported.  This is where the team member learns about agency-specific regulations, policies, and procedures.  On a contract that provides procurement support the story includes the following concepts:

  • Budget – programming, planning, budgeting, and execution (PPBE); the President’s budget; and, Congressional authorization and appropriation
  • Acquisition – Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP); the Federal Acquisition Regulation; department Office of the Chief Procurement Officer (OCPO); and, departmental acquisition policies and memoranda
  • Contracts – key contracting roles; phases of the contract life-cycle; and, contractually-required documentation

Indoctrination

Now that team members understand the “sandbox” within which they work, it is time to impress the tasks and activities that will lead to project success.  The team’s processes will experience some flux as individuals apply lessons learned in the course of task execution.  There are some over-arching behavioral cues that help in refining techniques:

  • Does the activity fulfill a stated element in the statement of work (SOW)?
  • When encountering unforeseen obstacles how were they resolved?  Can that resolution be incorporated to make the activity more efficient?
  • Can the process be standardized through documentation, instruction, and monitoring?

“Homework” Reinforces Concepts

One way to package this phased approach is like that of a teacher’s lesson plan.  Subsequent lessons build upon preceding lessons.  Reading assignments between lessons reiterate instruction and prepare the “student” for the next day.  The reading assignments can be both source documents as well as tailored documents that supplement the learning process.  Lastly, having preceding teammates provide instruction and mentoring to succeeding teammates reinforces concepts via repetition and engenders a type of oral tradition, whereby one “generation” passes along knowledge to the next “generation.”

The goal of this three-step process is to kick-start the contributions of new and junior team members.  Orientation and acculturation take place in the first two days, with indoctrination starting on Day Three and continuing through the team maturation process.  All program managers understand that through time and experience an individual’s work products develop and become more refined.

In the next installment of this blog, a case study will discuss how continuous engagement with the team and further enhancements to learning on the job enabled the team to deliver contract-mandated service over a three-month period while suitability trudged on, one teammate at a time.