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Seven Ways to Smooth Contract Transition

Transition Handoff photoChange can be good when it brings innovative ideas and fresh enthusiasm, including in government contracting. But if not handled correctly, change can lead to bumps in the road or unexpected slowdowns.

There are ways to smooth the path, however, during a handover of responsibilities. They involve focusing on both the transition of the contract and the transition of people.

Here are seven best practices that we have learned and applied for years when approaching a contract transition:


Whether relatively simple or very complex, transitions involve multiple stakeholders and a certain amount of time and expense. Based on our experience with numerous successful contract transitions for GSA and DHS, we have found that successful transitions begin early with coordination and planning:

1. Review Requirements – Review both the existing and planned contracts, including the transition requirements. Ensure they support the overall acquisition strategy and that “transition in” and “transition out” details are included. Also, it’s important to confirm “transition out” requirements and plans sync up with follow-on “transition-in” requirements. If they are not tightly integrated, there is an increased risk of a gap in service and unmet customer service level expectations. Consider the entire lifecycle – planning, execution, and closeout of a contract – to smooth the path for both contractors and government teams.

2. Outline Responsibilities – Transition success depends on clearly defined and communicated roles and responsibilities. A responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) and schedule, can organize many moving parts by clearly outlining necessary steps, who is responsible, and the timetable and goals for starting and stopping those tasks. A RAM also assists transitions by informing estimates to complete remaining work and re-positioning resources from a current team to the next to maximize scope coverage. See an example of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix on page 18 of the Integrity-GovLoop Guide: Addressing the Complex Challenges Facing Today’s Acquisition Professional.

3. Communicate Frequently – Establish lines of communication between client, incumbent and awardee contractors. Keep everyone in the loop through frequent communications (e.g., daily “huddles” or “chats”)

4. Create a Transition Management Plan – Consider and document all factors involved in the planned transition, including:

  • Roles and responsibilities as outlined in the above-mentioned RAM
  • Risks and mitigation strategies, considering areas such as realistic timeframes for security clearances and for transferring Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) or Property (GFP) from one contractor to another; the approach to incumbent retention; training of new staff; workload and workforce management requirements; and teaming agreements
  • Performance measurement, including goals and metrics, along with frequency and method of reporting progress against goals


The best-laid plan will only be achieved if the right people are in place to execute it. We have found the right people to be those who have first-hand experience overcoming transition challenges, and who are able to leverage those lessons learned. A flexible, comprehensive approach to finding those who can best perform the work is another key to effecting smooth transitions.

5. Incumbent Transition – Clarify and communicate how crucial incumbent retention is to the ongoing success of the project. Contractors can then propose a multi-pronged strategy to retain incumbents through methods such as:

  • Documented transition procedures tailored to client and mission needs
  • Regular communications, with face-to-face sessions to ensure personnel understand the new contractor and their continued role in the contract
  • Incentive programs, compensation and benefits, career advancement, and professional development opportunities

6. Recruitment – A strong recruitment plan provides people who are not only qualified with required certifications, education, and experience, but who possess intangible qualities that will make them a good fit for both the government agency and the support contractor. A robust candidate pipeline depends on:

  • Recruiting technology solutions that provide efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and transparency
  • Rapid recruiting capability and past performance demonstrating ability to respond quickly to task orders with domain experts
  • Talent management approaches that identify already-known candidates with related experience
  • Use of social media, career fairs and professional associations to reach qualified candidates

7. Retention – A smooth transition should ideally lead to a smooth contract lifecycle. However, factors such as staff turnover can lead to bumps in the road, which is why stability and retention are so important. A solid retention approach will include:

  • A well-defined strategy and clearly communicated organizational values
  • Recognition and reward for high-quality work
  • Development of professional goals

Successful contract transition requires stakeholders to view the transition as a project itself. For example, when our organization was faced with the challenge of responding to task orders nationwide within days, we applied project management methods and practices to overcome those challenges successfully.   Using tools and best practices such as a (transition-focused) Project Management Plan and a RAM with clearly defined lines of communication will drive upfront review and decisions on requirements, roles and performance measurement.

It’s also critical to consider the people who will execute the work. A thorough plan to find, leverage, and keep staff with the right skills, certifications, and experience will minimize transition risks.   We’ve found the above strategies have resulted in smoother transitions and our government clients achieving their goals.