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The Five W’s of Alpha Contracting

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If you’re interested in a different contracting technique that can save time, increase trust and improve communication, then check out my five W’s of Alpha Contracting.


Who?  It’s not so much the Who as the What that is innovative. The Who, of course, are the government and its contractor jointly developing the Statement of Work (SOW).

What?  Alpha Contracting is a collaborative effort traditionally used in a sole-source environment between government and industry to streamline an acquisition from beginning to end. It’s worth a second look though, in these days of multi-contractor environments.

Alpha Contracting relies on Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) comprised of government representatives, and contractor personnel working together to develop contract requirements (the Statement of Objectives (SOO), a Performance Work Statement or SOW) and other elements of the contract such as incentives. This collaborative teaming approach is an underlying principle of Alpha Contracting and is vital to success.

Why? Alpha Contracting shortens the time from development of the SOW to contract award.

Alpha Contracting leads to a better buyer and seller relationship. Working together to develop the SOW and the contract creates a teaming relationship and trust between the government and the contractor. Also, the requirements in the SOW are more clearly defined and understood by all parties.

The teaming approach improves communication and the efficient use of human resources. For example, there can be a single technical review, coordinated fact-finding and early coordination of necessary documents.

When?  The Alpha Contracting process usually only applies to Sole-Source procurements; however, there are competitive procurement efforts that have used it. In these cases, the Government had to be very careful not to develop requirements that favored one of the contractors. One way you can accomplish this is by involving all of the potential offerors in developing a SOO rather than a SOW.

In one instance, I helped the Government and the five potential offerors to collaboratively develop a SOO that stated the desired end state. All the contractors were able to meet the requirement. Equally important, they clearly understood what the Government wanted. This allowed two different, innovative, non-traditional approaches. The other three offerors proposed slightly different but competitive traditional solutions.

In another situation, the Government requirements resulted in a solution that exceeded its budget. During the Alpha Contracting Process, the contractors suggested alternatives and helped the Government to de-scope the requirements to meet the budget constraints. This saved both time and money.

Where?  Where can Alpha Contracting go wrong?  Where there are inhibitors to the process:

Resources Constraints: Alpha Contracting requires the commitment of ample resources early in the contracting process – the right personnel and enough of their time.

Resistance to Change: Stakeholders without a full understanding of the process may be unwilling to try Alpha Contracting. It will also not work when there is a lack of trust in the relationship between the government and contractor.

Loss of Control: Government contracting officers need higher level approval before release of the RFP. Contractors may require executive level budgeting decisions at each contracting step. However, many of these controls are lost in Alpha Contracting when IPT members are empowered to make decisions and create contracting documents in person, without consent from upper levels at each alpha contracting process step.

How? Every good “Five W’s” list also has an H for How.  Alpha Contracting can work with the correct mix of open and honest communication, IPT members, ground rules, and commitment to the process. By enabling all parties to work together and share knowledge, the Alpha Contracting technique can get acquisitions under contract faster and build buyer and seller trust. What do you think? Has it ever worked for you?