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Try these tools to help you hurdle change in Federal IT Acquisition

hurdlesWith a seemingly broader array and quicker pace of threats, risks, and opportunities set against a backdrop of resource scarcity, maximizing value through optimal delivery of secure, citizen and customer-centric capabilities in line with strategy and priorities are more important than ever.

Further, as we move through the Information age, the rate of change in the world today is accelerating, impacting organizations on greater magnitudes of scale. In many cases, the change is not increasing linearly, but exponentially. In those cases, proven linear approaches may not be suitable. On a continuous basis, organizational leaders consider variables (e.g., threats, gaps, needs, new models and technologies) that drive the speed and complexity of change. The changes spawn challenges from structural and cultural perspectives.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) refers to this “whirl” of potential drivers of change as Enterprise Environmental Factors (EEF).  PMI defines EEFs as internal or external conditions, not under the control of the portfolio organization, which influence, constrain, or direct a portfolio’s success.  These factors occur externally to the portfolio organization and outside of its direct control, yet they impact the portfolio management decision processes.  EEFs may constrain portfolio management options and may have a positive or negative influence on the outcome.”  In a recent National Contract Management Association’s (NCMA) CM magazine article, I write about some of the many EEFs to consider in the Federal IT space.

As an acquisition portfolio/program/project management community, what is an approach you can take to address EEFs?  NCMA’s Contract Management Standard is a doctrinal publication that serves as the foundation of the Contract Management Body of Knowledge®Fifth Edition.  In NCMAs Contract Management Body of Knowledge book (CMBOK), they outline a set of competency areas, which includes procurement life cycle phases (pre-award, acquisition planning/strategy, post-award”). However, there are two other areas, namely “Specialized Knowledge Areas” and “Business”.  As a longtime proponent of the value cross-functional teams bring, I advocate team members can help their organizations by supplementing their foundational, perhaps more traditional Procurement life cycle management knowledge and experience base by diversifying their knowledge and experience in facets of those other two areas.    For example, within “Specialized Knowledge Areas” are the topics “Major Systems” which includes a “system of systems” holistic model to solving problems, and “Information Technology” which involves the unique evolving and emerging aspects of obtaining and managing IT.

Diversifying your organizational capability in those two facets can help your organization address the whirl.  To that end, adopting a Major systems decision approach through a portfolio lens can better leverage and pivot your organization’s inventory and pipeline of work in the direction of strategic intent and mission fulfillment.  From a quality perspective, the approach should be structured sufficiently (i.e. repeatable and systematic) yet be flexible/scalable for adapting to change.  It should be widely recognized (i.e., national/global standard) to leverage the benefits of the “network effect”.  To address the speed of change, it also requires experienced practitioners of the approach who can change speeds relatively swiftly.  For example, having the discretion and judgement on when to accelerate it (“fail faster”), or when to pause (“more data needed”).  Or when to follow explicitly, and when to tailor in and out.

PMI (the same organization that offers the Project Management Professional Certification (PMP)) acknowledged in the Federal Government and Government Contracting space) has introduced a relatively new global standard for Portfolio Management, including a Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) certification.  This approach is an example of a portfolio management model or standard that organizations could use in part or in whole.  In fact, according to the PMI website, “organizations with mature project portfolio management practices complete 35 percent more of their programs successfully. They fail less often and waste less money according to our 2015 thought leadership report, Delivering on Strategy: The Power of Project Portfolio Management.”  Further, it’s recognized as a global standard, and it is characterized as non-linear (i.e. adaptable to exponential, non-linear circumstances) which lends itself to the current and future management environment. It can be a handy tool for Federal agencies to use to implement the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act (PMIAA).

It’s tailorable so many organizations can customize it to fit their needs.  In fact, I’ve found that many organizations who have achieved benchmark quality/service levels, or best-in-class results are practicing many of the tenets of the standard, albeit using their own local or specific terminology.  I’m grateful to have been able to partner with several clients (from a divisional, or enterprise-wide portfolio perspective) to establish, integrate, and/or employ many best practices across the global standard’s five PfMP knowledge areas (e.g., Strategy, Governance, Performance, Communications, and Risk) and three process groups (e.g., defining, aligning, and authorizing and controlling) to drive improved, and even benchmark caliber results.

Pivoting back to NCMA’s CMBOK, in the “Business” competency area, there is a topic named “Leadership Skills”, which focuses on the non-technical, non-managerial aspects of change, which can be at least as equally important in seeing successful change through.

Dr. John Kotter is one of the world’s foremost change experts.  His work is grounded in decades of empirical research conducted at Harvard Business School and proven in the field.  Here is a quote from an excerpt in a Forbes article regarding managing change:

“And learning the new methodology, which is not just a managerial-driven methodology associated with planning and organizing and budgeting, etcetera, but it is much more a leadership-driven methodology, which we have found fundamentally plays itself out in eight phases, having to do with pushing urgency up and getting a huge team of people that want to drive change, and figuring out the vision and the strategic initiatives, and communicating that out and getting buy-in, and as more and more people start to act, make sure that the barriers that block action are gotten out of the way, that’s empowerment, make sure you get short-term wins that are visible so people continue to work and it gives you credibility. Working, working, working—never letting up until the vision becomes a reality, and even then, institutionalizing it ultimately into the culture. That is not what we’ve been taught to do; it’s not what organizations do. They’re going to have to learn to do it.”


So, acquisition life cycle management professionals, to hurdle change in Federal IT, consider using technical and non-technical tools and standards from NCMA, PMI, and Dr. John Kotter’s change management model to help drive improved results and positive impact through change.