John Klossner's Ink Tank

Here's the pitch: An acquisition workforce reality show

As with all things in our culture, if we really want the world of acquisition training to be better known and understood, we need to create a reality show for it. I propose the following concept.

The Acquisition Training Reality Show

Prospective episode titles: "The Potomac Shore," "National Mall Rats," "Northern Virginia 22042."

The Pitch: A group of trainees live together and prepare government contracts for six months, all under the watchful eye of 24-hour camera coverage. Watch them discuss boilerplate in the hot tub. See them down cases of Red Bull in order to pull an all-nighter to piece together sections L and M. Watch guest senior level project managers play tricks on beginner levels. Try to decide if the third party introduced in the fifth episode is legitimate or not.

Posted on May 06, 2010 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Acquisition hiring can be a hit-or-miss proposition

F150 in the officeWhen I first moved to my small Maine town, I had no connections in the local builder community. In order to find a plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc., I had to rely on recommendations from friends or take my chances with Yellow Page listings (this was before the business world went online). This, in turn, led to a wide variety of interviews. Instead of the formal white-collar interview involving business attire and office furniture, I would meet prospective contractors either on a job site or, after his or her work day, over the front hood of their truck in my driveway, with an occasional tour of my prospective project.

I have now lived in my community long enough to move up to the next step in the contractor process where, if I don't know of a specific craftsperson for the job, I can ask not-so-close local friends who feel comfortable enough to give my name to their favorites contractors, or feel safe enough to recommend them to me. It's amazing what living next door or down the street from someone can do for the vetting process. (Maybe we should think about doing this with stalled federal appointees, have them move into the same neighborhood as the committees overseeing their nominations.)

These interviews, similar to those involving office furniture, involve much nonverbal interpretation. Does your contractor's dirty shirt mean they are very good or very bad at what they do? (That depends on the position: A mechanic with an oil-stained shirt is good; an accountant with the same shirt is bad.) If their vehicle is spotless is that better? ( A carpenter with a truck full of used equipment is desirable. A doctor with the same would be undesirable.) And, one of the hardest interpretations to make is whether good verbal skills equate with good skills for your particular household need? I live in Maine. I've had great builders working for me for whom two syllables is a major speech. By the same token, I've had former contractors who could keep me entertained for hours. (Among my favorites was a very friendly gentleman who installed a wood stove pipe connection for me, which the mason who built the chimney later pointed out had been installed the wrong way, even though there were arrows on the pipe showing the proper directions.)

My personal preferences are for contractors who register in the middle on the nonverbal clues' scale--someone who looks like they've actually been working, (spotless clothes and late-model vehicles lose points with me, but not a truck with rust spots larger than a badger.) letting me think they have experience in the field.

What are the nonverbal clues to decipher in the federal acquisition world? How can you tell if someone has the experience you want for your projects? Since the government acquisition world is fairly self-contained, you'd think there would be a standard checklist to refer to when leaning on the hood of an acquisition worker's Ford F-150 pickup truck in the driveway. But no, instead I read of concerns about training programs for the acquisition workforce. The major contention here is that current acquisition training doesn't equate to real world experience. We want acquisition workers with the proverbial dirt under their fingernails. Or, at least, we want to trust the standards of acquisition training. I note that this is similar to previous concerns expressed about IT certification programs--i.e., do two people with similar paper resumés offer the same job skills?

Since acquisition training is provided by a wide variety of agencies and organizations, with an equally wide range of needs and skills to be taught, can a standard acquisition skills training format can be realistically built? That leaves it up to each agency -- and each manager -- to do their homework on their particular needs and the skills of the acquisition contractor they bring in, doesn't it? If I hire a bad carpenter, should I complain about the training he received? (Of course I will, but does that solve my problem?) And, similar to good carpenters, good acquisition workers should probably be treated well; I've found having coffee and snacks helps.

Or you could hire the one with the new truck.


Posted by John Klossner on May 06, 2010 at 12:19 PM0 comments

I lurk, therefore I am

As someone who once used a rotary phone to dial a four-digit telephone number, I assume that everyone else is way ahead of me in using the latest technologies while I am merely standing on the curb watching that bus drive off into the distance.

Every person I encounter seems to be tweeting links to their blog about the wikis on their Facebook page. Not that I'm a social media luddite: I do have profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. I also recently have  joined GovLoop and Goodreads. I joined Plaxo at a friend's request, but have since only received invitations to become friends with people I have never heard of. ( If I have one complaint with social media—which I don't, as complaining about social media seems to be the equivalent of complaining about coffee shops—it would be the bastardization of the word "friend." ) No, I am more of a social media hermit or, as a phrase I recently encountered put it, a "lurker."

Lurker refers to those who join a social networking service to view what is being written and/or said on that network but never actually post anything. There is a formula for online communities called the 90-9-1 principle, which refers to the estimate that 1 percent of any online community creates or contributes content (or is very active ) in the community, 9 percent respond or show some activity in the community, and the remaining 90 percent just watch without participating. The 90 percent are known as the lurkers, and the 9 percent known as active lurkers.

The 90-9-1 principle runs in slight conflict with my theory that almost everyone on the planet now has a blog—which means that very few people are motivated to contribute to comments sections or online communities and in fact are monitoring these networks for ideas for their own blogs. At least 90-9-1 sounds better than lurking, anyway.

Upon encountering the term "lurker" I felt guilty, like I was hiding behind my chair and sneaking peaks at the online entries of the greater community. Upon further research I found, in an MIT study, a defense of lurking that was better than anything I could make up. The study found that active lurkers in an online community might constitute closer to 40 percent to 50 percent of members and, while these people might not contribute directly to the online forum, they contribute by taking some of the ideas from the specific community and sharing them in the world at large. I propose we call these people "worker bees" instead of lurkers, as they take the pollen from one online community and spread it to others. (I think "worker bee" sounds much better than "lurking" also, but I don't think I want to go too much further with a pollination analogy.)

I've been considering this as I conduct an unscientific survey to find out what people use for their communication technology preferences. "Unscientific" on a couple counts: a) I don't think 11 samples constitutes a defensible result, and b) I'm not sure if asking the person behind the counter at the grocery store "what technologies do you use for communication?" would pass the standards test, either. Despite this, my small sample count has brought me some surprises. Generally, the world that I assumed was spending hours Tweeting and Facebooking among themselves behind my back doesn't exist. Those I spoke with included a couple middle-aged business owners, a PR person for a small non-profit organization, a college student. a magazine editor, and a teenager. One of the surprises I encountered is that the long-rumored demise of e-mail seems to be greatly exaggerated. Everyone I spoke with reported using e-mail as their primary technology for communicating, with Facebook being used for group communication.

A couple responses of note:

  • From a friend who was VP of Operations and Content Development for a how-to content site - " 'Social Media' is no different from the 'Fax Machine.' It is not a strategy; it is only a medium."
  • From our former babysitter, now a college sophomore - "I definitely use my cell phone the most to communicate with my friends, but as far as networking or reaching important people at (school) I definitely use email a ton. Facebook is good for things that you want to plan with people in a passive manner or a good way to reach a group of people all at once. My friends definitely prefer texting. I, on the other hand, really don't like it so I don't use it much unless I can't talk or just need to know the answer to one simple question."
  • Thinking that I might be missing technologies because of generational obliviousness, I asked my nearest teenager, who happens to be my daughter. She said e-mail, sometimes Facebook. When I asked her if she and her friends didn't text more, she reminded me that our cell phone plan only allows her 200 texts a month, and how could she possibly text with her friends with only that many texts, and what is wrong with me how could anyone text only 200 times a month when that includes texts received and why couldn't she get unlimited texting... (I think "lurking" might be the best way to deal with teenaged daughters.)

To keep the unscientific nature of this post going, here are some impressions I've garnered from lurking:

  • I appreciate social networks who do the work for me. GovLoop sends out frequent e-mail notices about new content or discussions. Being reminded without having to go look for the community is very useful for me. If I could find a social network to order lunch for me, I'd be in heaven.
  • My Facebook wall has slowly been taken over by "friends" who a) use it as an advertisement forum for their latest work, b) send trite surveys- e.g., "what are your top five annoying surveys?," and c) confuse Facebook with Twitter and send short one-liners to each other.
  • Twitter reminds me of a school bus - a bunch of short one-liners being shouted over one another in order to get your attention. The Twitter accounts I've followed were places where I was interested in the subject matter beforehand and wanted to follow something. I have yet to encounter a Twitter account that draws me into a subject or world I wasn't aware of.

And now that I've shared these with you I can refer to myself as a worker bee.


Posted by John Klossner on Apr 22, 2010 at 12:19 PM1 comments