By Steve Kelman

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One sure sign of whether 'Acquisition 360' will actually matter

government industry dialog

FCW ran a story late last week on a March 18 memo from Anne Rung, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, to agency chief acquisition officers and senior procurement executives, entitled "Acquisition 360 – Improving the Acquisition Process through Timely Feedback from External and Internal Stakeholders." The memo also got a fair amount of attention on the Twittersphere.

By "360 feedback," of course, Rung means that everybody rates everybody else. So the memo establishes a program, starting with major IT acquisitions, for surveys to obtain contractor feedback to the government, program office feedback to the contracting office, and contracting office feedback to the program office. (The only thing missing from this symmetry is government feedback to the contractor, which of course is supposed to be provided by past-performance report cards. The Rung memo sadly missed an opportunity to announce efforts as part of this new initiative to revitalize the government's past-performance evaluation system.)

There is a big risk that something like this becomes a paperwork exercise. If it does, it will quickly implode -- given the proliferation of surveys people are asked to fill out these days, many of which get deleted by a mouse click, people will ignore surveys they don't find useful.

For surveys to be perceived as useful, the questions must elicit useful information, and useful results must then be acted on. Typically, the more specific the questions, and the less subjective the answers, the more useful the information will be, because it is more likely to be actionable.

For example, "how satisfied were you with your service" on a 1-5 scale is a less useful question than one that drills further down, because such general questions don't provide much information on which an organization can act. A headline "rating" -- 61percent of contractors are dissatisfied with the quality of the government's procurement process -- is just that, a nice headline. It provides no actual guidance to an organization, such as a government contracting shop, about where it is falling down and where or how to try to improve.

Having looked at the suggested survey questions in the Rung memo, I think they do well on the usefulness tests. (It is good news that the memo refers to getting "actionable" feedback.) So, for example, the template contractor survey provides questions asking how satisfied the contractor was "with the clarity of the final requirements," "that the agency answered questions regarding the solicitation in such a way that it helped you to prepare the proposal," and "with the opportunity to propose unique and innovative solutions."

Particularly for feedback from contractors to the government, my instinct is that vendors will give the government a chance to prove itself on these surveys, provided they are confident about anonymity, because many long for better communication with their customers. And unlike many surveys, where an individual respondent is one of thousands offering feedback into a huge nationwide system, here a respondent -- be they a contractor, a program office or a contracting shop -- is part of a relatively small number of people giving feedback on a narrowly defined community. This too will encourage people to respond.

That goodwill can easily be dissipated, however, if respondents see no follow-up in terms of efforts by survey recipients to improve their organizations' performance. So if this memo is a one-time shot from OFPP and from individual agencies, failure is assured. As with so much else in organizational life, and indeed life in general, follow-up will be key. Unfortunately, as the failure to announce an effort to revitalize the existing past-performance system made clear, the government often tends to be better at announcing new initiatives than to paying ongoing attention to old ones.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 23, 2015 at 8:49 AM


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