Leadership and Procurement for 2020

With the new fiscal year well under way across the Federal Government, and as we enter the new year, I am taking some time to reflect on my lessons learned from 2019 in hopes of improving and correcting issues that have impeded productivity and efficiency for effective procurement leadership.

With that in mind, the overarching theme is “communication”.


Stating the obvious, communications efforts need to improve. They always need to improve. The difficulty is how should they improve?

First of all, both internal and external communications should be proactive.

Internally, the first thing that should happen, and at a minimum, is that the Program Office (a.k.a. the customer) should be given a milestone chart with all the activities that need to happen – from submitting the purchase request once assigned to the procurement office, all the way through contract award. There should be also be solid communications plan with the customer such that they know exactly what the expectations are for milestones, and how the procurement office will work with them for a successful outcome. However, this should not a transactional, one-off issue. There is simply too much focus on procurement acquisition lead time (PALT), and not enough focus on mission and outcomes.

Setting expectations and establishing a collaborative environment with the program office is critical for successful procurement outcomes. There should not just be a focus on time-based actions.

Myth – “This type of collaboration is not realistic, as I simply have too many procurement actions to actively work with customers in this fashion” – If this statement is true, then procurement leadership has already failed, as the expectations with the customer cannot even be discussed, and the customer is left holding the bag on when they can expect the award to happen.

Further, proactive steps should be done to ensure procurement (and legal) are brought into the planning process as early as possible into the acquisition planning process. This should also include industry.

If you cannot plan, they cannot plan.

Procurement officials simply stating to customers that contract award will occur “On or before September 30” is also not acceptable. Further, not communicating with industry on milestones and changes to contract actions is also a failure in executing procurement. We must be better than this, as being a procurement professional is more than just pushing paper.

Myth – “Things change, so it will not be a realistic schedule”. At least we have something to work with. Yes, things change. There are usually many externalities that affect a given procurement. Not only do they need to be dealt with, but the customer should be at the center of the solutions.

The bottom line here is to keep the customer informed of what is happening, why it has happened, and what actions are being taken. Don’t make the customer have to chase for information. Often, timelines slip to the right. The customer needs to be informed and should not be the last one to know.

Communications are a two-way street. They must also include industry. Inform industry partners of what is happening, so they can also plan accordingly. If communications are not both internal and external, this is a critical failure.

One of the best procurements I have worked on was with the DHS Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL – https://www.dhs.gov/pil). The fact that we had a strong, integrated team that collaborated and communicated often (i.e. program office and Contracting) was cited as one of the most important factors in our shared success.

Leadership and Procurement

I recently read Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by formed Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. It was an excellent book for many reasons, but two particular things stood out for me from the book that have particular relevance to procurement leadership:

…A former boss, Navy Captain Dick Stratton, who was held in the Hanoi Hilton for 2,251 days as a “prisoner of war,” had taught me that a call from the field is not an interruption of the daily routine; it’s the reason for the daily routine… [emphasis added].

…This experienced crew was all in, seven days a week. I quickly warmed to them and encouraged them to use their initiative, keeping me informed following my mantra “What do I know? Who needs to know? Have I told them?” [emphasis added]. I repeated it so often that it appeared on index cards next to the phones in some offices…

Procurement is a customer-driven initiative. Procurement “leaders” that just give lip service to this reality are not doing right by their customers, organizations, or their respective missions. Customers should have their phone calls and emails answered promptly (my standing orders are 24-hour turn around. Period. If me or my staff cannot do it, someone will.)

Again, that should also include industry. They should have their emails and phone calls promptly returned (My customers naturally get head-of-the-line privileges. Industry typically gets 48-72 hours).

These are all metrics that I hold my staff, and me, accountable to meet. They are realistic, they are achievable, and they are a product of solid leadership that understands productivity and being a business advisor to internal and external customers are not mutually exclusive.

I have never accepted “I don’t have time” to be a viable excuse.

Make the time.

Remember, the customer is the reason for the daily routine.

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