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IT Acquisitions: Pre- and Post-Solicitation Activities

Pre-Solicitation

Organizations vary in the specific activities they employ prior to soliciting proposals from potential contractors for IT-related services. They also vary in the specific post-solicitation activities they employ after they receive the proposals. Examples of principal pre-solicitation activities and principal post-solicitation activities are presented in the two graphics below. The 14 best practice templates presented in subsequent screens on this website support the most important pre-solicitation and post-solicitation activities.

As illustrated in Figure 1, the pre-solicitation activities begin when a performance gap is identified and the performance problem is defined. The performance gap refers to a gap between the actual performance on a key performance measure and the planned performance. For example, the planned performance may be that 90% of the customers are satisfied. The performance measure may indicate that only 70% of the customers are satisfied. The performance gap is the difference between the planned 90% and the actual 70%.

Not all performance problems need to be solved through the acquisition of information technology (IT). IT is acquired only when it is the best solution to the problem, taking into account the other solution alternatives. For example, it may be found that the customer satisfaction is below plan because the service personnel need training and no new IT may be needed to provide the training.

 Figure 1. Example of Pre-Solicitation Activities

Post-Solicitation

As illustrated by Figure 2, the post-solicitation activities commence upon receipt of proposals from IT services contractors. The activities continue through the implementation of the solution and end when the useful life of the solution ends.

 Figure 2. Example of Post-Solicitation Activities

Certain aspects of IT acquisition management are not identified in the two figures because they are not essential to depict the general flow of pre-solicitation and post-solicitation activities. For example, the organization's IT portfolio, its enterprise architecture, and information security are important and need to be taken into account in the planning and implementation of the solution, but they are not shown in the graphics. Doing so would greatly complicate the graphics because they are associated with many of the pre-and post-solicitation activities.

Perspective on Available PWS Guides

There are many guides available via the Internat that pertain to the acquisition of IT. The most important guides are those that stress the use of a "performance work statement" (PWS), rather than the traditional "statement ofwork" (SOW). The SOW tells the contractor how to do the work. The performance work statement tells the contract what the results must be and does not tell the contractor how to do the work. A performance statement is sometimes also referred to as a "performance-based work statement" (PBWS), though the more common usuage is performance work statement or PWS. The focus with the federal government as well as with the private sector is to use a PWS rather than a SOW in IT acquisition and implementation contracts.

Many publications that describe how to prepare a PWS contain much useful information but also fail to mention many of the critical activities required to make the PWS and the project a success. In the interests of brevity and simplicity, they exclude many of the activities identified in the two graphics above. Many PWS guides prepared by the federal government and available via the Internet are guilty of this practice. They tend to oversimplify and omit essential best practices. This can generate serious misunderstandings among those new to using a PWS. The omission of essential planning activities in many of these guides could be a reason why the PWS is so misunderstood and underutilized in the federal government, despite the pressures on federal agencies to use performance work statements for IT contracting.

For example, the popular federal government publication, Seven Steps to Performance-Based Acquisition, identifies the following steps:

  1. Establish an integrated solutions team;
  2. Describe the problem that needs solving;
  3. Examine the private-sector and public-sector solutions;
  4. Develop a performance work statement (PWS) or statement of objectives (SOO);
  5. Decide how to measure and manage performance;
  6. Select the right contractor; and
  7. Manage performance.

Source at this writing: https://www.acquisition.gov/sevensteps/home.html]

Each of these steps is important. However, the document contains little or no discussion of related critical activities, such as accurately identifying the root cause of the problem, and there is no mention of identifying alternative solutions to the problem (which is different from identifying alternative sources of services to implement the best solution). Too often, organizations not only incorrectly define the problem but they also assume they know the solution to that problem. The emphasis, then, becomes selecting the best contractor to implement that "solution." The point is that important planning steps must not be overlooked even though they are not identified in many of the PWS guides available through Internet searches.

IT research organizations, such as Gartner, have for years stressed the need for organizations to do a better job of planning for IT acquisitions and to not to skip important steps. Gartner points out that condensed or rushed planning is associated with project failure and that organizations need to double or even triple the average amount of time they spend on the planning.

Recommendation

It nearly always saves time and money to use best practices, such as those recommended by Carnetgie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute in its publication CMMI for Acquisition, version 1.3.

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