A Leader Task: Selecting the Right Federal Business Opportunity

In 2013, the Federal Government spent just over $460 billion dollars on contracts for products and services across 65 different departments, agencies, and other Federal organizations.* So, where should you start your pursuit of Government business? Further complicating the answer to this question are thousands of contracts awarded for this dizzying sum were issued by hundreds of contracting officers across the United States whose sole function is to match a Government requirement to the capabilities of a company at a reasonable price. In fact, on a daily basis, there are approximately 20,000 active contract solicitations in the Federal sector.

Regardless of the size of your company, there is no question you can compete and win prime contracts with the Federal Government. That said, it isn’t always intuitive, and rarely is it easy. As you can imagine, in our line of work, we see many great companies with strong leadership struggling to negotiate the maze of contract opportunities and select the best-fit pursuit. As tempting as it may be to dive in and begin swimming through thousands of contract related announcements issued every day and spending valuable resources on the pursuit, it’s critical to spend some time thinking about your business strategy.

A useful military technique for getting started

I like to tell corporate leaders the complexities and uncertainties of pursing business in the Government contracting environment are a lot like those faced by military commanders preparing for a battle. In order to be successful, business and military leaders alike must be able to visualize their current and future states. They are also responsible for formulating the plan(s) to get from one to the other effectively, at the least cost. This includes assigning missions, prioritizing and allocating resources, selecting the critical time and place to act and most importantly, knowing when to make adjustments during the fight/pursuit.

Step 1 – Visualize yourself

Assessment of whether a particular Government organization or opportunity is right for you starts with a clear understanding of your team’s strengths, experience, and capacity. Knowing what you have done well in past work is critical. Success in the Federal contracting world is akin to building a house in the sense you must build a solid foundation where you have proven you can perform. To maximize the chance of winning the next pursuit, the opportunity should be related to that core business in some way. By using this incremental approach you build on demonstrated successful performance and gain the experience source selection organizations and potential customers are looking for.

Another critical part of assessing your organization is to analyze its capacity. While this measure has many metrics, what jumps out at me as the most underestimated, is the capacity to conduct a disciplined capture, develop a compliant proposal, and if successful, the capacity to staff and perform on the job. If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these conditions, then leaders must either 1) figure out how to successfully create additional capacity, or, 2) focus the organization elsewhere for the sake of preserving precious resources.

A final thought in terms of visualizing yourself: do you know where you want to go? In my experience, I have observed many leaders getting caught up in pursuit of a Government contract for the sake of growth and revenue without asking themselves if the opportunity advances the team towards their strategic business objectives. Avoid random pursuits of work that are unrelated to your experience and capabilities because they will not advance you toward your long term goals, they are at best bewildering for the team, and they lead to inefficiencies that equate to effort without a return.

Step 2 – Visualize the requirement

For those readers with a military background, you might have expected me to write “visualize the enemy,” but I have a deliberate reason for writing ”visualize the requirement.” Federal procurements are NEVER comparisons of your proposal against your competitors (the enemy) despite what many believe and say. In fact, the Federal Acquisition Regulation and source selection guidance found in almost all agencies, require source selection teams and individuals to rate or score your proposal against requirements, not your competitors or “enemy.” This step is about visualizing the performance requirement of the specific opportunity so you can fully understand what it will take to be successful after award. This process allows you to develop the right technical response, assess risks, and develop your plan for meeting cost, schedule, and performance and profit objectives. Conversely, this process also serves as an important element of determining if you should pursue the work at all, due to constraints or risks inherent in the customer or the way the solicitation is written.

Step 3 – Visualize the terrain

Finally, the last step is to truly visualize and understand the landscape on which you will be competing and, when successful, operating. Key elements of the ”terrain” for any Government contract include things like: competition, the operating environment of the customer, budget, politics, labor market conditions, credit availability, external subject matter experts, competing internal demands, and a myriad of other factors that can create unacceptable levels of risk to your company’s success.

While much of this may seem like common sense, it is astonishing how many organizations and their leaders skip this fundamental step. While the number and diversity of opportunities for work in the Federal sector is immense, focusing on the right opportunity is critical to conserving resources and comes from a thorough visualization of who you are, what the requirement is, and the environment you have to negotiate to get there.

Let us know how we can help you succeed in this or any other business effort!

– Michael Devine