stop using specification SOWs - use PWS and let private sector provide technical expertise.
Since before CICA was enacted, the government has been telling the contractor community what it wants and how it wants the work to be done (specification SOWs), thereby assuming all risk of failure. Presumable we hire contractors based on their experience and expertise but we don't give them the opportunity to adequately use those bona fides. A Performance Work Statement simply identifies the expected capabilities and capacity of the end product and allows the contractor to use its ingenuity to meet or exceed the outcome expectations. A sequential performance evaluation matrix is created, aligned with the key elements in the WBS, to ensure the contractor stays on course for a successful outcome. In that way, the contractor shares the risk of performance with the government and the government has the opportunity to receive the latest technical expertise and a better product.
Performance is fine, but progress is better. A Jeep in the mud can show great performance while impressively spinning wheels, but the Jeep getting out of the mud is the progress I want. For that progress (IMO) we need academic participation up-front with the customer defining real requirements and pragmatic solutions that will allow industry to actually deliver products on budget and on time.
.Gov, .Mil, and .Com need .Edu today just like in WW2. Industry never provides the best solution, just a very-good or very-poor expensive solution that takes years to field, more years to displace, and a prime-functional performance for a couple years and far more tax-dollars.
Today Moore's law still says 18 Months. The "*" law is now 10 to 12 months. IOW: Set all subordinate cycles to 11 months. State the threat and requirements within 11 months, Academia works with customer and industry to define best solution in 11 months, Industry has first product delivered for test/eval in 11 months, customer accepts delivery and starts fielding and training within 12 months..., then repeat for lifecycle logistics and readiness innovations until displacement.
Tactical Actuality makes Strategic Reality!
Sterling Whitehead commented
I think the majority opinion here is this: "The government should define the problem to solve, but not dictate how the problem is solved."
Plus I really like the succinctness of vimay.raman's comment "Contractors are infrequently asked to provide a solution, they are simply asked to respond to a checklist of items."
Bradley V commented
The point of performance based SOWs is to define work in terms of outcomes. For a long time, the FAR has required performance, as opposed to specification, SOWs when it can be done. But it's not always appropriate, depending on what service or supply is being procured. A SOO is so general that you sometimes end up comparing apples to oranges when contractors propose varied technical solutions. So that has problems of its own. But I think we are moving in the right direction.
Bradley V commented
The point of performance based SOWs is to define work in terms of outcomes. For a long time, the FAR has required performance, as opposed to specification, SOWs when it can be done. But it's not always appropriate, depending on what service or supply is being procured. A SOO is so general that you sometimes end up comparing apples to oranges when contractors propose varied technical solutions. So that has problems of its own. But I think we are moving in the right direction. But this isn't a new idea! Why is is posted as a new idea here?
I think the majority of contracting officers are on board with this however we work for the requirments offices, indirectly anyway. Even if they start out saying they want PWS at the start, it goes downhill very quickly. First they cannot determine what the measures should be or how to obtain the data. Then when we come up with some simple standards, they start listing all the rules we have to put in the contract to keep those contractors from cheating. It ends up a SOW.
You award a fixed price PWS based on the contractor explaining he will use 18 people to reach the goal. After beginning work, bringing in high quality personnel, and installing some new software, the contractor finds he can meet the goal with 15 people. The customer demands they employ 18 or give us money back. They just don't get the PWS concept.
Chris Hamm commented
I agree with the concept, and judging by the number of votes, so do the majority. The problem that I run into is the "How" part. I'd be interested to see a few ideas on how new technology can solve this transition.
Steve Radick commented
I don't think the answer is to "stop using specification SOWs," rather, I think it's to stop "defaulting" to specification SOWs. In some cases, the government is simply looking for butt in seat staff supplement type support. They aren't looking for private sector ingenuity or innovation. In other cases, a PWS focused on outcomes is absolutely the right way to go, especially when you're looking for a consultant who can help you solve a problem. I don't think it's an either-or type of thing, but an education thing where the government should do a better job of using the right type of contract for the right type of work needed to be done.
Completely agree with this. Contractors are infrequently asked to provide a solution, they are simply asked to respond to a checklist of items, where does the government benefit from innovation, if you are pricing out a commodity?
I think the key here is for the government to focus on building a PWS that specifies what deliverables must occur, with contextual knowledge of the environment from the government. Let the Contractors propose their expertise in solving the challenge for you. Otherwise government contracting will remain the way it is, incumbency capture is king, because we are just providing people, not solutions.
Kim Patrick Kobza commented
Said another way, increase the number of solution possibilities, lower barriers to entry and build a bigger intent that creates more inclusion. Perfect and compelling.
Dennis D. McDonald commented
Speaking as a contractor, I like outcome based measures as a way to specify work, with the assumptions that (1) the outcomes can be specified in unambiguous terms and (2) that the constraints the contractor must adhere to are spelled out.
I agree - outcome based measures are the way to go. Without outcome based measures there's too much temptation to rely on those contractors and outside experts to write those specification SOWs, and then temptation on the part of the contractors and outside experts to write them in such a way that limits true competition.
Richard - great suggestion. So far the feds have had a difficult time really adopting and using outcome-based requirements statements. I'd be interested in anybody's thoughts on how we can overcome these challenges regarding the use of PWS, SOO, etc. Without a framework for executing successfully, I am not sure they will be able to move forward in a meaningful (and cost effective) manner.
Agreed- the more we can focus on outcomes and shift to performance based contracts, the better we'll be able to take advantage of contractor expertise. It's also a shift to buying IT as a service, rather than specifying hardware, software, etc.