SI’s Managing Partner, Christian Dunn, sits down with Founder, Richard L. Dunn, to discuss Other Transactions. Who and what qualities are essential in creating the OT team?
CD: A recurring theme when talking about doing business differently with other transactions is the importance of the team. Who are the critical players what qualities are essential?
RD: We actually have a slide that Illustrates who might be a participant on the team. Pretty much the people that you would expect. The issue here is bringing together the right kind of expertise and having the right kind of relationship among the parties. I mean, I’m a lawyer and in DoD a lot of lawyers conceive of themselves as gatekeepers…they have a yes or no function on things. In an OT team, the lawyer, for example, it is not a gatekeeper, is not a yes/no voice, but is rather a key player in helping to strategize and find the path through the various legal authorities, that allow the goal of the prior check to be accomplished, in a legal and business savvy way. The other players, likewise, have a similar role and they need to play off their particular strengths and weaknesses.
In the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) system, the contracting officer is said to be the only person that can obligate the government. Well, under the FAR system the contracting officer’s first duty is to assure compliance with all the laws regulations and executive orders and once that is accomplished, they are allowed to use business judgment in putting a contract together. Well, not so in OT’s. First of all, most of the laws and regulations that apply to the FAR system don’t apply to OTS at all, so the skill set that the contracting officer brings to their normal procurement job, doesn’t apply in the OT setting. So, a contracting officer that actually has a business background in the commercial sector would be much more valuable to an OT team than one that was deeply schooled in the FAR system, for example.
The program manager, he’s the person that needs to have the clearest vision of what the goal of the program is and needs to be able to share that with other members of the team, so that the team can then jointly figure out what is the strategy. You know, “here we are at this point, we know where we want to get ultimately, and ultimately it is a fielded capability that enhances the ability of our forces to deal with the threats that they confront.” So, there are steps in between, and by combining the brainpower of all these team members, we formulate a clear statement of the problem and we begin to see what the solution sets are that we have to choose from. And once the government, sort of, gets a handle on this, “what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? what are some of the potential solutions?” Then the government team has an opportunity to interact with industry and take the inputs of industry and, in essence, make them part of the team or have inputs into the into the team solution.
So, it’s a whole different way of looking at things, you know? It’s not a separate requirements development process. It’s not just what does S&T do? How does that inform us? Science and technology may be key to any given project. On the other hand, the business approach may be more important than the state of the technology. The technology that’s going to be deployed might be relatively mature and what’s really needed is developing new relationships among parties, to bring to bear the resources that will drive the technology to capability, and in a relatively short period of time, with the best application of resources that are available. The thinking that “well, in this particular project a single performer makes sense, or it may be that we need to bring together a multiplicity of performers who have different talents in order to drive this project to success.”
So, it’s getting team members that are prepared to think in a strategic way, to apply critical thinking to a problem, and then not be wedded to a stovepipe or swim lane view of the world. Where the financial management expert may have key insights into business processes that can contribute to the way the project is done; the lawyer may take a key role in understanding and articulating the common goal of the parties and put it that into writing in a vision statement for the agreement; that sets the stage for then negotiating terms and conditions and the lawyer and the contracting special specialists may collaborate on putting together the government’s view of what the terms and conditions ought to be taken into consideration; the private sector’s view of their needs and their goals which need, of course, to be congruent with the government’s goals. So, the whole team process is one of collaboration for discovering, you know, what the mutual goals are, what win-win solutions are available. It’s not a FAR type process where 95 percent of the contract document is written before you ever start negotiating or thinking about what key terms and conditions you might have. So, the talents and functions of the team are really quite different in the OT process compared the traditional contracting process and therefore, the team needs to approach their tasks in a different manner.
CD: We hear that there are also a lot of challenges in assembling an OT team. Can you touch base on some of these challenges or something that you have been acquainted with over the years?
RD: First of all, what I’ve just said about the skills that are necessary and the roles that are played is counter-cultural, and people are comfortable in their stovepipes and their swim lanes in dealing with limited issues that they think they own, as opposed to having a collective view of things: pooling knowledge, taking advantage of someone’s education and background, even though it’s not his specialty in his government role, but rather he can be a contributor to the team. The other the issue that comes up is people involved in government contracting are often harried, they often have workloads that they need to deal with and this open collaborative approach may take more time than just looking something up or opening up a catalog. So, there is an issue and there’s a reticence on the part of folks to reach out to industry and to draw on industry’s knowledge and expertise, to have these open lines of communication because in the FAR system, we have blackouts where we don’t talk to industry. You know when this event happens, we shut down, we close down, but we need to be open to bringing in information, consolidating information to help us with our strategy and planning throughout the whole process. I mean, it’s best to assemble this team early, and it’s also necessary if there are people who can’t operate in that kind of collaborative environment and think that they’re only there to represent their stove-piped organization, well they can’t be a positive player. We need to identify those folks and say, “You know there’s probably a lot of things that you can do well, but participating in this team process is not necessarily one of them and thank you for your effort, but we don’t need your help anymore.” So, it’s a very dynamic process and different than business as usual.
CD: If you are putting together an OT team or having challenges please feel free to contact the strategic institute on our website: www.strategicinstitute.org