Project Management for Government Contractors

Project Management Risk Factor #2: Lack of Alignment

Posted by Kabir Mehta on Apr 10, 2018 7:12:00 AM

3 Kinds of Challenges You Can't Overcome Alone

The second article in our series: Project Management Risk Factors that Contribute to Failure

We have spent a lot of time talking about how important it is to follow Best Project Management Practices when managing your Government contracts. Having a defined, proven process in place is the best way to consistently manage quality projects and delight your customers. However, this is not enough to ensure contracting success, and therefore this series exists to help you reflect on, then avoid or fix scenarios that can kill success. 

The term Lack of Alignment in the title is one way of describing a company that does not have a unified vision and guiding principles to fulfill that vision.

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Though there are many ways a lack of alignment across your teams can prevent you from successfully delivering projects, delighting your customer, and reaching personal goals, this article will explore three of them.

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1. Proposal Development: Bidding

If your company's Proposal Development team is guided by principles that are different from your Program Management team, there are bound to be problems in contract fulfillment. 

For example, if your Proposal Development team, guided by senior management, sought to win by bidding a contract at a very low labor rate, what would happen to the Program Management team when development was ready to start? The Program Manager would not have the budget to hire a large enough team or a team with the necessary skills, and a significant performance risk would enter the project. The Program Manager would be forced to train and depend upon junior developers (hired to do senior architect work), or every member of the team would be forced to wear multiple hats on an under-staffed project. 

At a past company, one of our employees worked on a contract for NORAD. One of the customer's biggest concerns was over the number of projects that needed to be completed each year (about 12 projects were being completed each year, run by 15 program managers). Due to budget cuts, the new contract requirement was to complete the same number of projects with just 3 of those 15 program managers. The Proposal Development team did not push back or negotiate, but simply submitted their bid, agreeing that the program managers would just “do more work.”  

In the end, with a lot of process streamlining and hard work, the projects were successfully delivered, but not without great personal sacrifices. This specific story aside, success in such circumstances is extremely difficult to reach: a lack of alignment between Proposal Development and Program Management leads to delivery delays, budget overruns, and even flat-out failure.  

And when this happens, the culprit is not correctly identified as a lack of alignment across the company; instead, the Program Manager becomes the scapegoat. 

To succeed in contracting, it's extremely important that companies are both: 1) led by senior management with a unified goal (and a plan to reach it), and 2) enabled to have regular cross-team communication. These things ensure a company stays aligned in its Proposal Development and bidding. 

 

2. Business Development: Promises

Similar in action but (often) different in context and consequence is when the Business Development team is misaligned with the Program Management team. This situation occurs commonly in ongoing contracts, when project modifications are discussed, new task orders are created, or when contracts go up for renewal. 

It's natural for a Business Development team to get excited at the prospect of new business (in any industry, not just in Government contracting!) and in their aim to win it, turn the customer's every wish into an executable item in the contract. If you've experienced this, you can probably relate to the desire to go to your director of Business Development and yell, “You promised to deliver them what?!” 

Whenever Business Development makes promises to a customer, setting expectations that the product will have certain benefits, at a certain cost, and within a certain time, then those promises must be in-line with what the Program Management team can deliver. 

Instead of affecting a new customer, (such as what happens when Proposal Development & Program Management are misaligned), a lack of alignment between Business Development and Program Management sets up the latter—the execution team—for failure.  

Instead of having the intended effect of delighting a customer (by giving them what they wanted), it has the opposite effect: a customer's expectations are set so high that even meeting their original desires will be disappointing in comparison to the grand vision promised by Business Development. 

When a customer is not happy with a completed project (or project milestones you’ve delivered), who does the blame fall on, and who receives the negative review? Unfortunately, too often it falls on the Program Management team. 

 

3. Overall Company Vision from Opportunity to Project Close

Now that we've covered some consequences arising from of a lack of alignment between teams, we want to look at the underlying reason misalignment happens in the first place: when there is a lack of over-arching principles that guide the company in its Government contracting endeavors. lack-of-communication-leadership-program-management.jpg

The most important question to ask in the context of this topic is: what are your company's goals for contract fulfilment, and what are your company's principles for reaching those goals? 

If Proposal Development bidding at too low a labor rate (for the sake of winning at any cost), or if Business Development is promising things that Program Management cannot deliver… then ithe real problem is one of company leadership and guiding principles at the deepest level. 

If you as Program Manager are mission-oriented and lead your team in a mission-oriented manner, but your senior management is profit-oriented, though you work for the same company, it won't feel like it. No matter how well you manage your project, the principles that you use and the principles that senior management uses to manage projects are opposed to one another. This misalignment will inevitably damage the quality of the project and the result for your customer. 

We could look at many more specific scenarios that show how a lack of alignment in contract fulfillment can wreak havoc, but it's more valuable for you to consider how that misalignment comes about, and how it can be resolved.  

 

How to Resolve a Misalignment 

To help you reflect on your own situation, consider your own goals and principles in fulfilling contracts, and then consider the other teams' goals & principles, then consider those of senior management. Here are some questions to reflect on: 

  • Do you have a misalignment problem?  
  • How well-aligned are the other teams' goals & principles with yours?  
  • What are the areas of the most overlap or agreement? 
  • What are the areas that are the most sundered or have the most disagreement? 
  • Why do you approach contract fulfillment in this way? 
  • Do you know, or can you guess, why the other teams/senior management approaches contract fulfillment in this way? 

After you've answered these questions, sit down first with your senior manager, and learn how well your answers match with what they tell you. Then invite the other teams into a meeting to discuss each team's approaches and principles.  The most important thing in this meeting is to listen: to understand where each team (especially the senior managers) is coming from, and to make notes. 

Most of the time, you will discover that there are more principles and processes that are unified, than ones that do not align. Discuss and plan with these managers how the teams can focus on these unified principles, using them as much as possible in every aspect of contract proposal, relationship development, and project fulfillment. 

In a rare case, you may discover that the differences between your team and that of senior management are philosophically and intractably misaligned, and there is not enough common ground to succeed. If this is your situation, consider taking our Program Health & Risk Assessment. You'll get a personal score rating your program's and your company's health & risk, as well as next steps to take based on your personal score. 

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Topics: project management best practices, project management risks, project management risk factors

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