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Civilian Services Acquisition Workshop in Action

As part of the GSA’s Emerging Leaders Program I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Civilian Services Acquisition Workshop (CSAW). A SAW is a facilitated workshop built around a specific acquisition and its multi-functional integrated project team. The workshop walks the core team through the performance based acquisition (PBA) process from beginning to end.

SAWs have been used by the Department of Defense (DoD) components to mentor and guide teams in developing their acquisition planning, market research, performance requirements, request for proposal, source selection, contractor performance assessment planning and execution documents.

The governmentwide Professional Services Category has been exploring  how the best practice of SAWs could be adopted by civilian agencies. As part of that effort a multi-agency cohort has participated in facilitator training, observed several DoD SAWs, and most recently conducted one in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management. Following are my observations from the first official CSAW.

Civilian Services Acquisition Workshop in Action

“First, before anything else, we must ask the why.” Jonathan Evans, Program Specialist with GSA’s Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories, began the four-day long Civilian Services Acquisition Workshop (CSAW) with this guiding thought. Assembled in a conference room listening to both him and co-facilitator Amy Knight, PhD. from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) were seven individuals with different skills, backgrounds, offices, and initial opinions on what appeared to be another week of regular training. As the week went by, they would soon find it was anything but.

The objectives of CSAW:

  1. Understand the performance-based acquisition (PBA) process and the Steps to PBA
  2. Explore tools, resources, techniques, innovations and best practices to successfully execute the requirement
  3. Collaborate as a team through facilitated activities to develop draft documentation for this requirement
  4. Develop a high-level roadmap for successfully implementing this performance-based acquisition

What brought these people together was their involvement with a large, complex contract that was reaching its end and needed to be re-designed. Many personalities emerged quickly in this small group; there was the energetic project manager, the cautious contracting officer, the helpful Subject Matter Experts, the hopeful senior leader, and me, the inquisitive intern.  Despite their many differences, over the week I witnessed a collection of individuals become a team.  The sharing of ideas, perspectives, and lively discussions were the fuel propelling the CSAW.

Agile development was one of the big ideas introduced and explored in this workshop. The benefits of agile (constant improvement and project sprints) ended up outweighing the previous waterfall style (a linear, one-step-at-a-time process) for this procurement. Both Mr. Evans and Dr. Knight used their breadth of experience in acquisition to advise, empower, and offer constructive criticism to the team.

During the workshop, participants would often break into small groups that led to in-depth discussions, debates, and brainstorming that ultimately generated a lot of ideas for how to design the procurement.  One of the most consistent things I noticed was the energy and enthusiasm of the team.  They were all excited to collectively tackle these issues.

The format of this workshop is designed around the eight Steps to Performance Based Acquisition, a digital playbook that breaks down performance-based acquisition into basic steps complete with references, examples, best practices, and templates to correctly and efficiently solicit, award, and manage performance-based contracts.

Over the week, the walls of the room slowly filled up with colorful flipcharts, sticky notes, and brainstorming lists, corresponding to each of these 8 steps. The efforts and progress of the group was visually tangible through this phenomenon, and by the conclusion of the workshop most of the wall space was covered by something.

The Steps to Performance Based Acquisition:

  1. Establish an Integrated Project Team
  2. Describe the Problem that Needs Solving
  3. Market Research
  4. Requirements Gathering and Developing the Performance Work Statement or Statement of Objectives
  5. Decide How to Measure & Track Performance
  6. Source Selection
  7. Manage Performance & Solutions
  8. Close-Out Performance Based Contracts

By the end of the workshop, new connections had been forged, and the newly formed Integrated Product Team was prepared to begin breaking down silos to create a stronger, improved procurement.  The benefits for the agency will be reflected for years to come with the new and improved performance-based acquisition.

Learn more about CSAWS

For more information on CSAWs contact Jonathan.evans@gsa.gov

About the Emerging Leadership Program

The Emerging Leaders Program facilitates the college-to-career transition by providing opportunities for recent college graduates in a variety of career tracks, including: Program Analyst, Contract Specialist, Financial Management Analyst, IT Specialist, Building Management Specialist, Realty Specialist, Project Management and Asset Management. Learn more on GSA.gov

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