Spoiler alert: it’s all about preparation.
“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and will never achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’ – Dave Barry, American Humorist
Meetings: where minutes are kept and hours are lost. – P.R. Engle
Ok, so meetings have definitely gotten a bad rap. Many hours are wasted in pointless meetings, but there’s no getting around it: they are ultimately necessary, especially for government contracting professionals who must coordinate with multiple stakeholders to achieve outcomes for their customers and agency.
But they don’t have to be so bad! A well-run meeting can set you apart from a sea of mediocrity, not to mention impress and endear yourself to your colleagues, boss, and teammates.
The fact is, acquisition professionals sit at the epicenter of the contracting process, and often play an integral role in coordinating all the demands and interests (sometimes competing) that eventually lead to a contract. From early meetings with your program to discuss upcoming spending needs to formal negotiations with potential contractors, the acquisition professionals day can be consumed with meetings, making it difficult to actually get work done.
But never fear! You can take control (at least of the meetings you host) of your meeting destiny with these simple techniques to maximize the efficiency of you and your attendee’s time.
This article will go over:
- The various types of meetings an acquisition professional might attend in a given work week
- General steps to make these meetings more effective
- Meeting guidelines specifically for contracting professionals
Types of Meetings
This is the most simple of the bunch. Basically, you and your team share important news, assigns new procurement requests, and gets updates on milestone plans. Don’t take these meetings for granted; running effective staff meetings is a characteristic of a high performing leader.
Sometimes it’s difficult to have productive conversations with your customers over email or the phone. When digital means just won’t cut it, a meeting with a customer (e.g., a program officer, budget owner, or other stakeholder) can be a great way to finalize requirements or gather important information on terms and conditions.
Informal meetings with prospective contractors
Whether it’s to share future agency needs or help interested parties get prepared for an upcoming release of a solicitation, informal meetings with industry are crucial to helping them prepare for future agency needs and to deliver contracting outcomes that best serve all stakeholders. Events like Industry Days, Reverse Industry Days, expos and open houses can help encourage participation from new suppliers while improving your relationship with industry.
Formal meetings with potential suppliers & contractors
Formal meetings like communicating with interested parties prior to releasing a solicitation are a best practice and recommended by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (see FAR 15.201 – Exchanges with industry before receipt of proposals). You will want to understand the nature of these meetings so that you can understand the implications of procurement integrity, so these meetings take an additional degree of preparation.
Hopefully, this friendly handshake will be the outcome of your negotiation meeting.
Negotiations are super important and require a lot of preparation and coordination. You won’t want to take these meetings lightly, and neither will the prospective contractor on the other end of the table!
Source Selection meetings
These are helpful for program personnel to understand your evaluation criteria, and for you to provide them with guidance on how they will be evaluating technical and/or price proposals. It is good to coordinate with your office of chief counsel for these meetings, so they may help you adhere to guidance on how to run your source selection without creating bias in the evaluation process, or other issues that can increase your odds of protest.
Post-award contract kickoff meeting
These may be one of if not the most important meetings in government contracting. This is your chance to convene the program customer, contracting officer’s representative, and contractor representatives to discuss a mutual understanding of the contract terms, milestones, and deliverables set forth in the contract. Energy levels are high after a contract is awarded, and everyone is motivated to do a great job, so take advantage of this and schedule a contract kickoff meeting as soon as possible after contract award. For more information, check out this guide to contract kickoff meetings from the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council or this blog post explaining why they’re so important.
Don’t forget that a contract isn’t over until you formally close it out! Closeout meetings are important to secure instruments like release of claims for both you and the contractor, deobligate any remaining funds, reposses any government furnished property or information provided during the contract, and to ensure that all deliverables have been submitted or performed before the contract expires
General Steps for More Effective Meetings
Crucial to a focused and meaningful meeting is having a concrete, set goal. You will want to think about this goal ahead of time and brainstorm some methods through which it might be achieved. You should generally devote the most time to planning senior-level meetings. Make sure that you give the others in the meeting time to prepare as well — the best way to do this is set a clear agenda and send it, along with some background material, out in advance.
Limit the Number of Participants
Your meeting should ideally have fewer than eight participants. Otherwise, some will inevitably be disengaged, and as such will be resentful that their time has been wasted. Plus, this makes it easier for everyone to participate. You should encourage all parties to participate by asking others for their thoughts frequently, as well as calling on those who seem to be fading into the background. They might have a varied perspective that will give you a new, fresh idea, and including them will make them feel more valued.
Start and end on time
If your participants already think that meetings are a waste of time, that idea is only going to be compounded by starting the meeting late. In fact, a meeting starting or ending late is the single largest complaint that workers had about meetings in a 2018 survey. Don’t wait for the stragglers, but also don’t jump right into the nitty-gritty of the topic — start out with a gradual introduction into your topic so those who can’t make it on time are still included in the discussion. End your meeting on time as well so that those who have other meetings to attend or other work to do are not leaving resentful of your encroachment into their time.
Keep written record
Recording the results of your meeting as it is in progress allows you to set goals based around it later on.
Make sure that the results of your meeting are actually recorded and sent out to its participants. Memory is not trustworthy, and relying on it too heavily can lead to misinterpretations of the meeting after the fact. While you should set action items and deadlines for your participants, don’t make them too overwhelming — a realistic goal is always more likely to be achieved than an optimistic one.
Tips for Better Meetings for the Contracting Professional
The first step to any contracting meeting is to understand where you are in the acquisition lifecycle. If it’s a meeting about an upcoming requirement, you’re in the pre-award phase. Take some time to brush up on your customer’s portfolio if you don’t know it well. What kind of items do they typically buy? You can review old contracts to get a better sense of their contracting priorities. How does your customer support your agency’s mission? This can help you understand who the end user is, which can be crucial to helping define and refine the requirement as it evolves.
Pre-award meeting preparation
It’s always important to be thorough in your preparation.
1. Learn about what you are buying
If the requirement is complete, take the time to do market and supplier research to get a better understanding of what you will be buying for your customer.
Is it a commonly purchased item or service used in both the public and private sector? In this case, it’s like a commercial item, meaning you should have an easier time finding viable suppliers and services within your target industry.
As you identify potential suppliers, especially if the items you intend to acquire are commercial, keep in mind that not every company can or will sell to the Government. Make sure they are registered government contractors that have a DUNS number and SAM.gov profile. You can also use GovShop, a free market research tool offered by Public Spend Forum that only includes authorized government contractors. This makes supplier and market research significantly easier, as supplier profiles within GovShop have key information like DUNS numbers right in one easy to view screen.
2. Create a list of keywords, category codes, and contract vehicles that can help define the acquisition strategy
Keywords will be useful for the market research that will be essential to defining your requirements. Google is a great tool for this type of research, and we also offer a keyword template that can help guide you through this process.
Category codes like Product Service Codes (PSC) and NIGP Codes are useful during government market research but are also needed when you create your contract. Having these pieces of information at the ready during a meeting with a program or customer will make you look extra prepared and impress your colleagues.
Many times during meetings with your acquisition team, some may ask whether there are existing sources of supply like government-wide acquisition contracts and cooperative purchase programs that can be leveraged. Alternatively, if your customer wants to accelerate the procurement process, contract vehicles can be a nice way to do that while also taking advantage of the government’s full buying power. GovShop is a great way to find contract vehicles in both the federal and state and local government, as well as find the category codes that define your target industry.
3. Prepare in advance a set of questions that will help you accomplish key contracting tasks
Most of the work you will do as a contracting professional happens after the meeting is over, but it is informed by the needs of your customer, agency, or procurement priorities. Having a list of questions for which you need answers can make your meetings more productive. Consider questions like:
What is our anticipated budget for this effort?
Ask if there is an independent government estimate, as this can help inform your acquisition strategy. In federal contracting, the simplified acquisition threshold was recently increased to $250,000 and the micro-purchase threshold to $10,000 which gives acquisition professionals greater flexibility when total contract value is below these threshold amounts. [See FAR Part 13, Simplified Acquisition Procedures].
If you are a contracting professional in state or local government, check your relevant policy and guidance to understand what flexibilities you might have for smaller dollar purchases.
Do we have any small business or socioeconomic goals associated with this requirement?
Agency socioeconomic goals and small business targets are an important function of public procurement, but finding suppliers within those niche markets can be difficult. Here’s a quick video that shows how easy it is to find qualified suppliers by size and status so you can be prepared for these types of questions.
Do we envision this procurement being competed on the open market, or are we interested in taking advantage of government-wide acquisition contracts like GSA Schedules or cooperative purchasing programs?
Leveraging multiple award vehicles including government-wide acquisition contracts and cooperative purchasing programs is a great way to save time and money during the procurement process. Not only can you get items onto contract faster, you may benefit from lower costs due to the volume discounts most suppliers quote when they pursue these types of vehicles.
What is the current state of maturity for our requirements document?
Do we envision issuing RFIs or draft statements of work to collect feedback from industry? Are we planning to host an industry day or reverse industry day? These questions can help you understand your pre-award timeline so that you can get a sense for when the solicitation must be ready for release.
How do we intend to evaluate offerors?
Will we conduct tradeoff analysis or award on the basis of lowest price technically acceptable? In either event, an evaluation team will be required to evaluate proposals and make a recommendation to the source selection official.
Ascertaining the information described above will go a long way to informing your acquisition strategy and help you get a head start on the design of your solicitation, to include the selection of terms and conditions that will inform your contracting activities.
Reading your contract is the most important way you can prepare for the post-award contract kickoff meeting.
Read Your Contract
As mentioned above, the post-award contract kickoff meeting is one of the most essential meetings after a contract has been award. The number one tip to being prepared for this meeting is this: READ YOUR CONTRACT! It goes without saying, but you should be familiar with the statement of work, milestone schedule, deliverables, and any non-standard terms or conditions that may be a point of discussion or need additional emphasis.
Don’t Go It Alone
Here’s another tip: prepare for the meeting with your internal contracting team, including the program/customer, to make sure you are all on the same page with regards to what should be discussed. As representatives of your government agency, you want to present a united front to your new contract partners.
Have an Agenda
Develop an agenda during that meeting preparation, and then share it with the contractor and invite them to add any items they want to discuss. Everyone’s time is valuable, and you want to maximize the efficiency of the meeting so co-creating an agenda in advance of the session makes sure that everyone is prepared, and keeps your meeting from veering off into unproductive discussions and rabbit holes.
If issues do arise that you or your contractor is unprepared for, create a “sandbox” of items that warrant further discussion. It is probable that those other items won’t require all of the participants in your kickoff meeting, so you can schedule breakout meetings at a later time between the key members to focus on those such issues.
Host Meetings about Contractor’s Performance
Award fee panels and meetings to discuss contractor performance are a category of post-award meetings that you’ll definitely want to have on your radar, especially if you have an award fee or performance-based contract. Depending on the quality of your contractor’s performance, these meetings can be challenging. If you know your customer is not satisfied with the contractor’s performance, the most important thing to keep in mind is not to let these meetings devolve into “venting” sessions. While it may be necessary to let your customer get some things off their chest, you want to keep the focus on identifying specific areas where the contractor’s performance deviates from the stated contract requirements.
Most importantly, while these meetings can be contentious, your responsibility as the contracting professional is to work towards improving and salvaging the contractor’s performance and working relationship with your program first. If the performance issues are serious, you’ll have to consider show cause and cure notices which are time-consuming and involve careful coordination with your leaders and counsel. Try to avoid them if at all possible and work things out between the parties before elevating to these measures.
For as long as there is work, there will be meetings. We won’t avoid them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make them better! The tips in this blog are meant to give you a basic path towards conducting better meetings. Always read your contract, always listen to your customer, and when in doubt, take any areas of uncertainty and promise to review them…perhaps in a future meeting!