Podcast

Episode: 436 |
Paul Harrington:
Government Contracting:
Episode
436

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Paul Harrington

Government Contracting

Show Notes

Paul spent ~9 years with McKinsey & Company, where he was a Partner based in Washington D.C. Within the firm’s Global Public and Social Sector Practice, Paul led the Go to Market (GTM) team, which spanned 23 countries.

Prior to McKinsey, Paul held roles General Dynamics Information Technology, Johnson & Johnson, Ariba (now part of SAP), and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and is a former U.S. Army officer. Paul has particular expertise in Public Sector Go to Market strategy and operating models, as both an advisor and practitioner. You can visit Paul’s company website at pathfinderconsultingllc.com and he can be reached at paul.harrington@pathfinderconsultingllc.com.

Key points include:

  • 03:18: Doing business development in the public sector
  • 09:41: How the decision process works
  • 14:04: RFPs and the procurement process
  • 21:17: Work from the federal government for independent professionals
  • 28:20: Paul’s work as an advisor on procuring government contracts

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

 

436 Paul Harrington on Government Contracts

 

Will Bachman 00:01

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Paul Harrington. We’re going to talk about business development for consulting firms, particularly in the public sector. Paul, welcome to the show.

 

Paul Harrington 00:22

Thanks so much. It’s great to it’s great to be here. Well, great to join your show. And thanks so much for the opportunity today.

 

Will Bachman 00:30

So Paul, you had a really fascinating role one that was new at McKinsey, and they created after I left the firm, you are helping to build up a in a business development function at McKinsey. That was sort of separate from the just line consultants who are doing execution like associate Engagement Manager partner, slides up today. Tell us a little bit about that function that you were helping to build?

 

Paul Harrington 01:01

Sure, well, thank you. Absolutely. It was a fantastic, you know, opportunity, really an experience, spent about nine years with the firm and was brought in to do exactly what you described, which is to build a go to market capability, initially focused on the US public sector. And so that was the US federal government and state local, and then later to scale it globally. So by the time I left, we had a team in 22 countries. And for those who might be listening, who are familiar with McKinsey culture, it was really a different capabilities that had not been developed before for the firm. And as you mentioned, it was so there was a bit of, you know, cultural adjustment, if you will, but I think the foundation of building that team, and by go to market, I mean, really across the client development lifecycle, so early stage business development into what in the public sector we call capture, which is taking a qualified opportunity and seeing it through to fruition, and to eventually confirming work, you know, it was it was something that, you know, in building that team, we had to make sure that was congruent with McKinsey’s, you know, tradition, values, culture, but also make sure that it was very entrepreneurial, so that there was a return on investment, so to say for, for that capability over time.

 

Will Bachman 02:12

Great. So, of course, most listeners to this show would be familiar with the typical model of a McKinsey Bain BCG for your firm, where it’s the associate partners and the partners who are out, you know, working with people that they’ve known for a while developing new clients. And then if they, you know, they don’t sell, of course, right, Nobody sells but basically, if they sell the work, then they’re going to be the partner who’s responsible for overseeing it. But this is a different was a different model. And I can imagine some reasons of why it would make sense. But rather than just me guessing, walk me through,like how it’s different doing business development in the public sector, and why it makes sense for a consulting firm to have someone who’s just focused on that and not, you know, getting distracted. Also, by the execution piece, maybe it’s sort of ability to pay attention to it over a longer sales cycle, but just just like, walk us through what are some of the differences with the public sector?

 

Paul Harrington 03:17

Sure. Yeah. That’s a great question. So I think first in in terms of, you know, just the environment, the government, whether it’s the federal government or the state government within a particular state, it’s a monopsony, right? It’s a single buyer system. And so that in the particulars of public sector, which I’ll get into in a moment, really generate different requirements. And so one is, of course, strong adherence to procurement regulations. And that is much more so than maybe a lot of folks in private sector are used to so the idea that you have to be compliance, in other words, address exactly what the government wants responsive, really answering the mail, but also really compelling to differentiate, differentiate yourself, excuse me from others. Really, really important. And noncompliant proposals, in particular, are automatically disqualified. And for those who were raised in that McKinsey BCG, Bain kind of mindset, the first step, of course, in any process is always problem definition. And the problem is that if you get a request for proposal and decide that you’re going to reframe the problem in the proposal response, likely will result in disqualification. So how do you, you know, make sure that you’re answering and compliant but also still getting a distinctive answer that’s really going to allow, you know, that firm to eventually go to the government and have, you know, a high degree of impact. So one is the strong adherence on procurement regulations. I think second is in you alluded to this earlier is that procurement cycle length, sometimes it can be relatively short a month or two, more often than not, it’s really measured in months and sometimes even in years. And so, the implication there is that a portfolio approach is really necessary in order to offset different cycles.Right and sustainably grow a government body of work. And then the idea is that the, you know, the teams taking a portfolio approach, you know, they engage with clients early, and then really throughout the process. And I would say that if you’re having if you’re contemplating a go to market team, with your consulting organization, the idea is that these folks can really be force multipliers, right? That they are the ones who can really help bridge the gaps when your associate partners and partners get really busy with delivery, to really help make sure that we’re moving the ball down the field relative to these engagements, or excuse me, client development opportunities over a long period of time, I think third would be heightened level of public disclosure. And so with taxpayer funds, becomes you know, that idea that there is more accountability. So it’s easier for competitors and public in the public to obtain information and us through the Freedom of Information Act, and other disclosure laws. And that can be both a blessing and a curse in the sense that you can certainly, you know, you’re more susceptible to disclosure, but you can also learn a lot more. So there’s a tremendous amount in general information out in the public domain, on your clients on your competitors, much more so than probably your average private sector industry. And then, two more one would be the potential for conflicting objectives in the decision making process. So for those of us at management consulting firms, typically you are approaching the very senior level sponsors the C suite, if you will. And that’s certainly true in the government as well. But there are two other constituencies that are equally as important. One is that evaluation committee, which are probably n minus three or four from that senior level decision maker, they’re the ones that are actually going to make that competitive award decision, and then procurement as well. And oftentimes, procurement or contracting officers may have different incentives, for example, wanting to avoid what’s called a protest or to obtain discounts, etc. They may have different incentives than what our main what we typically think of as clients might have as well. And then finally, I would say that access to framework agreements, Master supplier agreements, and there are a variety of names for those in the government space. And I’ll try to avoid alphabet soup here. But access to those frameworks is extremely important in order to get the quote unquote hunting license in order to be able to compete for work. So in a nutshell, those are some of the major differences between public sector and a lot of other private sector industries.

 

Will Bachman 07:25

Could you elaborate a bit on the incentives for those procurement officers just say a little bit more about that?

 

Paul Harrington 07:32

Sure, absolutely. So you know, if you think of the senior level sponsor, and the folks on the mission side, if you will, or the business side, making that evaluation, they’re generally speaking, trying to make sure that they’re getting the best fit along technical or management requirements in terms of what’s laid on the request for proposal. So they obviously want to get the mission done. They want to select, ideally, the best industry partner to get something done or reorganization, dog transformation, procurements, spend analysis, you name, whatever, whatever type of engagement, whereas contracting certainly has a duty, you know, to to help that process. But a lot of times depends on the agency and the metrics they’re using. But they are oftentimes graded, if you will, evaluated on their ability to get discounts. They are looking at it oftentimes through more of a price sensitive lens than perhaps others. And it also in the government, there’s this phenomenon known as protest, which is essentially idea that if I win work, and say that you’re a competitor, and you’re not happy about that, for whatever reason, you get your debrief, and you decide, you know, what I really want to challenge the government’s decision, that’s known as a protest, and protest tend to delay awards, sometimes up to 100 days, that can get extended out even further. And as a result, it really creates a tremendous amount of additional hassle to work, especially with the contracting officer. So they want to try to avoid that. So the there the different incentives around cost slash price around avoiding protest and around making sure that the integrity of the process is upheld, that sometimes results in different opinions on what type of competitive selection they’re going to make.

 

Will Bachman 09:14

And I have no knowledge of this really at all of this dynamics. So help me understand a bit. How does the decision process work? You mentioned there’s like an evaluation committee, but there’s also the procurement officer, does the eval committee look at things and say, okay, we want to go with Firm B, and then they just say procurement officer go ahead and sign up for B, or is it like a collaborative thing where they both have to say yes, just like, how does that whole decision process work?

 

Paul Harrington 09:41

Sure. Now, it’s a great question. So I think that they ideally are collaborative, they’re certainly working together. The way I would depict is if I could just start from the moment they receive proposals from offers so the government has put out a request for proposal or something similarly named a number of players in industryrespond to that proposal or respond to the request for proposals, submit a proposal, and those that are deemed. So they’ll do an initial check to say, okay, who’s compliant? Let’s say that seven firms bids seven firms are compliant, then begins a technical evaluation. So what will happen is this evaluation committee, which can vary in number, anywhere from three or four, for large proposals, maybe up to seven or eight, folks, not including the contracting officer, they will essentially be sequestered, they’ll have all those technical proposals to evaluate on their own. And then they will get together with the other members of the committee, as well as the contracting officer to sit, you know, essentially in a room virtual or otherwise, to then determine who has, you know, the most strengths, the least weaknesses or deficiencies, and come up with a recommendation, the contracting officer along with a subset, perhaps, of that technical evaluation committee will look at the price, the price proposal, which is a separate documents, separate volume. And so they will make their own determination of what’s called quote unquote, fair and reasonable in terms of what the price is. And essentially, they have, essentially that price reasonable, or that excuse me, that fair and reasonable range, they basically determined parameters. So the floor, if you will, is what’s called price realism. And what that means is that if someone bid too low, they either don’t understand the requirement, or perhaps they’re trying to bait and switch, in which case, it’s just not credible from a price perspective, price reasonableness, which you could think of is kind of the ceiling is that a reasonable the philosophy is a reasonable person would not honestly pay significantly more for the same services as others. So within those two parameters, you get this range of what is considered fair and reasonable. More often than not, they’re making what’s called, is certainly for consulting services or making what’s called a Best Value decision, meaning that they don’t necessarily have to go with the lowest price, they’re going to go for the best overall value of the government. So if someone can show that they are technically more distinctive in a significant way, that could potentially justify a higher price to be awarded. But what will happen is that that committee will meet, they’ll have their recommendation, this is all of course sealed, the contracting officer will come in with his or her recommendation, and then they’ll reconcile and then eventually make an award. Once they make an award, they will notify those that did not were not successful. And it varies based on the size etc. But they offer what’s called a debrief, either in written form, you get a letter explaining your strengths and weaknesses of the proposal, or maybe an oral debrief where they will have pre COVID at least people in, you know, in a physical room, or certainly these days over zoom, what have you to debrief, and then from there, it’s each party can decide what they’re going to do next. In other words, just accept the decision, or potentially protest. I would say, last point, maybe here is that protests are generally not very successful, probably less than 10% of the time, are they in overall? Are they successful when they’re protesting and award decision? So it’s not a wonderful strategy, unless you really feel as though you’ve been wronged protests? Have a you know, kind of a deleterious effect on the relationship, if you will, with the clients you’re trying to serve.

 

Will Bachman 13:14

I’m curious, your perspective. How To what degree do the clients in the government have kind of some favorite firms, they really just want to use, frankly, and they have to go through all this RFP business because of requirements, but then, but then they’re sort of behind the scenes, like just trying to really steer it to one firm does, to what degree does that happen? And like, how much leeway Do they have either in sort of maybe shaping the RFP so that one firm is clearly favored? Or, you know, in sort of the reviewing process to kind of just say, yeah, did we did this to check the box? But really, we want to go with, you know, firm, firm D or something?

 

Paul Harrington 14:04

Sure. Yeah. It’s a great question. And certainly the party line from anybody you would speak to in government would say, you know, that doesn’t happen, or we’re running a fair process, etc, etc. And I think the vast majority do really bend over backwards to run a fair procurement process. And I do you know, that said, though, before the RFP is issued, in what’s called the market research phase, there are opportunities in in it’s very compliant with all the right regulations, what’s called the Federal Acquisition reg, the US federal government and others, where you can meet with clients, both on the acquisition side, the contracting side, but also the mission side to really talk about what your firm’s capable of doing. And there are clauses that actually allow again in the proper channels to submit market research inputs. So the idea of weighing in on, you know, here’s, you know, Department of Commerce or department of defense or whomever, you know, here are the ways you may want to think about this, so firms can’t, you know, kind of unduly influence the process, but there are legitimate channels for them to submit input ahead of time to kind of establish an impression. You know, people are human, I think people may may, you know, establish folks that they might favor or not, but they’re really not allowed. If they’re running the right process, they’re not allowed to really steer in in any which way, I think what they, what they can do is evaluate everybody, but there’s oftentimes where the favorite quote unquote, ends up not being the winner, because it should, they just didn’t survive, or they didn’t do the best in the process. So doing really well ahead of the request for proposal is no guarantee of actually winning it. But it’s, you know, really doing your best, I would say the inverse, which is, you know, responding to a request for proposal that you where you haven’t met the clients ahead of well ahead of time, again, what’s allowed and all that results in a very low p with a very low probability of win, right, because they just don’t know who you are, etc. Oftentimes, I think clients will probably establish consideration set of a few firms that are probably likely successful bidders, but again, it needs to be proven out in the process. And I’d say the vast, vast, vast majority of government folks, you know, really, you know, follow that in a in a very strict way. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their, their their inclinations, but it needs to, it really needs to go through that rigorous procurement process.

 

Will Bachman 16:28

So that’s an interesting thing that you said, which is that the firm’s that, like, have not met one on one and had that part of the market research process or know them already, like you can submit an RFP. But like, even if it looks good on paper, your chances are pretty low, because you haven’t had that personal interaction yet.

 

Paul Harrington 16:51

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I don’t, it’s not impossible. But I think for, especially, you know, when you think of your listeners here, in terms of management consulting firms for the type of work and the type of impact that this you know, generally speaking, everyone’s work represents the idea of somebody kind of saying, you know, essentially throwing you the keys, throwing the keys to you and say, Great, go for it, you know, I haven’t met you before do it. It’s It’s very, you know, I’d say it’s a very much a lower probability, again, not impossible. But I do think even for very well known big firms, the probability of winning I think, when they haven’t been able to provide some market research input or meet beforehand is very low.

 

Will Bachman 17:31

Yeah. So that means the important lesson for me there is like, if you have not met in person, like don’t waste your time submitting a proposal, because your chances are pretty low. So if you’re gonna do a proposal, like, you know, make sure that you’ve actually had a chance to meet with them in person, otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels.

 

Paul Harrington 17:52

Right. So meaningful interaction, absolutely. Right, on this on the core content of whatever, whatever the scope is. Absolutely. And, and that is something that I was a big, you know, that advice? Well, I think you’re spot on. That’s something I used to give advice in, not just McKinsey, but other places I’ve worked as well. And there are typically review processes, and many firms that say, look, if we haven’t had a chance to really interact with the client, and they don’t really have any understanding of how we’re applicable for this, and the first time they’re hearing about us, is the proposal response, you know, our chances are extremely low. Some folks do want to do it as a result, you know, it’s a way to kind of get in front of the client, maybe, you know, do that. But I do think it’s not the best use of time, personal and personal data,

 

Will Bachman 18:33

it seems to me that the process makes it difficult to, you know, perhaps to become a truly a trusted advisor, on with a government client the way you can with a corporate client. in the corporate world, you start serving someone, you just, it’s, it’s slightly different than a friendship, but like, you become a trusted advisor, if you if you’re lucky, you know, David Meister phrase, and then, you know, it’s not like they just gonna put some technical evaluation out there to the universe, like they want you in particular, because you understand them, they trust you, and so forth. And if you have to kind of do this RFP every time it’s like, it’s like this very arm’s length interaction, it makes it much more transactional.

 

Paul Harrington 19:16

Yeah, that’s a great point, I think, you know, definitely thinking of my service work when he describes the attributes of trusted advisor where, you know, price isn’t an issue and you’ve got, you know, kind of, you’re not really worried about proposals, etc, those kinds of things that I think is true, but I do think the idea of having a trusted adviser relationship, developing that I do really believe that is possible I at the same time, the ability to when new work still needs to go through more formal processes, but this idea that wow, you know, I you know, we’ll meet with, you know, whomever the Deputy Secretary of of agency acts, and has developed that trusted relationship maybe based on engagements you had one etc. You know, absolutely. The other the other compensating factor i think is a lot of these engagements and framework agreements tend to be very long from a length perspective. So in other words, you might compete for what they call Blanket Purchase Agreement, which is a framework agreement might have a five year period of performance and you win tasks engagements on that. So over time, you know, you’ll have to compete for those tasks, potentially, but you can still develop long term trusted relationships with folks, but it is going to on the commercial side is going to look a little different than what how Meister, of course, describes it in his in his book.

 

Will Bachman 20:28

Okay, great. Gosh, I have so many questions I want to ask you. Great. A lot of listeners this show, of course, are independent professionals, that’s sure a part of our subtitle? And what is your thoughts on the possibility for someone running a boutique firm or an independent professional to get contracts directly with federal, state or local government? Is it even possible? If so, how do you go about it? Or do you suggest you’re trying to go through some, you know, like larger, you know, intermediary with a Blanket Purchase Agreement, to kind of, you know, go under their wing? Like, talk to me about that? Is it possible as for an independent professional to get this agreement with the federal government? It sounds sounds pretty hard?

 

Paul Harrington 21:17

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think that the net net is, is it? Is it possible? Absolutely. And I would characterize it in maybe one or two ways, one would be coming in direct as an independent professional. And then another, as you alluded to, as a teammate. And for those who haven’t been around public sector as much one other characteristic is that teaming meaning partnering with other firms is much more prevalent, either, because, hey, I’m a small firm, or I’m a solo practitioner. And this requires more scale. And I want to kind of pull in other teaming partners to kind of get work done, either together on individual tasks or have different end item responsibility. But we can do that. So I think, you know that that is certainly one there also might be, the government has what they call small disadvantaged businesses, which are get preferential treatment. So there’s different categories. So there might be service disabled veteran owned small businesses, HUBZone. So those are historically underutilized business zones, women owned small businesses, etc. So there’s lots of different designations that folks can look into to see if their firm qualifies. First of all, which helps. And in some, some of those cases, the government actually allows sole sources, that means awards without competition to happen. And that can be pretty significant, you know, some of those sole sources are allowed up to $5 million in value, right? So there’s, there are really opportunities there for, for folks to do that, as an independent practitioner, I think one part of it is picking your spots, right? In other words, it’s if it’s the big huge or transformation where you need, you know, you’re doing this, I’m going to make this up for the State Department, you need a global presence in at least you know, 30 countries, obviously, not for a solo practitioner, although, depending upon the expertise, a solo practitioner might help a larger firm, actually accomplish that. But it might be other things where it’s like, you know, we need concentrated effort for this, you know, small financial regulatory agency to do an IT strategy, or, again, I’m just making up these examples. But the idea is that one or two people or one person augment with a 1099 or two, can actually go forth and do that. So I think that you know, what the government’s looking for a lot of times, it’s past performance. So that’s the idea of saying, not only do I have this expertise, but I’ve actually done it in place X, Y, and Z. That is a piece of it. I think, also, you know, that certain things are competed on certain what they call contracting vehicles, those are those hunting licenses I mentioned. So the idea of established, you’re meeting people that may have those vehicles and saying, Hey, this is a really interesting piece of work. I’m very qualified for it, I’m gonna reach out and start, you know, my BD process, can we potentially partner on this? So there are ways it certainly requires creativity. But there are absolutely ways to be able to do that. And there’s the, you know, I think what’s really inspiring to me is the mission of these different agencies at the local, state or federal level, and depending upon everyone’s interests, you know, there’s just so many ways to have impact, and to really help advance a mission. So I think it’s, you know, I’m a little biased, I would say that it’s absolutely worth looking into, for those who are interested in are willing to kind of take it through through cycle mindset.

 

Will Bachman 24:27

For an independent professional that’s maybe a bit intimidated by going through the whole, like, process of trying to become a Prime Vendor. Are there ways to search for opportunities to become a teammate? Like is there any kind of directory of of people with a blanket agreement or or thing where you can find, find those opportunities?

 

Paul Harrington 24:53

Oh, absolutely. You know, there’s lots of different services, some are free, some are some are paid subscriptions. To be able to find, you know, other firms to do that. So, on the free side, if you were to go to what’s called sam.gov, sa m.gov. Unfortunately, the user interface is sometimes a little bit challenging, but that’s one way you can look up opportunities you can look up, you know, that’s what the government’s actually competing, you can look up different vendor profiles, as well. You’ve got other places like Bloomberg. gov. B. gov, as it’s called, where you know, paid subscription. But again, you know, really compendious quit on a kind of archives, if you will, of different companies that play in different spaces, what, for example, MCs codes, they have those in North America, Industry Classification codes in terms of what they specialize in, where they play, and there’s a lot available there. And there are a number of other sites like that. And I’m happy to provide if it’s helpful, well, more of a kind of a comprehensive list of different links people can use just to go investigate and find out what it is. But absolutely. Another one that I really encourage is the GSA General Services Administration, what’s called e library, and that one as well lists about the 2400 or so firms that have what’s called the GSA schedule, that again, you know, what kind of scope areas do they have access to? So there are ways to do some investigative work in some cases without spending any money just to, you know, kind of triangulate and develop hypotheses on whom you might want to approach.

 

Will Bachman 26:32

That’s great. And if you happen to be running a practice, and you are classified as either a minority on business women on business veteran, non business Disabled Veteran Business, then one of these prime firms if I’m correct, sometimes they may have a requirement to farm out some percentage of that business to some small like, you know, one of these categories of smaller businesses. Yeah, right. Absolutely. Yeah. So they may be like, you know, delighted to meet you, because you help them meet their diversity requirements.

 

Paul Harrington 27:07

Apps. Absolutely. And you know, what the quality of independent professional you have within Umbrex. I think that Prime’s prime contractors would be delighted right to meet folks that bring the level of sophistication expertise that, you know, that the folks here have, I think, is really, really important. Absolutely. And they absolutely do their sometimes where there are dictated socio economic requirements or small business plan, where they actually spell out the percentage of work that you’re supposed to give to these different firms. And again, there are also sometimes small business set asides. And that’s as a prime where they say, you know, we want somebody under X ray, under, you know, x revenue, or x number of people in their firm, or alternatively, it’s just set aside for a particular type of, of small, Disadvantaged Business. And so there’s really a lot of opportunity there, as well. Okay.

 

Will Bachman 28:01

I would, I would like to hear a little bit about your practice now. So since you’ve left McKinsey, my understanding is that some of your work is your help consulting firms do something similar, but more as an advisor, outside advisor, helping firms, you know, get government contracts, right. Could you tell us a bit about that work that you do?

 

Paul Harrington 28:20

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. So yes, just started and actually I am, I do fall into one of those categories. So Pathfinder Consulting Group, LLC, is the name of my firm, and it is a certified veteran owned small business, and that’s through the official certification bodies, the Department of Veterans Affairs. So I’m a former Army officer from a long, long time ago, but basically, veteran owned small business. And to your point, well, you know, I just love building, whether it’s building within my own organization, or building and helping others, you know, grow their own organizations. And so I really do have a passion for called go to market, right, go to market strategy, operating model as deal coaching, etc, in terms of helping people, you know, really expand. And so the, that part of Pathfinder is really about either helping firms that are brand new to the government space, radical on a global level, you know, US federal, state, local, etc, in terms of helping them, you know, accelerate get up to speed or existing players who might just need a fresh set of eyes right to look or there might be particular pain points in their current organization to help turn around and fix that. And so that’s, that’s really a big area focus. And then the idea is to also eventually serve some government clients as well on strategy and digital modernization topics. But as I’ve just started, a little while ago, you know, the initial pieces really been helping and, for example, my first client as as a solo practitioner, was a firm that, you know, highly expert in their given discipline, did a lot within the private sector had served government sporadically, over time. And in this particular case was going after an extremely sizable program commercially, it was huge from $1 perspective, but impact wise, it’s something that will impact many, many Americans when it comes to wireless access. And so the idea was, how to help really differentiate and position them for success. So that’s just an example. But there’s, there’s lots more where, you know, firms, again, that are thinking about market entry into different countries or delving into the US Federal market, for example, those are the kinds of things where, you know, I love helping solve those challenges.

 

Will Bachman 30:36

Curious about one aspect of this, for a consulting firm that’s thinking about dealing with the government. At any of these levels, I had a small amount of exposure to this, I once did a project that was sort of a performance improvement, lean operations thing for, for a government contractor working with their contracting group. And that was like 200 people. And so I saw a little bit of out this. Talk to us about some of the capabilities that you need to have on your side, a contracting officer who can do like the change requests in the right way. And, you know, there was like, all these compliance type requirements of how you submit your invoice, and how you have to do a change order request if you need to go over. So what sort of capabilities should you have? Should you be thinking about that you need to have in place, if you’re going to try to, you know, engage with the federal government?

 

Paul Harrington 31:34

Yeah. Well, well, I have to I’m very impressed. It sounds like you had quite the experience there already. With that, but I would say yeah, absolutely. So when you’re building or anyone’s think about building that scaling, let’s say that growth organization, you might kind of put into a few different categories. And so one would be if I start with, you know, what you just mentioned, what I more or less call the enabling infrastructure, right. So those are folks that are contracts managers. In other words, they’re really managing the contract and what we kind of call quote, unquote, cradle to grave. So that’s anywhere from helping submit requests for information that’s market research and put etc. And in submitting a proposal on behalf of the organization to helping negotiate during the process, oftentimes, the government will come back for what’s called a bafo, or a best and final offer. So the negotiating process and in the award, and then managing the contract, excuse me contracts throughout its lifecycle. And eventually through the final phase, what we call contract closeout. So that’s certainly one. Legal is another one, whether they’re in House Counsel or external counsel, even big firms in space do retain outside counsel to help with protests, and maybe other specific areas as well, pricing, compliance, you know, there’s a lot of different pieces of infrastructure that would go there. Then on that growth layer, you think about folks that really focus on business development, or capture. And for example, in the case of McKinsey, we hired colleagues who really were kind of hybrid BD capture folks, they really were eight had the skill sets and expertise to really go across that entire client development lifecycle. And then also proposal management. And so that is, those are folks that really helped spearhead and organize the proposal process, and oftentimes might do some tech writing as well. So for consulting firm, you know, by nature, we’re problem solvers. By nature, we’re going to want to focus on content. However, the kind that won’t do any good if we don’t have a compliant proposals I mentioned earlier. So that idea of their proposal manager working hand in hand with that client service team, to create, you know, to harness that knowledge and expertise to create content that is going to really resonate with a client. So those are certainly not an exhaustive list. But I think those are, I think those two categories cover, you know, probably 80 90% of what’s needed, when you’re talking about building out that growth organization focused on government.

 

Will Bachman 34:07

illustrate for us some, just some examples of what might cause your proposal to be non compliant. I imagine there could be some real frustrating things like, Oh, you didn’t have this one appendix or it wasn’t like the right the right font or something. You know, what are some things that actually in real life you’ve seen, you know, disqualify?

 

Paul Harrington 34:27

Oh, Oh, absolutely. No, unfortunately, I have not been a party to it. But I have seen one where, you know, somebody forgot to include it was probably a, you know, 300 page proposal and they forgot like appendix H or whatever letter it was, they did not sign one form. And basically, were disqualified for this is not McKinsey. This is another firm in industry, who, you know, basically, I think the total contract I was about $600 million over 10 years. The entire proposal was disqualified. And they had probably spent with their internal resources and external resources. You know, they probably spent several $100,000 on the proposal, right? So that’s a very painful example. But there are other ones that aren’t quite as painful. But the idea that the pricing didn’t match up, right, or that just certain things weren’t addressed. And I think, you know, again, going back to our proclivity to reframe problems, I’ve seen examples where, you know, a team decided that they were going to reframe the problem, and hey, you know, that RFI RFP is great, but you guys really didn’t frame the problem correctly, here’s how we think you should think about the problem. So it’s a government response, great, one less proposal to evaluate. That’s not at all how we want it, you’re not getting what we want. And you’re giving us things we didn’t ask for. I’ve also seen, certainly consulting firms fall into the trap of giving too much what I mean by that is, they asked for three resumes and you give them 20. Right, that becomes kind of irritating to evaluators, because if they’ve got 10, proposals to evaluate, and now you’ve just given them a bunch of extra pages, they may just disallow it and still consider the proposal. But by not following instructions, they have the right to disqualify. So there’s a number of examples there where, you know, you know, folks have just forgotten and again, quality control, people get tired towards the latter stages of the proposal, they miss something, they duplicate a section and forget to include, you know, this, this required piece as well. And I think the biggest thing I’d say overall, though, would be just, you know, not having an outline not having dotdash, if you will, that’s that is easily gradable, if you will, by the government, right, if they have to hunt and search, and try to do that, it makes life a lot harder for them. And a lot of times a contracting officer may just say, you know, we found these areas to be lacking. And so this disqualified,

 

Will Bachman 36:58

yeah. So if there’s requirements one through 23, your proposal should have section 123, up through section 23. and match it up one to one, you know, it’s easy to check the boxes.

 

Paul Harrington 37:11

Right? It may sound a little Fisher Price color by the numbers kind of stuff. But I do think that it is important to make sure it is very digestible by the evaluators, but at the same time within that, it’s going to feel By the way, for those who were raised it management consulting firms, it’s, you know, to use the McKinsey frame, it’s not going to feel nisi right, it’s not going to it’s going to feel the repetitious maybe not exhaustive. But the idea is to get comfortable with that discomfort, if you will, and be able to say, okay, we are going to put this in a way that’s framing in the way that they can digest, but at the same time, we are really within that those parameters, we’re really going to show, you know how we can be distinctive in whatever area it is.

 

Will Bachman 37:53

Fantastic. Well, Paul, this is such a huge topic, it’s really cool hearing about like how this very particular approach of like what you need to do to be successful in this space. For folks that wanted to follow up with you learn more about your firm? Do you want to share a website or email address or any way for people to learn more about what you do and get in touch?

 

Paul Harrington 38:19

Absolutely, absolutely. And my profile is up on the Umbrex site. And my email is Paul pa ul dot Harrington. That’s a j. r IMG t o n at an all one word Pathfinder consulting llc.com. And that is also the URL. So Pathfinder consulting llc.com, is the URL for my website. So be happy to chat with anyone? Absolutely. I think it’s it’s, you know, more that people that get bitten by the bug, so say, a public sector, I think it really benefits the government’s to bring this kind of great expertise to them. And I think that there is a push to want to get new talents and to get new views. And so this is actually a pretty timely

 

Will Bachman 39:03

topic. Fantastic. Well, Paul, thank you so much for being on the show.

 

Paul Harrington 39:07

Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. Well, it’s a pleasure. And thank you again.

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