Project Management: Developing a Quality Acquisition Plan21 July 2015

Project Management

This article is the fifth in a series of articles that discusses the most critical steps necessary for a successful program. Critical steps previously discussed in this series are:

This article focuses on the fourth critical task — the development of an Acquisition Plan (AP) for the entire program. Government agencies and companies have different names for this document. Some refer to it as an AP, while others title it an Acquisition Strategy Plan (ASP), an Implementation Strategy and Planning Document (ISPD), or other similar titles.

What is an Acquisition Plan?
An acquisition plan has many purposes. It forms the overall foundation for an acquisition and it must include all critical program decisions and milestones. It should address the high-level objectives of the program. The AP should also address the high-level technical performance requirements and other acquisition policy requirements. It must contain high-level cost/budget and schedule estimates and address significant risks and issues associated with the program. It is extremely important to prepare an acquisition plan that is complete, achievable, and that addresses all stakeholder requirements. A few examples of the many elements that a quality AP must address are:

  • All program phases and contracts necessary to design, develop, test and evaluate, produce, install and maintain the program or system
  • All program milestones and agency decisions (e.g., Initial Investment, Final Investment, Development & Operational Tests, Limited Production, Full Production, Initial Operational Capability (IOC)/Deployment, etc.)
  • Acquisition strategy for each program contract
    • Lease vs. buy
    • Development or non-development
    • System or service
    • Competitive vs. non-competitive (i.e., single source procurement)
    • Large business vs. small business contract (or a combination of both)
    • Length, estimated value, and type of each contract (e.g., cost, fixed price, time and material (T&M), level of effort (LOE), incentive-based, hybrid, etc.)
    • Summary of contract requirements for each contract
  • High-level program budget/cost summaries
  • High-level schedule for the entire program
  • High-level technical requirements
    • System/service performance and critical design requirements
    • Use of standard hardware and/or software or waivers from standard hardware and software
  • Agreements with other agencies or companies
  • High-level test and evaluation requirements necessary to progress from one milestone to the next
  • High-level life-cycle support requirements; and last but most importantly,
  • Signatures from all appropriate organizations indicating their approval and support of the contents in the AP

Do’s and Don’ts For APs.
Examples of things to do and not to do in the preparation of an AP are:

  • The AP must address all necessary high-level requirements, particularly those directly related to contracts and program milestones.
  • Ensure all appropriate stakeholders and their requirements are addressed.
  • Do not use high-risk technical, cost and schedule requirements/estimates. If you must use high-risk goals, then make sure it is very clear in your AP that you are proposing high-risk goals and you will need to address the impact for each high-risk goal and provide a high-level mitigation plan for each high-risk goal. Just remember that you may achieve some of the high-risk or challenging goals but no program ever achieves all of them – regardless of what they may claim. If they do, then they probably were not high-risk goals to start with.
  • Review the AP annually and update it as required. For a large program that is properly managed, the AP usually needs to be updated annually as there are always system, contract, budget or other changes each year that have some effect on information in the AP.

What are the challenges in preparing an AP?
There are many challenges in preparing a high-quality AP for a large program. Examples of the basic categories of challenges encountered when performing a BCA are:

  • Determining the optimum type of contract for each contract required for the program
  • Compiling all of the necessary information for the AP. This involves coordination with many internal organizations; many agency and other program documents; and frequently other government agencies or companies.
  • Identifying all major program risks and issues and factoring their possible impact into the AP
  • Reaching agreement between the program office, contracts, legal, engineering, other internal support organizations and unions in order to provide a service or product that meets the needs of the users and stakeholders

Who should prepare a BCA?
Many types of subject matter experts (SMEs) are typically required to prepare an AP for large, complex programs. The following SMEs are usually responsible for preparing the majority of the AP:

  • Program Manager — ensures all critical high-level program requirements (e.g., milestones, decisions, performance requirements, budget, schedule, etc.) are addressed in the AP Works closely with the Contracting Officer to formulate the most feasible contract strategy for all phases of the program
  • Contracting Officer — responsible for the contract aspects of the program. Works closely with the Program Manager to develop the optimum acquisition strategy for all contracts necessary to execute the program

Other SMEs that are also usually involved in the development of an AP include project engineers, engineers from specialty areas, logistics support personnel, budget/financial analysts, representatives from the operational and maintenance organizations, and legal counsel.

This brief article discussing the development of a Program AP is only intended to provide a high-level overview of what should be addressed in the AP. Please contact us if you would like to have more detailed discussions concerning the planning and execution of programs.

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