Contract Award

During this period Altex Corporation was elated when it learned that it had just been awarded the R&D phase of the Advanced Tactical Missile Program (ATMP). The terms of the contract specified that Altex had to submit to the Army, within 60 days after contract award, a formal project plan for the two-year ATMP effort. Contracts at that time did not require that a risk management plan be developed. A meeting was held with the project manager of R&D to assess the risks in the ATMP effort.

PM: I'm in the process of developing the project plan. Should I also develop a risk management plan as part of the project plan?

Sponsor: Absolutely not! Most new weapon systems requirements are established by military personnel who have no sense of reality about what it takes to develop a weapon system based upon technology that doesn't even exist yet. We'll be lucky if we can deliver 60-70 percent of the specification imposed upon us.

PM: But that's not what we stated in our proposal. I wasn't brought on board until after we won the award, so I wasn't privileged to know the thought process that went into the proposal. The proposal even went so far as to imply that we might be able to exceed the specification limits, and now you're saying that we should be happy with 60-70 percent.

Sponsor: We say what we have to say to win the bid. Everyone does it. It is common practice. Whoever wins the R&D portion of the contract will also be first in line for the manufacturing effort and that's where the megabucks come from! If we can achieve 60-70 percent of specifications, it should placate the Army enough to give us a follow-on contract. If we told the Army the true cost of developing the technology to meet the specification limits, we would never get the contract. The program might even be canceled. The military people want this weapon system. They're not stupid! They know what is happening and they do not want to go to their superiors for more money until later on, downstream, after approval by DoD and project kickoff. The government wants the lowest cost and we want long-term, follow-on production contracts, which can generate huge profits.

PM: Aren't we simply telling lies in our proposal?

Sponsor: My engineers and scientists are highly optimistic and believe they can do the impossible. This is how technological breakthroughs are made. I prefer to call it "over-optimism of technical capability" rather than "telling lies." If my engineers and scientists have to develop a risk management plan, they may become pessimistic, and that's not good for us!

PM: The problem with letting your engineers and scientists be optimistic is that they become reactive rather than proactive thinkers. Without proactive thinkers, we end up with virtually no risk management or contingency plans. When problems surface that require significantly more in the way of resources than we budgeted for, we will be forced to accept crisis management as a way of life. Our costs will increase and that's not going to make the Army happy.

Sponsor: But the Army won't penalize us for failing to meet cost or for allowing the schedule to slip. If we fail to meet at least 60-70 percent of the specification limits, however, then we may well be in trouble. The Army knows there will be a follow-on contract request if we cannot meet specification limits. I consider 60-70 percent of the specifications to be the minimum acceptable limits for the Army. The Army wants the program kicked off right now.

Another important point is that long-term contracts and follow-on production contracts allow us to build up a good working relationship with the Army. This is critical. Once we get the initial contract, as we did, the Army will always work with us for follow-on efforts. Whoever gets the R&D effort will almost always get the lucrative production contract. Military officers are under pressure to work with us because their careers may be in jeopardy if they have to tell their superiors that millions of dollars were awarded to the wrong defense contractor. From a career standpoint, the military officers are better off allowing us to downgrade the requirements than admitting that a mistake was made.

PM: I'm just a little nervous managing a project that is so optimistic that major advances in the state of the art must occur to meet specifications. This is why I want to prepare a risk management plan.

Sponsor: You don't need a risk management plan when you know you can spend as much as you want and also let the schedule slip. If you prepare a risk management plan, you will end up exposing a multitude of risks, especially technical risks. The Army might not know about many of these risks, so why expose them and open up Pandora's box? Personally, I believe that the Army does already know many of these risks, but does not want them publicized to their superiors.

If you want to develop a risk management plan, then do it by yourself, and I really mean by yourself. Past experience has shown that our employees will be talking informally to Army personnel at least two to three times a week. I don't want anyone telling the customer that we have a risk management plan. The customer will obviously want to see it, and that's not good for us.

If you are so incensed that you feel obligated to tell the customer what you're doing, then wait about a year and a half. By that time, the Army will have made a considerable investment in both us and the project, and they'll be locked into us for follow-on work. Because of the strategic timing and additional costs, they will never want to qualify a second supplier so late in the game. Just keep the risk management plan to yourself for now.

If it looks like the Army might cancel the program, then we'll show them the risk management plan, and perhaps that will keep the program alive.

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