Oh, the nonsense we con ourselves into believing is not always going to catch on! It’s that time for the obligatory eye roll at another deadly sin. Read on as we continue our series in win-loss trends.
Sin #13: Industry leading best practices = strength
U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) IT and network management contract
Protest Decision Date: December 17, 2020
On the surface, this looks to be a straightforward, but very close decision. DISA used the CIOSP3 GWAC to drive competition for a small business set-aside competition featuring two mentor-protégé joint ventures in Octo Metric and Valida-Tek CITI. This appears to be a simple decision as Valida-Tek CITI wins on non-cost and cost measures being superior technically and less expensive. Note the summary of the evaluation of the win in table 1 below.
|Evaluation criteria||Octo Metric, LLC||Valida-Tek CITI, LLC|
|Subfactor Technical/Management Approach|
|Subfactor Program and Project Management|
|Subfactor Engineering, Test, and|
|Subfactor Architecture and Design||Green/Acceptable||Green/Acceptable|
Octo Metric challenged the evaluation specific to a weakness received and (of course) assert they should have had more strengths than given. Weaknesses assessed simply came from failure to provide a detailed response on a critical part of the requirements (lack of detail on managing Windows Active Directory), which is not overly interesting. The interesting part of Octo Metric’s win strategy and approach to unravel the decision centers on a heavy reliance of Octo-made tool sets and intellectual property.
We often find capture teams enamored with such tool sets as some sort of panacea. Sadly, here we go again with such a torrid love affair. It was Octo Metric’s focus on their own tool (and a disappointing loss) that led to their claim of “unacknowledged strengths.” See the below statement from the protest.
Additionally, the protester alleges that the agency failed to acknowledge strengths relating to two features of the protester’s proposal that clearly exceeded the solicitation’s requirements in a way that is beneficial to the government. First, the protester alleges that it should have received a strength for its tailored asset library and management tools, which were developed from state-of-the-art techniques.
Oh my. If it is “state-of-the-art” this absolutely should be a strength. The plot thickens as we move through the protest digest.
With respect to asset library and management tools, the protester argues that it proposed its Octo Metric Process Asset Library (OPAL), which is a proprietary collection of tools, processes, and templates based on widely adopted frameworks and best practices. The protester contends that these tools are already in use in many locations across the government, are easy to use, and could drive cost savings. These tools, the protester contends, exceed the solicitation requirements and are advantageous to the government.
In response, the agency argues that it discussed the OPAL framework in its contemporaneous evaluation record, noting that the OPAL management framework addressed the solicitation requirement to demonstrate how Octo would manage task order projects through a cycle of planning, execution, monitoring, and controlling the projects. However, the agency argues that Octo was not assigned a strength because this aspect of Octo’s proposal demonstrated that it met, but did not exceed, the requirement.
The protester responds by noting that the contemporaneous evaluation ignores the true benefit of the OPAL framework, which offered specific, tailored tools, processes, and practices developed from state-of-the-art techniques. Octo also argues that it did not propose “standard industry practices, it proposed best industry practices.”
Of course the evaluators should absolutely reconsider! Clearly, “Hooked on Phonics” didn’t do the trick and the evaluators did not read this enlightening statement correctly.
DISA was simply not impressed. The core takeaway for DISA evaluators was this tool set was simply an expression of how Octo Metric would work and that is in itself not a strength.
What is the lesson learned?
Levity aside, the premise used to assert a strength was based on the folly of the ever popular “best industry practices” = strength = we win. DISA (and many other evaluators as we have found) could not care less. That does not mean such tool sets or processes are useless, but simply pointing to them as unique without substantiation is path to delude oneself into an expensive loss.
This blog is not intended to disparage the ever-escalating array of tools and processes developed by the greater GOVCON universe. This can be a great way to codify practices and knowledge. Further, it can help bidders better explain the “why do I care?” aspect of a proposed solution and to demonstrate credibility. HOWEVER, explaining exactly what benefits are realized and detailing the HOW a solution adds value beyond broad claims of “best industry practices” and “state-of-the-art techniques” is critical.
GOVCON, we plead with you on this point. Tool time is fine. You go with your bad self to develop unique intellectual property. Just don’t expect others to be as enamored with your inventions if you cannot explicitly explain how and why they matter.
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