Traffic Jam of Contracting

Contracting right now looks alot like my commute everyday.

As many leaders are urging us to go faster, I don’t think desire is the problem.

Everyone wants to get from A to B as fast as possible, just like everyone wants to get to work on time in the pic below. No one wants to go slow. The problem is, we’re in this traffic jam.

So instead of telling us to just go faster, let’s look at how to clear the path for them to move. What can we do to speed up this commute?

1.) Maybe shorten the distance from A to B? If I lived closer to my work, the commute would be faster. Similarly, lets cut the distance from idea to award, by breaking up our requirement. Do we need a solution that can solve all our problems? Or can we get a minimum viable product that fixes one problem right now? If one costs $100 million and requires Dr. Roper to sign, and the other costs $10 million requiring only the competition advocate to sign… We’ve already shortened our commute.

2.) What is making my work so far away from my home? Similar to how mandatory parking minimums require large empty parking lots between me and my work, what laws or rules can leadership eliminate that gets A closer to B. Maybe getting rid of Business and Contract Clearance altogether? Trusting the CO. The Army doesn’t have Clearance, why do we? Or maybe its as simple as eliminating redundant information in forms. Why does my J&A, D&F, PNM, 2579, and CO Memo all have a Market Research section when my MR memo says it all? Or why does tabs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 14, 50, 52, 56, 62, 73, and the file index all require the CO’s name, and phone number be hand jammed into different forms when all this meta information is already on the CO’s CAC card? Cutting minutes here and there saves time.

3.) Why do most of these cars only have 1 person in them? Perhaps changing the type of vehicle to a bus or train (aka contract type) could move things along more efficiently. An IDIQ for same services, BPA’s, a large ceiling CPFF or T&M may decrease the number of actions on the road. More on this later…

4.) Finally, technology. If instead of stop signs at intersections that don’t have any cross traffic, lets install smart stop lights that move traffic along faster. Similarly, lets invest in technology that moves contracting processes along faster. Not just CONIT, (which is a good step in the right direction), but also apps that help write the rest of the file not just the contract document… Think autofill like Google does with all of my online purchases. Or drop down menus to replace legalese that gets written over and over again.

Clear the way for CO’s, and watch how fast we get to work.


Great post @Sam! The traffic metaphor is perfect for those of us in LA! :face_with_symbols_over_mouth::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:



Excellent post!

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Great post Sam!

The Air Force can create the Google Maps for Acquisition by proactively tailoring acquisition models/pathways to institute these best practices, tailored for the type of acquisition/contract. Work with all the functional disciplines to streamline processes, reviews, and documents … and leverage modern IT solutions.

See more at


Modular contracting is an acquisition strategy that we use with many of our partners and our internal programs. With modular contracting we break up large, complex projects into multiple, tightly-scoped procurements to implement technology systems in successive, interoperable increments. We’ve used this strategy in our work with the Forest Service and the State of California to mitigate risk, reduce vendor lock in, and encourage the delivery of working software to users more rapidly. When this practice is combined with human-centered, agile practices, and modern infrastructure, it can enable those who use your services to use portions of new software faster.

I think a good thought experiment for any reviewer/approver on staff is whether people would submit their documents for review to you if it was not required? If not, what would have to change about your process/approach for people to voluntarily send things up for review?

We are testing out software to generate the repetitive info in contract file documents. The goal is to give people more time to focus on the details in the documents that really matter instead of correcting typos in the PR or fixing the format of a signature block. An example of the type of software we are testing is WebMerge:

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From 3 years experience with Agile, Modular contracting is a good start. Part 39 should be the basis of thinking, but it is still too slow. I’ll post a video soon of contract types for buying Agile. My lessons learned from the Cyber SPO.


I like what you’re eluding to here. We definitely need a thorough review of all our processes to discover what is value added. Eliminating the ones that do not add any value, and evaluating the others for risk/reward.

Contracting should design-out failure. At my OL, we sit in a monthly “PZC Trend Training” where they tell us the trends of errors they are finding. Here’s an actual excerpt from one such training:

As an example, rather than saying, “Hey 23 of you forgot to write ‘The price is determined fair and reasonable by the CO’” lets look at how we can design out that error in the future. Say, a mandatory check box that wont let you sign the document until this box is checked… By doing this, we will have designed-out the error, AND sped up the process by several seconds eliminating the need to type this statement every time.

Furthermore, if this error is not important enough to justify the extra proactive effort of changing the form… then why require the item/statment in the first place?

These are the kinds of things a policy shop should be asking/doing


We need several master black-belts and a core of supporting green-belts to create a [few] process maps to address this very thing. Let’s use real tools and qualified experts to fix this - continuous process improvement.

A basic question in determining value is: ‘what would a mission partner or taxpayer be willing to pay for?’ Afterall, we don’t do contracting for contracting’s sake.

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We often use training for corrective action rather than fix the process. I’ve been guilty of this myself.

Another similar error is no SAM check before award (or the buyer printed it a few days before award). The check should be built into the contract writing system. There is an API built into SAM to get this data programmatically.


Ideally, poka-yoke should be passive. Poka-yoke wants to make it impossible for people to make defects, whether through inattention, poor training, simple mistakes, or any other reason.


Here’s an opportunity to push some of these ideas.