18F publishes digital procurement playbook

US digital service outlines five pitfalls to digital procurement.

The US digital service team, 18F, has published a guide outlining five practices to avoid while procuring digital products and services in government. 1. Accepting large and complex contracts Governments should not take up large and monolithic projects because technology moves fast, and delivery requirements may change in time, the 18F team advised. “You’re only giving yourself a 6% chance of success when you start these types of projects”, it wrote, citing statistics from The Standish Group, an IT research firm. “If you want your agency to be able to respond quickly in an ever-changing landscape, you’ll need to avoid this at all costs.” 2. Writing long proposals “These long RFPs [Request for Proposals] take too much time for your agency to write, too much time from vendors to respond to, and discourage good vendors from bidding. There are very few good outcomes when this happens”, 18F explained. Instead, they suggest that officials should “develop a sound problem statement and product vision”, and “think in terms of objectives and user stories”. Agile development methods help, they say. 3. Having narrow skillsets in acquisition teams The acquisition process should involve a cross-functional team. “Acquisitions is more than just buying, and it’s important to bring key expertise, like policy, law, engineering, design, and security, to the table early in the acquisitions process to ensure a project’s success”, it explained. 4. Adopting fixed mindsets “You have to be willing to adapt, course correct, and try new things to get the best digital products and services for your teams”, the team wrote. They advocate learning and applying new techniques to make “acquisitions more effective [and] more efficient”. This mindset will allow public officials to shift their “focus from a ‘no we can’t’ to a ‘how might we’ context. It allows you to solve the problems as they arrive based on any given context, known or unknown”, it added. 5. Forgetting that project management is flexible Agencies may overlook “that over the life of the contract, new ideas will be formed and business strategy may shift”, it stated. It is therefore important to “have a product owner that works with the vendor until the period of performance is complete” so decisions can be made in line with organisation goals, the team added. “Relying too heavily on contract clauses to solve every problem that may arise over the period of performance is an untenable expectation”, it continued. Budget constraints shouldn’t hinder agencies from delivering better digital services; as 18F tells, there are always ways to work around this.