Failure to Communicate Puts Your Money and Reputation on the Line


Remember the college basketball commercial where three guys accidentally drove to “The Annapolis” instead of “Indianapolis” to see the Final Four? The ad brought a laugh to many, but it’s no laughing matter when there’s a lapse of communication, whether it’s between you and your customer or internally. As in “Cool Hand Luke,” a failure to communicate can truly land you in the hotbox.

If you are a government contractor, the following are just three examples of why making accurate, consistent communication a priority in your company is essential.

Contractor to Customer: Your DoD IT customer thinks they’ve told you everything you need to know about fulfilling the project you’ve just won. You’ve gone over every technical aspect of the project three times. The customer failed to mention, though, that their loading dock will be tied up for the next 90 days with a priority job for a four-star general. You now have two options:  Miss the delivery deadline and upset the customer, or incur significant increased costs to get the job done on time and see your profit margin shrink.

Solution: Make sure you have a complete, written checklist of all technical, logistical, administrative, and contracting issues that each appropriate person in your company must sign off on before you proceed with a project. Remember, there’s more to a successful federal IT job than just getting the technical aspects correct.

Internal- Customer Focused: Your DHS Account Manager (AM) just promised the CIO’s office that you can fulfill their order in three weeks. This gets you the job. Your Operations Manager says it will take five weeks just to get the required items to your warehouse. Now, your two managers are poised for a dual at high noon, with the customer positioned squarely between them.

Solution: Communications must involve all aspects of your business. The AM may have quoted the three-week lead time because that was the last word – six months ago – from operations.  Many companies use a mandatory monthly meeting of all department heads to avoid issues like this. While no one likes extra meetings, those that improve coordination and prevent your company from possibly losing lucrative work, as in the example above, are definitely worth the time. Placing one senior person in charge of ensuring that these meetings happen, have agendas, a checklist, and other essential items is one key to success. As with anything else, if there is no one person responsible, no one is then responsible.

Internal – Compliance Focused: Unknown to you, your supplier has changed its source of supply for IT components you provide to a Navy customer. The material now comes from China.  If you don’t have a process in place to regularly ask your suppliers to update the countries from which they obtain items sold to you, this could cause significant issues for your company.

Solution: Have established, consistent communication procedures that include contract managers at every turn.  In this example, a contract manager can communicate the importance of Trade Agreements Act compliance, depending on the circumstance, and new DoD requirements for contractor secure supply chains. Whether it is country of origin, pricing, or some other special government contract term, you must be able to comply with the terms of your contract.  This requires established, consistent communications. Without them, your firm can easily violate the terms of its federal contract, putting you at risk for contract default, substantial fines, and legal fees.

Many people that read this article will gloss over the importance of having good communications. Ironically, these people will go home over the weekend and work on a project where the maxim, “measure twice, cut once” is used.  If this is common sense on home improvement projects, why not apply the same logic to your government contract? After all, it is what makes the home improvement possible in the first place.


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