10 Steps for A Military SharePoint Contract

Recently a friend of mine won a substantial SharePoint military contract which I contributed to the RFP for since I owed him a favor (your welcome Kirk for my entire weekend). Although he has been doing SharePoint since it was Tahoe, he had on no account held a military contract, and was wondering about some pointers that he could take in that would facilitate reduced resistance, and increased applicability while engaging on the SharePoint project. As a result I started writing a personal email to him regarding some concepts since I just moved back into the private sector so felt equipped to, which hurriedly I could see as being a constructive post so determined to put it out there for the community.

Now this is all subjective, and might not translate to all military SharePoint contracts, so take it with a grain of salt. Though I think that bulk of the points are generalized enough that it should at least provide reasonable applicability for a preponderance of military contracts, matters such as these should be looked with gargantuan scrutiny.

Military Personnel Cause More Friction Than Private Markets

This really took me a while to get used to in view of the fact that for an assortment of private SharePoint projects it can be recurrent that people are in reality eager for a SharePoint deployment. Because of the way indirect clout and influence is shared within an orthodox military structure, and while there certainly is a defined chain of command, the defined rigidity does not make it an absolute. There might be a GS 9 through 11 that has been entrenched in a unit waiting on their pension, and they are a hard sell because they have been doing things a particular way for nearly 20 years. It has worked thus far so why change it now? And while on paper the persons ranking might not be directly impressive, that person’s relationships should make you look at them like they are a SES 2 as far as you are concerned. More often than not, you can gauge the assimilation of your deployment by measuring the adaptation of the product by such people, not by the early adopters that are clearly biting at the chomp in order to leverage SharePoint. Understanding these unspoken and undocumented relationships is huge!

It is important to realize that there is a huge gap between the private sector and the military segment in this regard. In the military, you would actually think that rank is king and that is the end of it. However it is customary that relationships habitually will trump rank. Furthermore, in the military, product use can, and more often than not, will be forced by a commander if you don’t play the implementation role just right. While this seems like it would be a benefit, you will quickly find out that it is the quite opposite. The old mantra You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar goes right out the window, and now you are not the most favorite person in your unit since you are forcing people to change the way they do their jobs. Not only is this bad for the current state of your contract and your user audience, wait until the contract is up for rebid and those identical people are solicited for feedback during the proposal lobbying.

You Are Not A Civil Service Employee. You Are A Contractor

Don’t portray yourself as being a civil service employee regardless of where you are, it is a terrible habit to get into it and can be misconstrued as offensive to civilians. Most civilians have influential reasons for being a civilian otherwise they WOULD be contractors. The line between a civilian and a contractor is NOT fine, nor should it be or ever considered to be. You don’t walk into a meeting at a private sector client and claim that you work directly for the company in some position that would clearly only exist as an FTE at a private sector firm, don’t do it in a military environment.

FFS Don’t Piss Of IA

As far as you should be concerned, IA is trump. Not only should you not cause problems with them, making a good friend in IA will span your bases and contracts. I have known my same IA contact for nearly 5 years now, and even though he is staffed permanently at a different base I will most likely never work at again, the information he gives me regarding any of my current and future contracts regardless of station is nothing less than priceless. Just don’t do things that knowingly are going to make them upset, like putting a NIPR and SIPR box within the physical proximity limits of each other. They will rip your head off, and then you are on their radar and you will get hit on each audit. It’s kind of like the IRS in that sense I suppose.

Hiring A Generic Project Manager Will Go Over Like A Fart In Church

If you are responsible for staffing, do not under any circumstances hire a generic project manager for a military SharePoint contract. A project manager in a military environment is a specialized position since they have to understand the inner working of the military, this type of knowledge is disseminated through experience and not through book smarts or nonspecific PM knowledge. While a generic PM might understand the fundamental ranking and command hierarchy concepts, they will have no clue about how the military cogs make the overall federal machine work. Unless you want to send a lamb to the slaughter, just avoid it and shell out the money for a PM either with direct military background or previous federal work history (state governments generally do not count). Going back to the above point about acclimation of product, the PM will heavily be responsible for facilitating the rely of operational information that will affect the whole project. When they get the aggregate picture along with the intricate unit workings, their contributions are unmistakably noticeable and will cause the project to run much smoother.

Don’t DARE Tell A Commander How To Run His Unit

I love it when I am in a meeting and I see someone do this. A commander didn’t get to his position because he took shit on a daily basis from contractors telling him how to do things; they are in a leadership position because they are leaders and were noticed as such. They know their unit; otherwise they wouldn’t be in command of it. Don’t try to tailor a unit to SharePoint, simply give a commander options, and believe me, he will tell you exactly how he wants SharePoint to run in his unit. Trying to tailor a process to a product is poor form anyways; a military environment is unquestionably no exception. The best mantra when working with a commander is take ever should you were about to say and switch it with a could. There are many neat portions of SharePoint that could potentially solve critical business issues; they just need to be presented delicately and with tact.

What The…Different Commander, Different Day

It is pretty recurrent that command changes ensue, at least it was in the Air Force it is habitual. Don’t let it dishearten you; unless it results in the project getting canned then I would be frustrated as well. Restructuring is incomparably common in the military because the pronouncement can come from so many directions and sources, and while some are based on timely rotations, others are to optimize the workings of the unit(s) (such as unit merges, etc.). If you substitute commanders, you must approach the new commander and show him the value in your work instantaneously. The same reasons that the old commander firstly solicited you as a contractor for must be presented to the new commander so that he can see the significance in your work since he will be unacquainted with preceding efforts. If it is not immediate, manufacture a practical case study because it is worth the time. Otherwise, there is regularly a budgetary review process as one of the first things on a new commanders list, and he/she won’t even know why that money is going to a particular project.

Use That One Guy That Has Been On A Military Contract

I can’t emphasis this enough, on most military SharePoint projects this is generally one person on the team that has already done an enterprise SharePoint deployment in a federal environment. Same branch? Tremendous! Different Branch? Not as great, notwithstanding still pretty damn good. And it might not even be the person that is judged to be the most indispensable personnel on your team. Their insight into the pre-workings of a military structure you will discover to repeatedly save your ass again and again. Even when those concepts aren’t related to your SharePoint deployment and are just insights into significant military processes.

Acronyms Are Better Than No Acronyms

There are so many acronyms. There are acronyms for things that shouldn’t even be acronyms, but because it is an unspoken tradition to turn any three letter denotation into an acronym, you really have to get used to it. And seriously, don’t bother writing them down since there will be repetition in the acronyms that are used. You will end up using the same acronym a lot, but based on the context, it will have severely dissimilar meanings. This must be taken into account for particular audiences and will lessen confusion.

Military Liaisons Are Worth The Money

Especially if they were stationed at the base your contract is at, even better if they were in the same unit and command hasn’t changed. That comradery is invaluable and the preexisting relationships will make your life infinitely easier. They do cost a lot of money, and normally their solitary deliverables are esoteric, however the difference is directly noticeable.

You Are Contributing Most Likely to a War Effort, Not a Random Business

Within a military contract the work that you are doing has severe impacts that are by and large not found in the private sector. Sure, there are definitely outages which effect private business and that is no good; however they don’t affect people in the field that are relying on your system for war support. Most developers for example will recycle an App Pool to realize a new GAC versioned assembly being deployed and not bat an eyelash. Taking this mindset into a military environment will make your SharePoint contract the quickest one in federal history. Those actions ARE noticed, ARE logged, and will be examined. People will notice that brief latency shift, and you can bet your ass that you will hear about it later.

There are so many more, but that’s about it for now! Happy military SharePoint contracting!


9 thoughts on “10 Steps for A Military SharePoint Contract”

  1. What? I said thank you and bought you good beer!

    But seriously thanks for the help on the RFP, I wouldn’t have known what the hell I was doing otherwise. Thanks for the post as well.

  2. The last point on “People will notice that brief latency shift, and you can bet your ass that you will hear about it later” seriously makes me want to consider how I approach RFP’s for military SharePoint work. thanks for a great post.

  3. Very nice piece. I’d add that probably the biggest risk in a military Sharepoint contract is your almost total lack of control over the network environment. Seemingly arbitrary, unannounced changes to network configuration and the pushing of untested patches out to servers can wreck havoc on even the best designed systems. Just keep in mind that from the viewpoint of most command NOCs, it’s much easier to push a network change and wait to see who squawks than it is to test it against all deployed applications.

  4. Very informative and insightful post. In regards to: Don’t DARE Tell A Commander How To Run His Unit.

    I’m a veteran (now a SharePoint consultant), and actually tried this once when I was serving active duty.

    No bueno… I don’t recommend for anyone to ever try this. I lived (*smile*), and some changes in the end actually came out of my recommendation to command, but it wasn’t pretty. For someone non-military to suggest something to a Commanding Officer… not good.

    Thanks for sharing.

    – Dan

  5. Mark:

    An important one that I forgot. Indeed, the rigidity of deployment and loss of aggregate network control is important to realize. Unfortunately, I have seen blind patch pushes break a many of my applications.


    I did it once. First military contract, just got my clearance, all gung ho and too excited. Basically a green horn I suppose. Went off about how we should be optimizing my wing business process to my CO, needless to say I got a talking to that included every vulgarity in the English language. Rest assured, that did not happen again :)

  6. On the DARE don’t tell… The first rule of military contracting is you are not a permanted employee you are there for a specific job as such you are not to tell them what to do, or even recommendations on what to do(unless specificly in the contract), you are there to make suggestions on how to do things.
    Granted you are probably going to be the most technical knowlegable person around and your suggestions will probably be taken but there is still a difference between suggesting a course and say this is the way you must do it.

  7. I learned them all from experience (read: “Why’s that Colonel mad? I just told him the right way to do it!”) and thought about writing them down as well.
    Please write parts 2, 3, 4, etc. as this advice is gold for the uninitiated. Don’t forget to include the importance of policy papers and how referencing 15.2.5-12 Section 19 will give you respect. You have no friends, you’re just a contractor.

    Great, great post.

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