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February 17, 2014

Creating "Attractive" System Output

Have you ever asked yourself - are my files pretty?

That's a serious question! There seems to be an industry-wide perception that "ugly equals serious" - the less aesthetically attractive and paper-thick a file is, the more serious a reviewer will take. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the uglier and more convoluted a file structure is, the more likely it is that your system will suffer for it. 

How? Partly because the harder it is to find documentation in a file, the more likely your reviewer is to miss it completely. Also, reviewers are people too. If a reviewer knows that their 2 weeks onsite will be spent with confusing files, they'll be MUCH less likely to cut you breaks when there's an "on the fence" determination to be made.

Here are 4 quick tips for structuring your system output:

1. Standardize Your File Structure. DCMA doesn't care that so-and-so in this division wants their files THIS way and so-and-so in that division wants their files THAT way. A failure to standardize can be interpreted as a weakness in the autonomy of the procurement function. Short term it's also REALLY annoying dealing with disparate structures as a reviewer when you're trying to bring efficiency to a short-time-frame file review task. Like a CPSR.

2. Pick A Logical Conceptual Structure. I don't mean to be dismissive of how companies may organize files, but from a reviewer’s perspective there are really only two inherently logical methods (e.g. methods that don't require “outside the file” explanation) for file organization - thematic & chronological. Thematic structure puts the award summary and order first then groups everything else by document type (evaluative documentation, public law, etc.). Chronological organization also begins with a summary then orders documentation from requisition through post-award compliance. Illogical file structures can slow reviews and add to reviewer frustration. Don't make them memorize your checklist to find a document.

3. Award Summaries! Here's why you should strongly consider using Award Summaries: a sample order of operations for a standard file review would: (a) Determine Ceiling Value; (b) Determine Award Date; (c) Determine Commerciality; (d) Determine Competitive Nature of Procurement; (e) Determine Business Size of the sub; (f) Determine Contract Type; then (g) Evaluate file documentation for sufficiency. If you're making a reviewer go through all relevant documentation to make those important initial determinations (as many as 5 different documents) prior to file evaluation, you're making unnecessary work for the reviewer. Now say it takes the reviewer (some of whom are VERY new) 5 minutes to review and record the information in those documents (SSJ, Price Analysis, Commerciality Determination, Reps and Certs, Original Order) per file - over 70 files reviewed that's almost 6 hours. An award summary is pre-documented record of that information. If it take a minute to read and reference the summary during review you've just shaved more than 4 hours out of their overall review time. That's a tangible benefit you can provide without violating any gift rules!

When should you use award summaries? Definitely $150K+. In general, try to summarize at least half of the files in your potential review universe.

4. Sub-Tab. Once you break your file documentation into sections, make sure you sub-tab specific documentation. Don't trust your reviewer to sift through all that paperwork to find a one page document buried in the middle. Many reviewers will look through the documentation a couple of times and if the document isn't found the file gets written up. If it's important documentation (like a TINA cert or sam.gov) that could mean serious public law findings. Especially if you can't find it either!