Reston-based Pragmatics, a contractor that provides technology solutions to a number of civilian, defense, and intelligence agencies, is celebrating its 30th year in business in 2015. WashingtonExec recently spoke with COO Joe Brock about keeping clients happy, winning recompete bids, and the most important industry trends to follow this year.
We started our discussion by asking Brock how Pragmatics has achieved such longevity in the contracting industry. “Our CEO, Dr. Long Nguyen, has always held a long-term view of the company and focused on creating and maintaining a set of IT services that differentiate us,” Brock said. He attributes three major factors to his company’s success:
“We hire and invest in great people and provide an environment and culture that align our folks with the clients’ missions. We set a high delivery standard for ourselves. Our implementations of best practices such as ISO 9001 for our management system, CMMI Level 5 for our Agile software development practices, ISO/IEC 27001 for information security, and ISO/IEC 20000-1 for our IT service management, provide the framework necessary for exceptional delivery.
Finally, we’re known for our core capabilities in software development and IT systems engineering. We focus on those, but we’ve also evolved and adopted new capabilities and practices as we pursue opportunities in our market. For example, in recent years we’ve established an impressive engineer, furnish, and install capability. After starting out with little work in this area, we have established a nationwide footprint in just a few years. We deploy campus area wired and wireless network infrastructures and state-of-the-art audio/visual distance learning solutions.”
“Maturing core capabilities and strategically introducing new ones have contributed to our longevity, adaptability, and record of success.”
Agile development has played an important role in helping Pragmatics achieve that record of success, and Brock is certainly a proponent of applying the methodology to the contracting environment. “We’ve found that Agile practices reduce common development risks by introducing more frequent client involvement throughout the development cycle,” he said. “Agile provides shortened build cycles, so you’re able to demonstrate progress and adjust to changes more quickly. We’re also able to continuously improve performance across multiple iterations.”
Pragmatics leverages automation to the greatest extent practical across the full lifecycle. Automating environmental setup, test, builds, and code promotion is key to maintaining high-quality systems in what Brock considers an overall battle for production. “We just get better results than the traditional waterfall method, in terms of quality, on-time delivery, and client satisfaction with the end product,” he said. “It’s hard to argue with those successes.”
Brock credits Agile adoption as just one factor in Pragmatics’ continued client satisfaction, even in a demanding industry. “Client satisfaction is the single most important benchmark in the company, and I report it to the CEO formally every month,” he said.
“We recognize that to maintain and expand our work, we need to demonstrate value to our clients every day. This means we need to partner with them and take on their most difficult challenges as if they were our very own.”
Pragmatics incorporates a multi-tiered client engagement strategy that leverages all levels within the company, giving the management team insight into upcoming challenges its clients will face or potential issues the company may not yet be aware of. This system allows Pragmatics to prepare for upcoming challenges before they become problems.
“We measure client satisfaction over time,” explained Brock. “Our management team actually sees how we’re trending in terms of maintaining a high level of client satisfaction across several factors. We all run into problems with projects from time to time, so our ability to recognize challenges early and pull out all the stops to address them is critical to our success. I think it also demonstrates the depth of our commitment.”
Next, we asked Brock about a challenge many contractors face, bidding for recompete awards, and how they can improve a company’s chances of success. “Considering that industry is reporting a 50 percent recompete success rate – and that figure may have dropped more recently – my advice is to run your recompete as if it were new work. Get fresh eyes on your bid,” he said. “For example, don’t assume what your client wants today is the same thing they’ll want in the future.”
“Price has been a key element in many of the recompetes, and many incumbents, although they’re enjoying solid performance with their clients, are not willing to competitively price their recompetes.”
Brock also suggests holding capture managers to a high standard. “If your capture manager isn’t leading the charge and setting a high bar for the win, you may need to get a new capture manager,” he said. “You really need a critical set of eyes on all aspects of your recompete to win. It’s hard enough to win new work, but no company can afford to lose existing work. Folks need to plan and resource their recompetes with that in mind.”
Finally, we asked Brock to share the industry trends he will be keeping an eye on in 2015. He noted that Pragmatics is looking to stay ahead of the curve on multiple fronts. “We’re targeting clients that want to move into a DevOps-based lifecycle, where each stage is completely executed within the cloud,” he said. “We also plan to expand our Scaled Agile Framework (SAF) efforts. DevOps promotes rapid and high quality application deployments. SAF addresses issues such as enterprise architecture, migration, compliance, and synchronizing multiple application development streams and brings together a common vision. We’re using these concepts for a few clients, but we see a growing demand from clients who are already using Agile development and practices.”
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