What Is a Program?

By Lloyd McCoy, Senior Market Intelligence Manager

If you’ve attended any of immixGroup’s briefings or webinars, you’ve probably heard us say that programs are the most important insertion points for most technology purchases within the federal government, especially for COTS products. In this blog we’ll walk through why they are important and what you should know before engaging with program offices.

But first, what is a program?

Programs, or more formally Programs of Record, are budget line items that exist to fulfill an agency’s mission. The Department of Defense’s definition is a good one and applies governmentwide: a funded effort that provides a new, improved, or continuing materiel, weapon or information system or service capability in response to an approved need. That pretty much sums up a program’s purpose, whether it’s DHS, USDA or DOD. Program managers run the program and most programs include some IT. Some programs are only IT focused.

Program Offices, Program Managers

Programs are so important because they are at the sweet spot of a department’s technology acquisition hierarchy with the program manager being senior enough to have a role in shaping the strategy and policy discussions surrounding the program’s mission. In addition, his or her office also represents the end user who will be using your product or service in the course of doing their job. Consequently, the program office has a central role in influencing the specifications and choices around the product or service.

Considerations Selling to Government

With all of that said, there are three considerations that are critical to success in selling to the government.

(1) The main concerns for a program office are cost, schedule and performance. Explain how your service or product has a positive impact on a project’s cost, schedule and performance.  Most programs have a very narrow charter and specific projects within their program. Know what those are before reaching out to the program office. Understand that while there is budgeted funding associated with that program, the amount is determined beforehand and what can be disbursed may be limited. Also, a program officer must adhere to a multi-year strategy and any new technology must align to whatever acquisition flexibility they have at their disposal.

(2) The program officer oversees the Department’s critical assets and is responsible for ensuring the vendor’s product or service can help them fulfill their mission and address preexisting gaps. This is why being very targeted is essential and understanding the program’s purpose, context within the larger agency mission and pain points is required.  Ensure the product or service is addressing a real need and has solutions that fit within and for that program. That also means being able to translate the applicability of your past performance.

(3) Success will also depend on timing, i.e. understanding the hot spots during the fiscal year. Outside of busy September, early spring is also a very important time of the year for the program office. That’s because by late March, most program offices will want to have at least half of their money queued up and/or already allocated. It’s also a period when agencies and their program offices will often shift around funds (“reprogram”) to higher priorities. Lastly, early spring is when program offices begin ramping up internal deliberations over what requirements will look like for the next fiscal year. With all of those trends converging, the February – May period is an opportune time for building your pipeline and influencing requirements for the upcoming fiscal year.

While the program office doesn’t sign contracts, getting stickiness with them is essential to buy-in from the government for your product or service. Understanding their mission and having conversations around pain points and challenges, in addition to the technical specifications or “ones and zeros,” will go a long way towards influencing future contract actions and will help them justify purchasing your solution.

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Here’s a link to some of the latest FY21 on-demand webinars the immixGroup Market Intelligence team has recently released we thought you might be interested in viewing.

About Lloyd McCoy Jr.
Lloyd McCoy is a manager on immixGroup’s Market Intelligence organization. He has a M.S. in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University, a M.A. in Public Policy and a B.A. in Political Science, both from the University of Maryland. Lloyd leads the commercial arm of the Market Intelligence team, leveraging market analysis and purchasing trends to help Arrow’s suppliers and partners shorten their sales cycles. Prior to joining immixGroup, Lloyd was a senior analyst in the Intelligence Community for eight years, serving in a variety of senior analytic and project management positions in the U.S. and abroad.

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