The U.S. Army Contracting Command has established communities of practice to help its business processes and practices look and behave more alike than differently in critical, complex areas of interest across the enterprise.

"A community of practice provides a forum for subject-matter experts and practitioners of a discipline to interact and to share knowledge and experiences pertinent to their tasks, and to solve business problems," said J.R. Richardson, chief, ACC Contracting Operations. "CoPs provide a mechanism for individuals to keep current in the developments within a shared discipline through communication."

ACC is developing four communities: source selection, foreign military sales, peer review, and cost and price. With outreach to other organizations within and outside the Army, CoP membership has grown continually.

Establishing a CoP "means identifying a champion and senior advisors who embrace each of the community's goals and objectives," Richardson said. "In addition, the communities will have members and other special advisors who are knowledgeable and experienced in the particular discipline as well as committed to the community. While each of the communities are unique and require their leaders to have specific skill sets and backgrounds, they also cross over in certain ways and are encouraged to cross-communicate and share resources whenever needed."

For example, the source selection community of practice and peer review CoP share members since the source selection process is directly impacted by the peer review process. Findings, whether positive or negative, identified during peer reviews may be items that should be shared across the enterprise such that they are institionalized and we learn from them.

According to Jason Detko, chief, ACC Contracting Operations, Contracting Policy Division, the concept of a community of practice is not a new one. It is essentially a group of people who have a desire to communicate, collaborate, share information and experience, and find ways to solve problems and issues within their area of practice or profession.

"It is important to establish communities around areas of practice that are complex and where capability and expertise must be sustained," Detko said.

"The government is experiencing a 'brain drain' as the baby boomers draw closer to retirement. We must find ways to capture and pass on what they know. In addition to working toward standardizing and achieving consistency in business processes, preserving existing knowledge and growing new expertise is a mission readiness imperative. Further, establishing a ready capability to communicate and collaborate virtually to assist practitioners is a valuable, efficient approach given the budgetary constraints across the government."

Richardson suggested that the idea isn't so much to do things differently, but rather to view and do things more alike than differently across the enterprise. This concept is in keeping with the strategic priority to standardize, improve, and ensure high-quality contracting support, business processes, and policies across the organization.

"Even within the same organization, there can be vast differences in the way the same practice, action, or activity is thought of and executed," Richardson said.

One example, Richardson said, would be the point at which the contracting office is engaged in the process of preparing a complex service requirement to be competitively awarded could vary from program to program but can be a determining factor in the success and timeliness of its execution. Early involvement by all stakeholders enables the team to reach a common understanding of roles and responsibilities, critical documentation requirements, and realistic milestone schedule from acquisition planning through contract award.

"The objective is to work toward a more consistent approach to processes and execution, as well as apply best practices and lessons learned. It can make cross-utilization of resources inside and outside organizations easier. Over time, when our alikeness begins to overcome our differentness wherever possible, we will likely see that industry will also benefit as the solicitation and source selection process becomes more consistent and predictable," said Richardson.

The Source Selection CoP was the first to be stood up within ACC, borne of an integrated process team established to produce source selection training in support of the Department of Defense Source Selection Procedures.

"When DoD marked July 1, 2011, as the issuance date for the new procedures, the need for a CoP specializing in the business of source selection became crystal clear," Richardson said.

It is important that the CoPs reach out beyond the Army and into other DoD entities, Richardson noted.

"The SSCoP membership is a joint-service program," Richardson said. "In addition to representation from most ACC organizations, there is now member representation from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Program Executive Office Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Procurement), Army Medical Command, the Air Force Acquisition Center of Excellence, the Naval Air Systems Command's Acquisition Center of Excellence, and the Defense Acquisition University."

Detko said one of the immediate benefits of the SSCoP was the training created for the DoD source selection procedures.

"In addition to the charter and communication plan, this was the group's first tasking, Detko said. The training was delivered to the various organizations by their respective SSCoP members with the assistance of the ACC Office of Counsel," he said.

Another major undertaking of the SSCoP was revision of the Army Source Selection Manual, now entitled the Army Source Selection Supplement to the DoD Source Selection Procedures. This document is now aligned with the new DoD procedures. It was written and reviewed by the SSCoP with further vetting across the Army, Detko said. The draft AS3 is currently in the review process at DASA (P), and there is coordination taking place to resolve questions as it moves forward

The SSCoP developed a website, with a team discussion board for internal CoP collaboration, a general discussion board where questions can be submitted, a frequently asked question board, and the "tip of the day," Richardson said.

"There are also highly relevant articles from various sources, to include those from the National Contract Management Association posted under 'tools of the trade', and a command counsel corner - - news you can use tab that provides a breakdown of recent, relevant Government Accountability Office and Court of Federal Claims cases, to help practitioners understand what the bottom-line takeaways and main points are in a few pages versus the pages and pages as the cases are published," Richardson said.

"Communities of practice are true force multipliers for the global contracting community to leverage and share resources across the joint enterprise," remarked Detko..

For more information contact Virginia Mitchell at