At many agencies, finding a great product to boost efficiency or improve results is far easier than the process to acquire the product. The economic downturn forced local and state governments to rein in spending, while the sequester had a similar effect at federal agencies. Additionally, Inspectors General offices face unique scrutiny – complex procurement processes are often put in place to protect against the perception of favoritism towards suppliers.

There’s good news too, though. The more specific the procurement process, the more likely you are to secure funding for products which will genuinely improve your performance. Procurement isn’t any easier for other projects than it is for your own – and if you take note of the following steps, you will be viewed as a reliable champion of researched, supported, and fully-documented projects.

Plan Ahead

Every agency needs products and services to keep things running, and the procurement department cannot turn around documents for review as quickly as anyone would like, including themselves. If you wait until a busy period such as fiscal year-end, you’re especially unlikely to receive feedback quickly.

Don’t wait for funding to pursue a project.
This is the single most important step. Projects with great supporting evidence of value will often gain funding, but someone first needs to gather this evidence. If you wait for funding before you start justifying the purchase, you may never gain the funding at all.

Let the procurement department know that you have something you want to purchase, and tell them that you want to take care of any preliminary steps.
The most successful project champions are proactive with the procurement department, allowing them to handle requests without racing towards a deadline. There will likely be a checklist of items which can be completed before all supporting documentation is ready for final submission.

Ask for vendor quotes well before the end of the procurement process.
While a product quote is often seen as the last step in the process, moving this forward reduces deadline pressure. Specific quotes often require discussion of exactly what’s needed, and having these conversations with vendors earlier in the procurement process will also make it easier to defend the value of the product throughout the procurement process.

Determine stakeholder groups, and involve them early.
In the case of software products, you will likely need to consult with an in-house technology or risk management group to ensure that the product will meet their own security and capability requirements. They’ll need time to vet the product to make these determinations.

Demonstrate the Project’s Value

As an expert in your functional area, you have a much better understanding of how a project will help your team than anyone in the procurement department. Taking the time to thoroughly spell out the benefits is often the difference between quick approval and constant revisions.

Explain bottom-line benefits.
When explaining the value of a product, make sure to translate that value to time saved. For example, case management software brings all of your data together in a single, searchable, secure location. Compared to an agency using spreadsheets or antiquated solutions, this can save hundreds or thousands of hours of investigator time spent locating, aggregating, and reporting on data.

Use external justification when possible.
Discussions with peer agencies may reveal that your agency has fallen behind the curve in technology. Explanations on the need to catch up, coupled with the benefits these agencies have seen in implementing new technology, can provide real examples of the benefits you are likely to gain by pursuing the project. You may also be subject to a state or federal statute that requires a technology update, such as one than mandates higher security or more reliable document storage.

Be Ready to Act Quickly

Sometimes, projects unexpectedly get cancelled or denied. In these cases, money may become available for other projects, provided they can be approved quickly. Taking these additional steps will help ensure that the procurement department has confidence in your ability to quickly provide a project which is well-supported and quickly approvable.

Build a strong professional relationship with the procurement department.
Communicate closely with the procurement department throughout the fiscal year, telling them about your projects and letting them know you are completing the required paperwork well ahead of time. Make sure that you’re presenting the required documentation in a way that allows them to work quickly and efficiently. Finally, as the year-end nears, let them know if you have any projects “written up” which have not yet secured funding.

Procure products In the easiest way possible.
Planning for a project in advance also allows champions to include it in the budget for the upcoming year, which is far easier than ‘finding’ money for the project after departments have been funded for the year.

If a product is available on the GSA schedule, many agencies can secure funding without going through an arduous RFP process, which can reduce the paperwork load substantially for both the project champion and the procurement department.

Finally, ask your procurement department if there are any recommendations they have on making the process easier for you or for them. They understand their process better than anyone, and they’re there to help you get what you need to be successful.

Final Thoughts
The most stressful part of the procurement process is racing against a deadline, and the most difficult part is justifying a purchase. The most successful project champions will (1) prepare procurement requests well ahead of any funding deadlines and (2) make sure to demonstrate strong time savings when building a case for a purchase. When money is available for projects, procurement officers come to you – they will know that your projects are necessary, well-defended, and successful.