How to Manage Past Performance

May 12, 2007 on 8:43 pm | In Bids and Proposals | Comments Off

One question I get frequently has to do with a company’s past performance. With the government attempting to use more commercial practices, while balancing that with the need to protect the public dollars through competitive sourcing, one (partial) solution is to put greater emphasis on past performance. In this way, contractors who have done well will be “rewarded” with a better competitive score than those contractors who have a poor performance record. According to FAR, (see below) if you have NO past performance, you are to receive a neutral rating on past performance. The idea behind that stroke of wisdom was to encourage new players to enter the market. In fact, any contracting officer who has equally scored (technical) proposals will ALWAYS go with the vendor that can demonstrate successful past performance since having quality vendors will always be “in the government’s” best interests. So while the regulation SAYS that you will not be down-graded for lacking experience, the reality is that you will be.

So how do you establish and protect a good past performance record? We are going to start with the assumption that you actually HAVE performed well in your past contracts. If not, then this advice is not going to help you. The best way to document your past performance is to set up a file in your computer that records EVERY task you have successfully accomplished in the last three years. Most past performance requests are limited to the past three years. Typically as well they will ask that the task be of the same “size and complexity” as the one being solicited. Make sure that you record the contract number, its value, its dates of performance, and who the technical monitor(s) and contracting officer(s) were. For these points of contact record the email, the mailing address, the phone number (including mobile if you have it) and a fax number. Additionally, try to get a central number for the contracting shop. People have a bad habit of moving or retiring and it can become difficult to locate them. Then in as much detail as possible, describe EVERYTHING that you did to perform that contract. Why all this detail? Well, very few future jobs will be EXACTLY like this one, but if you can capture enough pieces and parts of past jobs so that it looks like the current opportunity, you are in much better shape.

FAR also permits the contracting officer to consider other relevant experience by stating that “The evaluation should take into account past performance information regarding predecessor companies, key personnel who have relevant experience, or subcontractors that will perform major or critical aspects of the requirement when such information is relevant to the instant acquisition.” FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iii). So make sure that your database captures these elements as well.

When you are ready to respond to a specific solicitation, drag this file out and review it for anything that looks, sounds, or smells similar. From this detailed description, boil it down into the salient points that relate as directly as possible to the current statement of work (SOW). Try very hard not to overstate your accomplishments, but by all means frame it in the best possible light.

Now – a key step that is too often overlooked. Contact each and every person listed in this tailored write-up and VERIFY that they agree with what you have said. If not, clarify the details and if you can’t come to agreement – DON’T use that reference. This process gives you the additional opportunity to renew old acquaintances and do a little marketing, even if it just to let them know that you are still active in the business and constantly seeking new opportunities. If in fact they are NOT happy with your past performance, this gives you an opportunity to mend some customer relations.

Every project (and a contract is a “project” by Project Management Institute definitions) should have a lessons learned document in the close-out file. The update of the “past performance database” (or whatever you call it) should also be mandated by your company procedures. Remember – no job is done until the paperwork is complete, and that is particularly true for government work. Keep this past performance list current. It allows you to respond much more quickly, accurately and completely to a request for past performance references. Do it NOW. Don’t wait until you need it – then will be too late.

FAR Reference: FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iv) In the case of an offeror without a record of relevant past performance or for whom information on past performance is not available, the offeror may not be evaluated favorably or unfavorably on past performance.

Additional questions? Go to and let me know!

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