DAU’s acquisition workshops are often in high demand, as they are presented in person by experienced professionals who are able to tailor the content to an organization’s specific needs. That’s why Hatim “Tim” Merhi, a contract acquisition management officer for Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central in Naples, Italy, reached out to DAU when he needed acquisition training for his team.
“We are a vast region with nine installations stretching across three continents and supporting three combatant commands, so imagine the variation in experience and backgrounds across our staff,” Merhi said. “Most of these folks have zero experience in acquisition. It is a completely foreign language to them.”
Luckily, he had willing translators in Pete Maunz, a contracting professor at DAU’s Norfolk, Va., campus, and Brian Schultz, a program management professor at the Fort Belvoir, Va., campus.
“They wanted to write better work statements, learn how to do market research, and do independent government cost estimates,” Maunz said.
The pair agreed to co-facilitate a Work Statement Workshop (WSM 009) for Merhi and his team, however, there was one problem. The men and women who planned to attend the workshop were scattered across seven installations in six countries: Naval Station Rota in Spain; Naval Air Station Sigonella and Naval Support Activity Naples in Italy; Naval Support Activity Souda Bay in Greece; Naval Support Facility Redzikowo in Poland; Naval Support Facility Deveselu in Romania; and Naval Support Activity Bahrain. It would be too difficult and risky for them to travel to a central location and gather together as a large group given the COVID-19 crisis.
Maunz and Schultz decided to offer the workshop to all of the installations at the same time via video teleconferencing—a feat that had never before been attempted.
“I personally did not have a lot of experience doing virtual teaching or facilitating,” Schultz said. “But there are a lot of resources at DAU, and some of my co-faculty had been teaching online courses for several years, so I was able to tap into their knowledge.”
Another benefit offered by an online alterative? The cost savings when compared to an in-person workshop. “Just think about the travel and the loss of productivity of getting there and back,” he pointed out.
To produce the workshop, the pair enlisted Sherry Smith, a training technician at DAU’s site in Germany.
“She did a fantastic job,” Schultz said.
Her proximity to many of the attendees gave her the added advantage of being able to conduct connectivity checks in the same time zone.
“Those checks were crucial to ironing out any issues and making sure people were set up and could log in before the event started,” Schultz said. “She even walked a few through the process individually.”
When it came to converting the existing workshop material to an online environment, however, Maunz and Schultz realized that there was too much to cover given the demanding schedules of their attendees.
“These are men and women in the trench,” Maunz pointed out. “They’re not contracting officers or program managers.”
Changes would have to be made—and quickly. First, they reduced the duration of the workshop from two weeks of eight-hour days to one week of half-days.
“The consensus is that you don’t want to be in there all day for a virtual training,” Schultz said. “And for this one, we were able to do it in four-hour chunks, which in my opinion is about as long as you want to go.”
Of course, that meant a 6 a.m. start time for them to ensure a noon start time for their attendees—a sacrifice Merhi was quick to acknowledge.
“The DAU instructors woke up EXTRA early to accommodate us,” he said with appreciation.
Second, they pared down the agenda, focusing only on the topics most likely to resonate with the attendees.
“We had several phone conversations with Tim prior to the workshop, so we could get insight into the kinds of things they’re working on,” Schultz said.
In addition, Merhi said he sent “lots of documentation ahead of time” that could be used as real-world examples for exercises and presentations.
They also made adjustments as needed during the workshop—something Schultz said isn’t as common as he would like.
“We don’t often get that from customers. They’re reluctant, or they feel like it will be too hard for us,” he explained. “But I would much rather we change on the fly and do things that are more relevant and valuable to them than just stick with the agenda.” As a result, Merhi said the workshop got “better and better as the week went along.”
One unplanned but successful deviation from the agenda was the inclusion of outside expertise from other military branches facing identical challenges.
“We reached out to the Air Force and the Army in Germany and got their same work statements so the Navy could see how they do it,” Maunz said. “And that is really a key role that DAU supports—to be an information sharing conduit to enable improved acquisition outcomes.”
But where Maunz said he feels the attendees got “the biggest bang for their buck” was in re-drafting their work statements.
“We went over how to write one, and we enforced the standards,” he explained. “And they used their real work statements, so they could see where they had ambiguities and vagueness.”
The attendees seemed to agree, with several sharing their feedback upon completion of the workshop. One called it “phenomenal,” while another said it was “very informative” and that they “enjoyed the fact that it was specific to our region.” And an attendee who was in the middle of working on a contract shared that they were able to “directly apply what we were learning in the class to things on my plate.”
But no one is more grateful than Merhi himself.
“Thanks to the wonderful efforts of the DAU team, the workshop was a huge success despite the global pandemic,” he said. “Our programs were so appreciative of the help they received, and we anticipate awarding contracts with much higher quality in support of our missions.”
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