What's working inside the prime-sub relationship

In this exclusive analysis of the Washington Technology Insider Report on partnerships, we look at how these relationships succeed today, and what lessons can be learned.

So far in my analysis of our WT Insider Report on the prime-subcontractor relationships, we’ve focused a lot on the negative.

But today, I want to switch gears and focus on what the primes are saying that subcontractors are doing well.

Again, my theme is to point areas where subcontractors can work on capabilities that can make them more valuable to the primes. And I think that focusing on what is going well can offer some important lessons.

Washington Technology and its research partner, Lodestar, asked the primes whether they thought the relationship with subs was getting more difficult, easier or no change.

The results showed that 51 percent said they thought the relationship hadn’t changed, that it had stayed about the same.

Twenty-three percent said it had become somewhat easier, compared to 18 percent who thought it was somewhat more difficult. Only 3 percent thought it was much more difficult, compared to 6 percent who said it had become much easier.

I’ve already written about how the primes say the relationship is harder, but today I’m going to focus on why it is easier.

To follow up on the scoring question, we asked an open-ended question about why they thought the relationship was easier. [We also asked why it is more difficult.]

We received 132 written responses, and Lodestar analyzed these and grouped them in seven categories.

At the top of the list for why it is easier, 20 percent of the primes who thought the relationship was easier said market forces, the business environment and fewer opportunities.

Interestingly, those same reasons were cited by the primes who felt the relationship was getting more difficult.

Improved relationships, teamwork and cooperation were cited by 19 percent of the primes who thought the relationship was easier. Fifteen percent pointed to subcontractors having improved their partnership capabilities, and 12 percent said that primes had improved their partnership capabilities.

Eleven percent said improved systems, processes, tools and technology were making the relationship easier.

Eight percent said that subs were hungrier, and 15 percent of the comments fell into a miscellaneous category.

Let’s look first at some of the comments connected to the current market conditions. The answers here point to how smart companies aren’t lamenting the poor conditions, but are rather trying to become more efficient and effective.

“A more competitive market has forced a greater involvement with teaming, and as a result, the process has become a bit clearer/easier,” wrote one commenter.

“Business opportunities have slowed … subcontractors are now more willing to meet with you to discuss opportunities that they might otherwise dismiss,” wrote another.

“Because of many economic and political factors, weaker subcontractors are being replaced by stronger, more competitive, and technologically proficient ones,” wrote a third.

These companies are working hard at their business and providing the best services to the prime and to the customer, the commenter explained.

Several commenters mentioned better tools for collaboration and identifying good subs. There were mentions of Deltek’s GovWin product, SharePoint applications and teleconferencing that make it easier to communicate.

Don’t discount long-term relationships. It is a people business, so "get to know the prime’s people, and let them get to know yours" was the essence of several comments.

“Companies are realizing loyalty to your partners will allow you to survive in a down economy,” one wrote.

For the primes who said they had become better partners, commenters talked about streamlining their processes, defining working relationships and writing a subcontractor policy.

“We are working on a sub-group as partners, not just suppliers,” one prime wrote.

The written comments – which I’ll send to you if you email me – are chock full of tidbits and advice on what is working well in the relationships. It can provide a roadmap on where to improve your partnering capabilities.

Next up, I’m going to compare and contrast our first report that looked at the relationship from the subcontractors perspective, and the second report which lets the primes have their say.