VA Acquisition Academy Shares Its Learning Formula

VA Acquisition Academy Shares Its Learning Formula

BY PAUL GREGORY

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for providing federal benefits to nearly 20 million veterans and their families. The VA Acquisition Academy (VAAA) trains the acquisition workforce to ensure it efficiently and effectively procures, manages and provides the goods and services required for our nation’s veterans. VAAA is tasked with training a wide range of VA employees to include program and project managers, contracting officers, supplychain managers and facilities managers. VAAA is committed to providing employees with job-relevant developmental opportunities that contribute to greater success in their current positions, support career advancement and positively impact our service to veterans. In support of those goals, VAAA fosters a training system that makes an immediate and meaningful difference by improving work performance, educating learners using realworld workplace scenarios and experiential learning for immediate impact.

KEY CHALLENGES

The construction, leasing and activation of new facilities is an incredibly complex program management environment that requires collaboration with construction, leasing, contracting, finance, information technology and clinical service providers of every type. The staff conducting the activations need specialized and tailored training to assist them in their fast-paced, high-demand, high-performance workload. In response, VAAA, through a partnership with VA’s Office of Capital and Asset Management Engineering and Support and Program Contracting Activity Center, developed customized Program Management Workshops to support Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) in its major construction/lease projects to provide standardized products and structure for activation processes through applied learning workshops tailored to their needs, and delivered on-site on their schedule.

IMPLEMENTED TECHNIQUES AND PRODUCTS

The Program Management Workshops are a unique training initiative, custom designed for program leaders and project managers overseeing mission-critical programs and/or capital project investments. The workshops isolate and address program management impediments that have the potential to impact cost, schedule, performance or customer satisfaction. Participants develop artifacts in support of the program/project and develop a plan to revitalize the program/project and get it back on track, if needed. After each workshop, which ranges from one to four days in length, program managers receive the actual artifacts for their specific program developed by the team with expert guidance and hands-on assistance from VAAA program management practitioners. The value to the government includes: consistent management disciplines/processes/artifacts that have been learned, applied and implemented wholly by an entire program/project team; a sustainable process improvement that is repeatable across other programs and program teams; and an improved management framework.

We begin by conducting a gap analysis to customize the workshop to the specific participants and their individual learning needs. This collaborative evaluation and determination of training needs are essential to our success.

We engage executive leaders at each facility in the planning calls. We then collaborate with executive leaders and site managers to determine dates, content and agenda. Following the workshops, we conduct out-briefs with executive leadership to discuss the way forward, progress made and risks. Collaboration with executive leadership is critical to ensuring we meet stakeholder needs.

We finely tune the workshop agenda and participation to make every minute counts. Individuals attend the sections of a workshop that apply to them. We collaborate on the timing of the sections of the workshop to ensure the widest possible attendance by those who will benefit most. Workshops maximize the use of time for medical center staff to allow them to continue to provide the critical services to veterans while optimizing the time spent in training.

The workshops also include tailored coaching for medical center project teams. Coaches are Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Management (FAC-P/PM) senior-level certified and have activation and construction experience.

SHORT-TERM, LONGTERM RESULTS

To date, we have engaged 22 VAMCs across 12 different Veterans Integrated Service Networks, provided more than 600 coaching hours and delivered more than 1,440 classroom hours of training, with extremely positive feedback.

A participant comment was, “instead of wasting three days in training, I feel like I have gained two weeks.” This is a great description of what we strive for. Other comments include:

“Workshops helped me see the big picture of everything that had to be done and make a plan to get it done,” and “They were great at putting a structure to all the pieces we had been working on.”

Demand for Program Management Workshops continues to grow. Applied learning is shown to be very successful with sites applying principles from the workshops to other projects and asking for additional workshops on additional topics. The program has been so successful in its pilot year of 40 workshops that a second year has started with a goal of 80 workshops planned. The workshops have branched out to other VA administrations and missioncritical programs where applied learning can make a difference.

WHAT’S NEXT?

VAAA is dedicated to training the entire acquisition workforce. We will continue to provide opportunities for members of the acquisition team to train together in a collaborative environment, and meet stakeholder needs by developing and delivering training to address realworld business challenges. VAAA is also dedicated to innovation and training efficiency, moving training to field locations to eliminate travel and time away from the office when possible, developing more virtual and blended learning opportunities and exploring mobile learning applications.

– Paul Gregory is Deputy Chancellor at VA Acquisition Academy

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