How to Leap Hurdles in the OTA Race 

By Iain Skeete

Some time has passed since I stepped in front of an established, traditionally-trained audience to promote a revitalized focus on nontraditional acquisition through Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs).

Since then, congressional support has been amplified, DoD guidance improved significantly, numerous high-visibility OTAs are in administration, and companies have been able to unveil real truths about the current maturity and future potential of emerging technologies.

Today, a successful prototyping project can be mapped to one basic concept: reciprocal communication.

It’s easy to say, complex to execute. The underpinning incentives of the federal government versus the private sector may vary, but during the OTA process, the two parties must become an integrated unit that coalescences around a shared vision and common understanding.

To assist future teams executing under 10 U.S.C. 2371b, the statute authorizing DoD to carry out prototype projects, I’ve collected a list of some barriers that were proven to disrupt  projects’ momentum as a result of not maintaining real-time dialogue and transparency.

These are obvious and important topics that were discussed throughout project ramp-up. However, with our expedited and unorthodox pace, the depth of understanding was not mutually shared. I’ll cast light on two of these scenarios now and provide more observations in future posts.


1)     Stabilize the Target

Typically, a tremendous amount of energy goes into designing what the problem statement and subsequent competition will look like. In my experience, due to a multitude of reasons, clarifying the exit criteria was often an afterthought resigned to being refined post-award. This resulted in a vague set of difficult-to-measure objectives.

In some cases, this gave rise to aimless performance and critical assessments of progress. A verified understanding of what is expected at the project’s conclusion is essential, especially since formal prototype acceptance has a direct correlation to seamlessly transitioning into follow-on efforts.

Projects involving disruptive technologies may logically involve ambiguous milestones, whereas projects encompassing incremental innovation (like improving upon a legacy system) will likely reflect a tighter set of objectives.

If the government elects to keep the end-state described at a very high level, that’s fine. You just need to ensure the standards you will be assessed against throughout the project are equally forgiving. And no, defining a clear target should never equate to over-specification or bounded innovation.


2)     Terms & Conditions as an Enabler:

For the agreement’s structure, I have two key recommendations:

First, jointly cultivate a contractual mechanism that supports a solution’s evolution throughout the project’s lifecycle. It’s to your advantage to determine a distinct outcome, but do not over-specify the answer’s composition.

Secondly, let the creators create. Consider including language within the agreement that facilitates technical progression in order to rapidly take advantage of beneficial (and maybe unplanned) advancements. Be cognizant of the solution’s potential beyond the instant application.

Real-time technical pivots are inherently part of R&D-centric efforts, however, contractual or legal resistance may be encountered if a change involves modifying the agreement and taking on additional costs.

Disenchantment can be avoided by including source language that reinforces basic research and development principles and clearly permits scaling explorative efforts within that project.

These are just two areas worthy of additional focus.  In my next post, I will outline two additional, and equally important, concepts to consider for your next OTA pursuit.