By Craig Killough
In March of this year, the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, co-chaired in 2015 by former Senator, the Honourable Hugh Segal, and Rick Waugh, former CEO of Scotiabank, released its Ninth Annual Report to the Prime Minister of Canada. The Advisory Committee was established in 2006 to give advice to the Prime Minister on the renewal of the Public Service. The Committee’s objective is to help shape the Public Service into a more effective and efficient institution, distinguished by highly-engaged and highly-skilled people performing critical tasks with professionalism and efficiency.
After five years of contracting budgets, Canada’s Public Service is in a position where it must achieve highly complex objectives with significantly fewer resources. The federal government should be applauded for its use of technological advancements and other methods of maximizing the return on its programmatic investments; however, long-term program success can only be achieved in today’s economic environment through the implementation of modern project management approaches, which includes the recognition that a project’s success relies on a commitment on talent management. This was specifically identified by the Advisory Committee, which noted four major elements on its agenda, two of those being:
- “Operational pace and the effective implementation of government decisions, including reducing cycle time and introducing modern project management techniques;
- Recruitment, and career and leadership development.”
At a time when funding is scarce, governmental agencies must function at the height of efficiency in order to serve the public effectively. How much is at stake if project management within the federal Public Service is merely average? Globally, organizations in the public and private sectors waste some C$109 million for every C$1 billion invested in projects and programs due to poor project performance, according to research results reported in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Pulse of the Profession® report.
While the dollars and cents tell a compelling story, so do statistics on equally important measures. Nearly half of projects are over budget, a third don’t meet their strategic objectives and fifteen percent are deemed failures.
It is essential for governmental leadership to understand that all strategic initiatives are delivered through projects and programs. Too often, highly motivated professionals with noble intentions concentrate on generating positive outcomes without first creating the structure necessary to deliver the desired results – and without comprehending how their outcomes can and should drive broader organizational achievement.
Two years into the federal government’s Blueprint 2020 – the bid to modernize and renew the federal Public Service and position it for 21st Century success – it is reassuring to see that the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee recognizes that modern program management remains instrumental to its ultimate success. In its Ninth Annual Report, the Advisory Committee on the Public Service stated: “To do what Canadians need and expect of them, public servants require modern tools and modern skills. Most importantly, they need talented managers and management structures that will equip and empower them to do their jobs effectively. Policies require effective implementation to reach their intended goals.”
The Advisory Committee’s report specifically addresses “operational pace,” which it defines as “the speed at which departments and agencies are able to anticipate and respond to the needs and expectations of Canadians and the Government.” In the world of project management, PMI would describe this as the need to practice agility. Though the term agility has been used in project management for the past two decades to refer to a series of practices and approaches, it is taking on new meaning as organizations recognize its value as a strategic competence. Organizations that use more than one approach to project management are able to reconfigure their processes and combine different tools and techniques to address their own distinctive challenges.
In today’s fast-moving, perpetually changing landscape, this is an essential strategic competency, and one that is of particular importance to long-term initiatives such as Blueprint 2020. As the advisory committee stated in its report: “We strongly believe that the right kind of process improvements (what we would call in the private sector ‘reducing cycle time’ and introducing modern project management techniques) are in everyone’s interest, and certainly that of the Canadian public.”
Similarly, a formal decision-making process is necessary to help ensure project and program success. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: Capturing the Value of Project Management Through Decision Making, released earlier this year, reveals that when decision making is approached with discipline, 79 percent more projects meet their original goals and business intent. Informed decisions guide projects and programs through planning, implementation and completion. To achieve key objectives, organizations must proactively empower project teams by consistently providing the right information to decision makers at critical points in the project lifecycle.
Among the most significant roadblocks to good decision making – and therefore to project and program success — is a shortage of actionable information available to key project players at the point of decision. According to PMI’s research, decision makers in 81 percent of organizations don’t always have access to what they need. In fact, they often lack even the most fundamental information, such as risk assessments (46 percent), insight into available resources (40 percent) and full knowledge of project requirements (35 percent).
Another prominent challenge project decision makers face is a disconnect between project-level actions and high-level organizational strategy. Only one in five organizations report decision makers at the project level are always familiar with strategy and how projects support it. Consequently, most organizations are failing to benefit from the efficiencies good decisions deliver. When decision makers are familiar with organizational strategy all the time, an average of 78 percent of their organizations’ projects meet original goals, versus 43 percent, when they are not familiar with strategy.
The Importance of Highly-Engaged and Effective Executive Sponsors
Given the ambitious goals of the federal Public Service’s Blueprint 2020, its various initiatives will require the active engagement of executive sponsors – senior administration personnel who make the “business case” for a project and then champion its value and obtain the necessary organizational resources to make the project viable. Where a project manager leads, the executive sponsor operates at the highest level of an organization’s management structure to lay out the requirements and hold others to account. The sponsor initiates and signs off on the project, promoting the change and benefits it is designed to deliver.
Here again, there is cause for optimism in reviewing the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee report. In the report’s conclusions, the Committee writes the following about Blueprint 2020’s objectives: “Prime Minister, all this will require the commitment of the highest levels of government – from you and the Cabinet to the Clerk and deputy ministers, a commitment that you and the Clerk have already confirmed to us. Your support for the Public Service will foster confidence in employees and public confidence in government as a whole.”
The Advisory Committee’s focus on project management, which includes the use of modern project management techniques, recruitment and leadership development to manage government projects effectively, is an important step forward. Assuming the federal government follows through on the approaches outlined in the Advisory Committee’s report, PMI’s research indicates a high probability of Blueprint 2020 achieving its goals and delivering significant long-term value to the citizens of Canada.