In the first year of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s term in office, deliverology has become a sort of buzzword in Ottawa. Shortly after winning the elections last year, the Liberals imported the delivery method developed by Sir Michael Barber, chief adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and flew Barber to Canada several times to provide Trudeau’s cabinet with advice and recommendations on how departments can apply his methods and deliver on priorities.
At the CGE Leadership Summit on “Performing, Measuring, Reporting: Deliverology in Practice” held in Ottawa in October, it became apparent that not only have some Canadian government executives and managers embraced deliverology, they have given it a distinctly Canadian flavor as well.
The sold-out event featured some of the country’s top management experts as well as executives from various government and non-government organizations who are either using deliverology or have seen deliverology in action.
Deliverology has often been criticized for being too heavy on “command and control.” However, Canadian practitioners of deliverology appear to place an emphasis on accountability and collaboration. That was the consensus among many of the summit attendees.
Tony Dean, the Ontario Secretary of the Cabinet from 2002 to 2008 (and now Senator), gave the keynote address. Ontario applied many of the Barber principles in shaping its educationa and health goals during his time in office. He explained the development of deliverology in the Tony Blair administration and attributed its success in achieving the government’s goals to firm and steady pressure. He noted that some aspects of deliverology met pushback from department heads and managers who chafed at the heavy top-down approach.
He related that adjustments were made and that executives understood that the exercise was far more about “accountability” than about “command and control.” This was something the public service was comfortable with.
Dean said the Trudeau Liberal’s approach towards deliverology appears to be “focused on collaboration and capacity building.” He said there is clear indication that extra effort is being made to engage department heads, managers and even frontline workers in the process, get their inputs and involve them more in the decision making.
Dean emphasized that many of deliverology “success factors” were within reach in most departments in Ottawa. The idea, for instance, of focusing on a few priorities with clear accountabilities and aligned budgets, was not new. Every department does it, and it does not mean that other functions be neglected.
He pointed to the necessary sponsorship from the prime minister as something that could be beneficial to many departments. Chief political executives do not always have the time or inclination to keep a line-of-sight on delivering priorities. Tony Blair showed it was possible, as did Dalton McGuinty in Ontario. He also observed that regular “stock-take” sessions with senior politicians and public service officials had to be seen as a positive development, but argued that its success depended on the collection of good usable data for policy and measurement.
The emphasis on a collaborative development of information and on regular progress reports had to be welcomed, as was the need for transparency of targets and public reporting. In an age where calls for “open government” are heard daily, this new reality was unavoidable. Finally, he urged that departments find a way to align their budgets with priorities. “That’s the key in deliverology,” said Dean.
Prof. Greg Richards of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, along with Murray Kronick and Kasia Polanska of Interis-BDO, delivered the lunchtime address on “Deliverology in Practice.” Their objective was to capture the conventional wisdom on this management technique as it has been applied around the world. Their conclusion was that Deliverology did deliver on better coordination and accountability. It also proved to be very effective tool in helping governments focus on key policy commitments. The long-term impact on governments was still in doubt, however. Past experience has shown that change management techniques are difficult to execute, and ambitions like Deliverology will put any executives to the test.
Their study of past experiences of Deliverology showed that it was possible to achieve as long as government departments used an evolutionary, not revolutionary approach, and scaled up steadily to reach realistic targets and tolerances. They advised that the new method of measuring-and-delivering would likely require a multi-disciplinary set of talents—especially in structuring the data so that it can be traced and monitored regularly. Responsibility for results had to cascade down to the lowest levels of the bureaucracy. Not surprisingly, it was critical to secure senior management commitment and to engage all staff in the transition to a Deliverology method of measuring and achieving success.
All the speakers at the summit provided some key advice on how to make deliverology work. Their techniques never bore the British moniker, but they certainly were similar to them in their drive to deliver results for political masters and for the general public.
Ross Pattee, the Executive Director of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, demonstrated how principles derived from deliverology, such as a hard fixation on key performance goals, helped the board cut down a significant backlog of cases. He noted how a committed leadership was key in making the objectives “real” for all employees. Deliverology, he argued, could be a rallying cry to motivate staff to realize “stretch” objectives.
Craig Szelestowski, a government transformation specialist and president of Lean Agility, illustrated some techniques in making Deliverology goals a reality. He hammered the importance of having a clear direction and focus in order for deliverology to succeed. He identified several key deliverology hurdles, including the dangers of low buy-in from staff, the competition of priorities, and focusing too much on particular metrics instead of the general goals of any program. He said managers and employees alike should “own” their deliverology project so that everyone will work towards its success.
Lou Di Gironimo, the General Manager of Toronto Water for the City of Toronto, also gave a tangible demonstration of how Deliverology could be delivered. Indeed, for about a decade now, Di Geronimo has been using a management method with strong similarities to deliverology. This has been very instrumental in Toronto Water being able to improve the delivery of vital services to its customers of 3.4 million residents and businesses. It’s not easy. Toronto’s aging water distribution infrastructure makes the “deliverology of water” challenging. It requires massive infusions of capital investments and, truth be told, greater sources of revenue in order to pay for it. He argued that only by delivering on results—and driving that message convincingly through unimpeachable data—could the investments necessary by the city be secured.
He described Toronto Water’s extensive efforts in detailing its performance measurements and benchmark goals. He described the various dashboard used to illustrate progress and the provision of “open data” to further enlist people in the drive to meet objectives, not least in dealing with the backlog of deferred maintenance. He emphasized the need for “routine”—one of Sir Michael Barber’s key tools to ensure steady progress in meeting goals.
Very often, he said, delivery approaches focus on “managing toward results” rather than intent. This leads to managers being fixated in meeting targets that have little to do with the organization’s real goals. In that context, it is vitally important for department executives to convince their staffs about their mandates. “Managers and supervisors need to know that deliverology doesn’t mean they could lose their jobs,” he said. “They need to be able to operate in a safe environment so that they are not afraid to offer new ideas.” Indeed, the success of deliverology depends on it at Toronto Water.
Ian Williams, the business intelligence and analytics unit manager for the Toronto Police Service, offered his take on how his organization has put the Barber priority of “stock taking” to heart. He spoke on the importance of reporting and data visualization in communicating results and progress-on-priorities.
From 2008 to 2014, he had been leading the Toronto Police Service Intelligence Division’s team of researchers and analysts that support crime investigators. The team has been instrumental and helping the service make sense of information from crime statistics so that leaders can make more informed and faster decisions. Williams reminded the audience that data should not only be accurate and relevant, but it should also be digestible. He described how the Toronto Police Services achieve this is through the use of computer-based, visual dashboards that “tell a story” rather than just a jumble or numbers.
For example, colour-coded maps can easily show which areas of the city are experiencing heavy incidence or particular crimes, during certain times of the year. Such a map would not only be useful for the police force in planning their patrol deployments but could also be helpful for city planners or government officials thinking of public services and programs.
Tom Rosser, executive deputy minister for strategic policy at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), said that very often organizations make the mistake of laying out far too many goals. He observed that such an approach could have easily bogged down DFO which has a mandate that encompasses literally an ocean of responsibilities from tides and currents to marine navigation, fisheries management, scientific research and protection of aquatic species, to Coast Guard operations, Aboriginal fishing and more.
In the end, DFO, like the other carefully selected presenters at this path-breaking conference, demonstrated how Deliverology methods have already been established. They helped the DFO better focus its organizational goals and was instrumental in making sure efforts and resources where directed on projects that were aligned with the government’s strategy. What’s left now in Ottawa is the challenge of connecting excellent practices to the political needs of the government. Not easy, the presenters would agree, but definitely possible.