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Leading Projects in the Government of Canada, episode 1: Improving project management in the Government of Canada with Roch Huppé

In this episode, we speak with Roch Huppé, the Comptroller General of Canada, about improving project management in the Government of Canada.

Mr. Huppé explains how new Treasury Board policy tools and directives have been designed to help public service leaders deliver projects by setting out new roles and functions to support successful project delivery.

He also discusses how the measure of project success has changed. Success used to mean being simply delivered according to plan, on time and within budget. Now, a project is successful when its risks and benefits are managed throughout as well.

Tune in to hear more about why, in Mr. Huppé's view, delivering successful projects in today's public service is not only about "ticking the box" on a project's planning checklist, but rather about being nimble and agile to ensure projects meet needs now and in the future.

Duration: 42:42
Date: December 16, 2019


Pablo Sobrino: My name is Pablo, Pablo Sobrino, and I am a Distinguished Fellow of the [Canada] School [of Public Service] and I am here to interview you on the subject of project management.

Roch Huppé: Okay thank you. I am Roch Huppé, evidently, and I am the Comptroller General of Canada. It is a real pleasure for me to be here with you today.

Pablo Sobrino: Perfect. So I will launch right into the questions.

Pablo Sobrino: As champion for project management, why would you say project management matters?

Roch Huppé: You know what? Project management is basically everywhere, right? It's a series of activities that we do to deliver on important initiatives so, again, we sometimes forget about it. Regardless of what we do, if it's a transformation: you know, an agenda item that we need to implement or we need to tackle; if it's a large-scale investment that we need to deal with; the basis of project management will apply.

So therefore, if, obviously, you don't have any rigour, or you don't have a good understanding of project management, I think that you are putting your business at risk. So, and it's been obviously proven that these organizations that actually invest in solid project management and ensuring that people have a good understanding have actually—there's a direct link with that capacity and basically wasting money. So again, how we do things is really important. And I see project management as how we do things.

Pablo Sobrino: Well that's great. So we're going to go through some of the tools that you have put in place to help all project managers across government manage those responsibilities.

Pablo Sobrino: We all know of projects that have not lived up to their promises and have achieved disappointing results. Based on your experience with previous projects, what do you think are the most common causes of project failure?

Roch Huppé: It's that we're too optimistic about what we want to do. You've probably often noticed if you ask, let's say you ask someone to show you how their project is doing  after implementing a major initiative...

Often you look at these famous "dashboards" and then you will see that everything is green. We are already asking ourselves the question. When I look at a dashboard and everything is green, the little flags are already appearing. What we're not doing right, is really subjecting ourselves to a real challenge function. Or  we just do it on paper. We do it to "tick the box;" tick a box to say that we do it, we put in place certain systems, except often the objective is not achieved.

That is to say, it doesn't give the real picture, or it doesn't offer a challenge function that is really objective. Then you find yourself in situations where you think everything is fine and then it's not always the case.

This is really dangerous. It's difficult to submit ourselves to challenges that are really real because obviously we don't like it. We don't like to be criticized or told that there's something wrong. So often it results from a governance that is not entirely correct or that is not  doing an optimal job of ensuring that we have an effective challenge.

Obviously, governance must include the players who are important, the key players, the people the initiative affects. And then, often again, I would tell you that governance is probably the place where "we tick the box" the most or where we have a committee of this or that, without really looking at the effectiveness and the results that this committee offers. That is, often there are discussions at these committees. Often, the discussions are there, there are recommendations made, but—the project managers, the team that delivers the project, they don't apply the recommendations. So it's nice to have committees; it's nice that these people meet; but we have to make sure that the recommendations we have and the challenge function are really used to improve the chances of success.

In conclusion, the other thing I would say is that we often focus on the wrong thing. We deliver something, and often it is business that is complex, of course. Then, over the course of the project or initiative, the only thing we have in mind—and I have experienced it; I have done it—is: let's assume we are building a system. At the moment, in the development, we start to have little fears that the system will not be ready and that our objective is really to meet deadlines, to meet the famous date that we absolutely must have a system. And then we start by even cutting corners, and saying that we will fix it afterwards.

It is not always correct to remove things, to decipher a project, as we say. But we must understand the impact of our decisions. So we find ourselves at a stage where we just forget the benefits that are anticipated by the famous project. We put it on the "backburner." Then we often focus on the wrong things, we misjudge the risks at the different stages of our initiative, because the risks change over time.

Often these projects are projects that are implemented over several years. The environment is changing: the risk assessment should be redone as we move forward, and we forget to revalidate. We did that at first and we forget to revalidate. I could talk about a lot of other things that also jeopardize a project, but I think you have an idea of the big lines or what we do with decisions without understanding the impact on the anticipated objectives of a project.

Pablo Sobrino: In your community of deputy ministers, what is the conversation about project management issues?

Roch Huppé: First of all, I think the deputy ministers' community understands the importance of ensuring there is good project-management capacity. That said, it's all people who are busy; often when you're busy, obviously you cut corners in some things.

I think there is a growing recognition, however, that in project management; time needs to be taken to do it well.

That said, my concerns are really... it's a concern over ensuring the community of people who can be called senior—deputy ministers, even assistant deputy ministers—really understand their roles and responsibilities to ensure projects within their organizations are well managed and delivered.

I'm not sure—for example, and I include myself in this—that each deputy minister, or each senior person, understands how and what their role is in challenging a project.

And I'm not sure these people really understand the importance of creating governance that will give them the information they need to make decisions. Because, obviously, when—as I said earlier—you have a dashboard that's always green, you have to start asking yourself questions.

Then, we say, then it happens frequently there. It happens frequently and then we tend to say "but, oh my God, I have a great team." So again, in our roles and responsibilities as senior executives and the capacity we have, I'm not sure we understand exactly what we should do and how we should do it. We rely a lot on the people around us, we rely a lot on the information that comes to us, but we have to make sure that the information is correct: we have to make sure it's the truth.

What a deputy minister really wants to do is talk about complex cases, talk about the real difficulties in trying to find solutions, and not miss these discussions. You want to have the hard discussions.

Then I think—if I would say what really worries me a little—it's to make sure that we have the right controls in place and the right mechanisms. so people at different levels have the right discussions.  

Pablo Sobrino: The Project Management Strategy, which was endorsed by the Board of Management and Renewal a few years ago, raised awareness on the importance of project management practices and highlighted capacity challenges at all levels in the project management domain of the Government of Canada. Progress has been made, and one of the key elements of the strategy that will drive the most significant outcomes for the Government of Canada is the introduction of new policy instruments on planning and management of investments, and the management of projects and programmes. What can you tell us about this new policy and directive? And in your view, can this new policy fix things?

Roch Huppé: So first of all, I am extremely happy to say that we've been resetting a lot of our policies at the Comptroller General—and some of our key ones were in the world of investment planning—and I am very happy to say that our phase 1 has been approved by Treasury Board ministers on April 11. And therefore, we have this this new, overarching policy on the planning and management of investments that basically oversees and is an overarching policy. And under that we have a series of directives. As an example, we have our first directive that was approved on project management and programmes. And then we're going to have a series of revised directives around procurement and real property, and so on.

And the reason it was really important for us was that there's a connection between a lot of these activities. And therefore instead of attacking, you know, large-scale projects, or large-scale investments in a very vertical way, we wanted to ensure that people attack it in a very horizontal fashion. So therefore, when you're talking about a large-scale project, as an example, usually there's a complex procurement in there. So making sure that you implicate your procurement expertise early on in a discussion is crucial, and not at the back end. Same way that we transformed the world of financial management—you know, 10 years ago—recognizing the importance of bringing to the table chief financial officers very early on, because there's usually crucial funding decisions, and funding strategies that need to be discussed. So again, hopefully, that overarching policy will allow us to ensure that the connections are made and the links are made between the key activities under project management.

Now, what I do want to say is that policies don't fix everything. Right? So again, as I always say, we at TBS could write any number of policies: if people don't understand them, if people don't apply them and don't see the value in them, you're not going to see any change at all.

So for us, hopefully, in addition to these policies, what we're trying to do is making people aware of the importance of project management, and ensuring that, you know, there's a—people recognize the added value of people that have certain certification, certain credentials in project management. We're hoping that the days of when someone has a very complex project to deliver, whereby you would turn to your, you know, very bright person and say "Here, why don't you do that at the corner of your desk, in addition to your daily job?" I'm hoping that these days are over. I am hoping that there's a recognition, like we did 10 years ago with chief financial officers, recognition that there are some people out there that have the credentials, and will add value, and ensure success in delivering these large-scale projects. That means having a community, having people basically involved, having people with a vision about what project management should be, and also having available the right training for the different levels of people.

Pablo Sobrino: So what are the expected benefits of the new policy and directive? In other words, what change do you expect to see?

Roch Huppé: I really hope to see a level of rigour and a recognition of the importance of the function of a project manager.

I'm not naive in the sense that I expect it to be there tomorrow morning: when we implemented the Chief Financial Officer model, it took several years. Our policies push for the identification of a senior person in organizations who will be recognized as the expert in these fields. It means people who work with us as I said. Your job will be to push the vision and sell, in a way, the importance of the activity and the different skills we will ask these people to have.

Greater rigour... I hope one of the benefits will be the development of a capacity that will be recognized, and then the recognition of the added value of having good processes in place with people who are competent in the field. Then, as I was saying earlier, the importance of people recognizing their roles and responsibilities, because there are several actors involved in delivering an important program or transformation. It's important that these people understand their role well.

And then I hope they  will have a significant focus on it. Then this, I hope it will happen much faster.

When you look at a famous dashboard, you look at 3 things in general, okay? We look at whether the project is on time; we look at whether it is within the scope, if I can say; and then we look at whether it is still within the budget. These are the 3 things that define whether the project is on the right track.

There are 2 very important things that should be added. That's the notion of risk: are risks assessed on an ongoing basis? And then, the notion of benefits. The definition of benefits, and I'll give an example. When I was at Revenue Canada, we had a process to evaluate the benefits at the end of the project. When we had implemented the project, we looked to see if it was correct; we looked to see if after 1 or 2 years were the expected benefits really there? At the beginning of the project, we defined what we thought the benefits were to be, and then after implementation we came to check if the benefits were there. But during that time, and these were projects that took several years, decisions were made that could often alter the nature of the project in some way. But we never asked ourselves, "what happens with the expected benefits?"

So what I would like to see is really—then the notion of benefits management in the project management world is really the in thing, and rightly so—it's really a continuous way to look at, when we make decisions, what does it do to our benefits?

And then, we may say that we are changing our expected benefits—that is correct, but at least be aware of the impact our decisions have on the expected benefits.

Pablo Sobrino: So the new policy sets out some new and expanded responsibilities for executives who are by-and-large the audience of this podcast, and they are sponsoring projects and programmes and enabling project delivery in their organizations. In your view, what are the key things executives need to know about the policy?

Roch Huppé: So again, you know, around the deputy heads it is clear what they are responsible for. And they are responsible for things like setting up the right governance piece. They are responsible for designating a project sponsor. They are now responsible for sending out an appointment letter to that person, outlining the roles and responsibilities of these project sponsors.

So we are trying to get people to do these things because we want them to clearly recognize their accountabilities and roles, their respective roles in these projects. We are hoping that executives, when they go through that, realize that there is a difference between delivering a project, or being in charge of a project that strictly affects your own organization, versus very horizontal projects in nature. And how they have an obligation to make sure that they do the right consultation and that they bring into their governance models these people that are impacting it.

So we want to make sure that executives understand that they have a leadership role to play, that the governance piece is key, and that we're just not in the world of ticking the boxes. And that came out in the Phoenix audit by the Auditor General, right? It's all over the audit, and what he said in a lot of cases is the form was over the substance. So there was a form there—and we're good at that in the government, sadly, we're very good: we don't want to go against any policy; we take the policy and we start ticking the boxes, right?

So again, I am hoping that we're not doing these things from a forms perspective, but that we put the substance in there: so, a governance that is nimble and that will be able to be adjusted as we evolve in the project, and that is giving us the intended benefits of the governance.

Things like project gating, which comes with your challenge function: is the gating working? Now, I am not saying that to try and box people in, and I don't want people saying, "Oh yeah, look at what he said, so we are trying to be nimble, we are trying to be agile." Project gating doesn't mean that you are not agile: it means that you have a system, a framework in place that will give you some checkpoints that will allow you to question and challenge a project, and making sure that if you need to change something, or adjust or adapt, or something new comes into play that you do so, and not do so too late; that you find issues early and that you are nimble enough to be able to deal with the issues as you go along.

I talked about benefits management and the importance of it, and obviously the other key piece that I want [to talk about] is lessons learned, and making sure that executives understand that as they are heading into a project they should take a look at what is going on out there and what was successful or not, and what we learn from these other projects. 

Pablo Sobrino: So I have a very specific question, which I have heard you talk about, and people are wondering what are really expected of them in terms of the roles and responsibilities of the senior designated official. It's like a new idea: what is this role, and what are you expecting out of this position?

Roch Huppé: So for me, that role is really important, right? And my message to these folks is that they're going to help us, help TBS, help me. I am basically the designated champion for that community, but help me, and help us, in making sure that the vision is well understood; making sure that people understand the importance of project management; what needs to be in place.

So we did that with the chief financial officers, right? I always say there was first chief financial officer, and it's false to say that person walked in there understanding his role perfectly. He walked in that role and he looked around the management table to other ADMs, who probably said, "Well, what does that accountant think he is going to come and do in my things?" right? So again, his role was to define the vision and sell the fact that he was going to be very helpful and add value to these other branches. So I'm hoping that these designated senior officials are people that have certain credentials, obviously: understand the value of having the right competence when we deliver on projects and other large initiatives. So these people are there to make sure that each organization sees the value in investing in project management, and sees the importance of having true challenge functions; sees the importance of having the right frameworks in place.

So we are really good at, you know, developing an investment plan for departments: we've been doing that. Too often we take this and we put it on a shelf. These are our key investments but we have to make sure that we are ready to say, "How are we going to implement these large investments? [Do] we have the right resources in place?"

So again, the senior designated official will have key responsibilities in building the internal capacity, and therefore building the capacity in the Government of Canada—they will be a key part of that—around project management: setting the vision, setting the responsibilities and roles for these projects, and making sure people understand. And assessing the capacities of their organizations and what their true capacity is in tackling these projects. And if the capacity is not there, then the organization needs to understand that, and needs to have in place a plan that will actually increase that capacity. So they will have for me, they're kind of my, you know, eyes and ears, and they are kind of the folks who will help me deliver on this vision.

Pablo Sobrino: So, in effect, organizations' champions.

Roch Huppé: Exactly. They are an extension of my role for the whole government.

Pablo Sobrino: So what is Treasury Board doing to help departments implement this new set of [policy] instruments?

Roch Huppé: Well, we are trying to be helpful.

Pablo Sobrino: As always, as always.

Roch Huppé: Yes, as always. That's what the world thinks. Obviously, as I was saying earlier, it's all very well to write all the policies you want, but that does not necessarily mean that you will transform things. What we're trying to do is really get involved at several levels.

We know that a policy is just a policy. But I think people are also looking for additional documents that will give them a little more information, help  guide them along their journey. We are then developing 1-pagers on different [subjects]. For example, we often talk about governance, but what is good governance? I prefer to give little tips to try to [make sure] people understand well and to support the senior people who have to do that.

We have an agreement with the Project Management Institute, as everyone knows it, or PMI. They have several guides on practices that can be used. These guides will be made available.

But I think the most important thing is that we want to develop the community, stay involved and force people to get together. For example, I have already made a presentation to the community today. We feel an appetite for people to want to create that community.  If the community is strong, the function itself will improve continuously.

To conclude, we work with the School to ensure training needs are met. We want to try to redefine the more traditional training given to project managers.

There are several key players in this field. We want to make sure that the training is a little more adapted for these people.

Pablo Sobrino: So as part of the effort to improve project management across the Government of Canada, it has been said that we need to build a lessons-learned culture.

In your view, what can we learn from previous experiences in managing major or complex projects in the public service?

And I know you've already spoken about a couple of examples but how do we build that culture that we want to learn lessons in?

Roch Huppé: So hopefully our policies tackle that notion of lessons learned much more rigorously, I think. And we've imposed certain, actually, requirements: for example, that you need to document throughout your project the lessons that you've been getting out of this, out of your venture.

Important to note—and we've imposed it so we're not just talking about lessons learned from a project that's not been successful, but what are the lessons learned from these projects that have been successful? And we often say, "Oh, we need to learn our lesson when there's a failure somewhere," which we do, believe me, we do. That said, we should take a look at the lessons that we should be learning from those projects and those organizations that are more mature in project management.

And we have those: we have best practices around town in different spheres. I think of DND where they have a very rigorous training program. They have joined themselves with University of Ottawa and they have certifications, and they don't—they will never put a brand-new project manager in a very large, complex project; there is some shadowing done, so there's—they take that very seriously. So again, we have CRA which have a gating system that I think is very good at providing the right challenge function.

So again, we need to learn from what's going on around town, not only in government but outside government.

So, for me, key lessons learned, obviously, is—I talked about this, right—forms over substance: we need to stop ticking the box. And we need to make sure that, you know, when we put a challenge function for example, it's not kind of— I call it the 'me—to-me—"Oh Roch, you're doing a great job. Continue doing it."—but it's actually someone objective that wouldn't mind telling me that I'm doing a really crappy job. And I know it's not easy to accept sometimes, but we need—absolutely—to do it.

One of the key problems is planning, right? We don't do enough planning: we move to execution for different reasons. One of my pet peeves is that we have processes in the Government of Canada and sometimes they don't allow us to do it right, sadly. We have, you know, processes, whereby when you seek funding, for example, sometimes it's pressed, and you're asked to do a 2-pager to outline your  [project]. I always say, "You know what? It's not, it doesn't always happen like that." You may have done your planning very well; you get to the stage where you're ready to ask for funding and you have got great costing in place; but it's not always the case. And because we have these processes in how you're going to gain access to money, sometimes your costing is not in a perfect stage, there, in a multi-year project: let's be honest about that. And I just give the example: you know, you think what you're going to be asking in budget sometimes, and we all put the greatest minds together over the summer, early fall, for what the minister is going to be asking—and I'm not saying it's always like that but I've seen it happen, I've been part of it—whereby you're going to crunch a 2-pager for our dear friends at the Department of Finance, trying convince them. And you say, "It would be great to have money for that system, so how much is going to cost?" So, like I say, you put the greatest minds, you do your quick analysis, you put it into the big black box and then if you're really, really not lucky you get the money, right? Then you start your planning, your real planning and then you say, "Oh it's not going to cost $72 million. This is something completely different."

So again, for me, planning is key, and sometimes it does take a year-and-a-half to plan something, and to consider different options, and do a real options analysis, right? We often don't do a real options analysis: we drive to the solution that we want, the solution that is our desired one, without looking at, truly, other options out there.

Pablo Sobrino: That's great. It is a really good example.

The new policy and directive provide new guidance for joint projects. What can you tell us about this? So these are the more complex projects.

Roch Huppé: Absolutely. Then I think we did, we really put the emphasis on that notion because we realized that often the projects where we seemed to have more difficulty were really the projects that were more complex because they were projects that were much more horizontal in nature and then involved many different players.

Again, the importance of recognizing. And we know these organizations provide services to some other organizations. When they develop tools, we tend to say, "Listen, we have to deliver within a certain timeframe." We forget to really consider the needs of our customers. So what the new policies are really trying to do is to emphasize the importance of involving the people who are affected by these projects. In terms of planning, governance, sharing information, and so on. I think that if we have a place where we have to make a lot of improvement, it's in this area.

I wouldn't hide from you that it's difficult. I'm on a committee—I am actually co-chairing a committee—for one of these projects that has an impact on many people, with one of my colleagues. I will tell you that it took us a long time to finalize governance because we wanted to make sure the right players were sitting at the table, but also that we had the real information that was needed by the committee so that we could see the real picture, and have real discussions on the project's status and the measures we had to take to manage the risks that will materialize during the project.

This whole notion of roles and responsibilities... We also have the notion that we must create what is called a senior project board to manage these projects. And then, again, these people who will sit on these committees will have to ratify the choice of the project sponsor, and so on. It's important to ensure that people understand their roles and responsibilities when they sit on a committee providing direction for a very horizontal project.

Pablo Sobrino: The question I'm asking myself is that these other designated officials you've identified who work in departments, what's the role you see them playing in these complex horizontal projects?

Roch Huppé: What's important for them is really to understand when they are the designated official, the senior designated official, was that these people have a key role to play in involving the people who are affected.

In other words, it is all very well to have a deputy minister's committee to manage this, but the governance under these committees must also reflect that this is a horizontal project. So, build the necessary relationships with key players... Obviously, we expect this person, the senior designated person, will play a key role. But she must also understand that we do not expect her to be alone in there. The person will have support.  And then, what I expect from this person, as I said at the beginning, is that he or she will be able to make people who are involved be conscious of their own accountability and responsibility in the project.

What we want to avoid is saying that there is a person who becomes completely responsible for the project, no matter if it's going well or badly. I think the important thing about these projects, which are horizontal, is that these people make all involved understand that they have responsibilities and accountability, and they are expected to be part of the decision-making process, precisely because we are dealing with certain problems, and so on. Really, it is the gathering of all stakeholders that is key—important—for the delivery of a project.

Pablo Sobrino: Collaboration and stakeholder engagement are obviously key themes in this policy. How do the policy and direction support collaboration on projects and programmes at the most senior levels of government? How do you get everybody involved?

Roch Huppé: I think it needs to start with the right governance model. I think if you have the right governance in place, it will promote this collaboration and I think that we need to be nimble, right?

And so, collaboration will come with a very transparent consultation process. And I've seen too many times in my experience, what I would refer to as a false consultation. We get everyone in a room just to say that we got everyone in the room, but really we don't really care what they have to say because we have our mind set on how to drive this thing, and we're not going to let anyone detract us and put in jeopardy our famous timelines again.

So I think the notion of stakeholder engagement is key. But again, forcing ourselves to put in place these consultations and choosing people that we know are going to be that pain in our you-know-what, because they're going to tell us the truth—And we have, again, a tendency as we build these committees: for example if I'm an ADM in charge of a committee I want to put in place, I will select Pablo because he's a great guy and Pablo likes me and therefore will support me; but I'm not going to choose, you know, Helen, because Helen is just difficult to deal with, and she criticizes all the time. And therefore we, we create these challenge functions and we create these governances, whereby you're not getting the whole truth. So again, collaboration for me is key to our policies, but we're going to have to force ourselves to make sure that we do it right, to make sure that we have the right people and the right stakeholders at the table: even though we don't like Helen, Helen needs to be there. And I always say, if you're going to go through your Helen, then, you know, you're probably on the right track, right? And you should want Helen there, because it will force you to explain to Helen why she's wrong, and then she'll come to accept it, or it will force you to deal with an issue that maybe no one else will have told you. So again, I think collaboration is definitely key, but the thing, though, is that we're going to need to start doing it right and that, I don't think we are completely there yet.

Pablo Sobrino: Right. So collaboration is about bringing everybody into the room, the people who agree and the people who don't agree; and to convince people and to promote what you're trying to do.

Roch Huppé: And I think it's to have a continuous collaboration right? And it's not—how often have I heard again, when people say, "Who did you talk to?" "Well, I talked to these [people] and we have a quarterly meeting by which we did..."

Okay, so is a quarterly meeting always giving you what you need? Because you're going to run into issues where you should have access, in a nimble fashion, to your committee of people that are going to try to guide you, provide you direction and challenge you, at the times that you need these people, right, and not after the fact. So again: having the right people and having processes in place that will allow you to have access to that governance, when you actually need it.

Pablo Sobrino: The policy and directive are strongly focused on achieving benefits. You have already spoken at length on this subject, but how does the policy and directive promote the realisation of benefits?

Roch Huppé: First of all, as I was saying earlier, it is a little bit like the in thing, the notion of benefit management at the project-management level. I think [it's] right because we tend to focus on the 3 issues that have always been fundamental to us, as I said earlier. The notion of risk—it's obviously necessary to reinforce the notion of risk—but also the notion of definition and measurement of benefits. I think that just from the fact that the new directive puts a lot of emphasis on this aspect.

Then I was talking about the documentation,  the practice guides that we have available through PMI. The notion of benefits management within that literature is much, much more present than it was in the past because there is obviously an acknowledgement that it is not because you deliver a project on time and within the budget that you have the expected success.

So for me, what is important is that there is a plan with benefit-management plans, and that the benefit management is done on an ongoing basis as the project progresses. It's easy to say [in] government—we're not too good at this or that, but we deliver things that are incredibly complex and things that the private sector can't even think of delivering. We are complex. We're very big. And the issues we deal with are not always as simple as people think. So often these projects are spread over several years for different reasons and the environment continues to change for all kinds of reasons. So it's crazy to say that even though we thought about identifying some of the benefits we wanted to achieve with a project, that 2, 3 years later these benefits should maybe be changed, depending on the environment. The world today is moving very quickly and if you take 10 years to deliver a project, the benefits that were expected 10 years ago would probably no longer work at the end.

So we have to find a way to be more agile to respond to needs and changes in benefits in a more continuous way. The emphasis is there, then when we build a project it would be good to think about, once we have implemented it, "what is our ability to make the necessary changes so that our project is adapted to today's reality, so that it continues to give us value?" Because it is all very well that we can implement something, but if we have no plan to do the maintenance or make the necessary improvements to adapt it, we will have a product that will probably be obsolete in 2, 3 or 4 years.

Pablo Sobrino: The focus of this policy on digital projects: this policy, has it got the flexibility that you need to manage digital projects?

Roch Huppé: I think so. I think the new policies will make it clearer and, hopefully, will make ourselves even more nimble. But we've embedded, obviously, in these policies, the thinking that the Office of the Chief Information Officer has been doing and where they want to drive their business; embedding, obviously, their new roles and responsibilities and accountabilities; making sure that people understand which role they play. And I'm hoping that we could—again, recognizing the roles and responsibilities of every key player—but I'm hoping that we could drive and get people to understand.

We hear the word 'agile' all the time, that there's ways to have an agile governance, there's ways to have agile and continuous challenge function in an agile project.

What we also want to do in these ventures that departments are trying to take on, is the notion that we're all doing something, a lot of the time, in similar spheres. So how can we partner together, right?

Everyone's got a case management system, and I remember when I was at CRA, even within CRA—a big place—everyone wanted a case management system, and so we were saying, "Okay wait, why can't we use [them]?" And as we were starting other case management systems, there was one on the go, being developed for, say, debt management; and now we needed one to manage appeals, or whatever. Well, you know, can't we leverage the thing that we're actually developing right now to satisfy both needs?

So I think the notion of making sure as we invest that we invest wisely, and making sure that we leverage what's going on out there.

Pablo Sobrino: I mean the notion being that small project in one group should be informed by the other projects that are going on in other groups and see if we can bring some alignment to it, and not reinvent the wheel.

Roch Huppé: Exactly: not reinvent the wheel and make sure that we've thought through some of these projects, right? I mean, the digital world evolves, you know, every day.

So as we think through what we need today, we need to start thinking, developing these things for what we will need tomorrow, as much as possible. Because if you develop what you think you need [for] today, probably [by] tomorrow, your thing will not be good enough anymore.

So how do we bring that as we plan, and as we, you know, think through the issue that we want to solve? How do you bring that notion of building something for tomorrow, I think, is something that will be key for us.

Pablo Sobrino: So one last question. In your opinion, what is really needed to foster change and strengthen  project management within the Government of Canada?

Roch Huppé: I think we need time. Obviously if we think we're going to transform project management perfectly, I think we're wrong.

We need an active community that will support a shared vision of what good project management should be in the federal government.

We need to develop appropriate training tools for the various stakeholders. For that reason, we started discussions, and not only with the School; there are models to follow. The UK government took a drastic shift in project management: they made major investments and recognized people, namely senior leaders, needed to be trained. We're going to try to benefit from their experience.

What I think is really going to be a turning point is the recognition that we all have a key role to play in project management, and that people recognize what their accountabilities, their responsibilities are.

As I was saying earlier, the shift we made in financial management was made over several years and then it was successful because people recognized the importance and adjusted value of having experts at the table, but also the importance they played in sound financial management.

I think it's the same for project management. We will have to ensure we recognize the adjusted value of these people, who have certification, knowledge and experience in the field, but also that they have a role to play if project management is to be a success within our organizations.

Pablo Sobrino: Perfect. But thank you, Roch, on behalf of all those who will be listening to this podcast, and a big thank-you because I think you shared information with an honesty that we don't often see.

Pablo Sobrino: I really appreciate, kind of that you live the policy as opposed to speaking about the policy, so I think that's really kind of a cool way of sharing that information. This can be a dry subject, but I don't think it was dry. Thanks!

Roch Huppé: Thank you. Thank you. I was happy to be here.


Speaker: Roch Huppé, Comptroller General of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada

Moderator: Pablo Sobrino, Distinguished Fellow, Canada School of Public Service

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