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Can “Deliverology” Help Government IT Projects?

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Can "Deliverology" Fix the Real Challenges in Government IT Projects“Deliverology” is the term of the day in Government and no we’re not talking about who delivers executive lunches. These days, deliverology is all the rage in the bureaucratic halls of the new Trudeau government as the philosophical foundation with which his government hopes to present a federal civil service capable of successfully¬†delivering on the promises of the most recent campaign. The current guru of Deliverology is Michael Barber, the creator of the UK government’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU) in the Tony Blair government and, closer to home, used by Ontario’s previous McGuinty government. Mr. Trudeau has twice brought Mr. Barber to speak to public service executive community. It is an ambitious governance model, and certainly not without its detractors, that seeks to make poor performing departments and projects in to successful ones through the use of delivery units. Detractors need only point to the huge increase costs and budget associated with the Ontario government’s use of deliverology in both the Education and Health sectors.

This article will not seek to fully explain deliverology but rather, with deliverology on our lens, let’s focus our discussion on IT projects and their success or lack thereof in government. This new government will have to tackle what every executive bureaucrat and politician fears the most: the dreaded major IT project (just Google SSC and Email). We know that a significant number of IT projects are not delivered on time or under budget and that in and of itself is worthy of several blogs, but it is particularly acute in government. However, are there fundamental reasons that are tough to avoid that make it especially challenging in government?

Let me offer a few for considerations: 

Procurement in most government is not sophisticated, it is often slow, cumbersome and ill equipped to keep pace with technology… not even close. Although not stated very often, the “process” is far more concerning to the bureaucracy than the outcome; for instance the importance of transparency and fairness are paramount. There are often other key factors and stakeholders to consider in a Public Sector procurement that are not at play in Private Sector, awarding points to minority business or regions or even security considerations. Public procurement has evolved but it is nowhere near the sophistication of private and with some of the aforementioned factors, nor will it likely be very soon.

Can "Deliverology" Fix the Real Challenges in Government IT ProjectsStatus quo in government is not the Bogeyman as it is just about everywhere else. There is very little to gain both professionally and financially for taking risk in government and that certainly plays in to career paths and decisions made as a result. And let’s face it, these are taxpayer dollars and this is not Silicon Valley where risk, reward and failure are part and parcel of modern organizations — taxpayers want their governments to be efficient and bring value, not hit home runs in technology. Innovation is talked about extensively but I think we can agree it is “measured” innovation.

Finally, and perhaps as significantly as others, we have to analyze careers and how they are advanced in Government. We’ve established that risk taking is not at the top of the reward heap when it comes to advancing one’s civil service career but it has become just as apparent that varied and diverse department and project experience is. No longer is a Federal employee who expects to grow his or her career expected to stay at any one department for 30 years and retire, but rather it is expected to include a series of different departments, agencies and projects along the way, often for stints less than 2 years. While this may make for a more well-rounded and diverse experience portfolio for the employee, it presents a number of issues when the vast majority of the fast track government executives and leadership are never in one department or one project long enough to see through the life of a typical IT project.

Not sure how deilverology will tackle some of these over time, but I do know it will make for some interesting months ahead. In the meanwhile, I’m headed to the dock and working on the deliverology of my summer refreshments!