Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on January 21, 2016.
Theoretically speaking, when it comes to risk management, enhanced governance is almost always construed as a ‘good thing’. For instance, a governance structure which encourages responsible, collaborative thinking and strong stakeholder involvement should – in theory – deliver positive results. But like all things in life, too much of a good thing almost always ends up with some unintended negative consequences.
The governance structure currently in place as Canada looks to procure new ships and aircraft – some of the most sophisticated and expensive defence equipment in our country’s history – is a perfect example. After being ‘enhanced’ to the point of complexity, its net benefit to Canada is questionable.
It may in fact, be inhibiting progress.
Not only is the structure (and the processes that go with it) time consuming and resource heavy, it also obscures accountability through its complex committee structure.
Take for example, the governance model being used to manage Canada’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). In short, it consists of three groups – the Ministers’ Working Group; the Deputy Ministers (DM) Governance Committee; and the Assistant Deputy Ministers (ADM) Interdepartmental Steering Committee – all of which have mandates that bleed into one-another, inherently blurring the lines of accountability.
The Ministers’ Working Group*, chaired by the minister of Public Works was established to provide “oversight to ensure timely advancement of [the] NSPS.” Its membership includes the ministers of National Defence, Finance, Fisheries and Oceans, Industry, and Public Works as well as the President of the Treasury Board.
The DM Governance Committee, also chaired by the minister of Public Works is the body responsible for making ‘key decisions’ related to the implementation of the NSPS. Its membership consists of deputy ministers from National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans (Canadian Coast Guard), Industry Canada and Public Works. Ex-officio members include senior representatives from the Treasury Board, the Department of Finance, the Privy Council Office and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The ADM Interdepartmental Steering Committee is the group responsible for providing “ongoing oversight of implementation of the decisions of the Governance Committee.” Its membership consists of assistant deputy ministers from the same federal government departments and agencies represented in both the Minister’s Working Group and the DM Governance Committee.
All of this ‘management’ happens over and above the project teams that work together on a daily basis who must first pass muster with their DG’s before engaging the aforementioned committee structure.
Needless to say, merely managing the plethora of briefing notes associated with the foregoing structure consumes considerable time and resources. That is, briefing notes have become the order of the day for fear that one might not be fully briefed by his/her departmental staff.
A structure such as this does not promote efficient execution of projects in anything resembling real time. When things need to move, decisions need to be made quickly by informed and engageddecision makers, with irrefutable accountability.
Where NSPS is concerned, both the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy have real, live operational needs. Failure to meet these needs may have a significant and immediate impact on the daily lives of Canadians. Time is of the essence.
If NSPS, or an evolved version thereof, is going to deliver to Canadians the maritime fleets it needs, its organizational structure must be revisited. There are simply too many people from too many government departments involved in managing the procurement process.
NSPS is a dynamic, operational project that requires a streamlined governance structure and real-time decision making by an informed and accountable team – a concept that has led to the success of countless private sector projects of comparable scope.
In effect, Canada needs to form one coherent project office for NSPS, with its leader reporting directly to one Minister. It needs to be given the staff (with all government interests represented), mandate and authority to execute the project in real-time.
If things don’t change, schedules will continue to slip with little accountability and time will continue to eat away at budgets. Consequently, the capability that Canada so desperately needs will not be delivered.
It is time for some real change; change that epitomizes operational outcomes as a priority.
*legacy names of the departments when the structure was put in place.