Not about Doing More with Less: Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service 9th Annual Report


The Message from the PM’s Advisory Committee is very clear and very impressive.  I feel they have done a fantastic job at establishing the priorities that the Federal Government should focus on in the coming years to become ‘agile, innovative and responsive’ to Canadians today, as well as to meet their changing demands and needs in the future.

They also acknowledge that it is NOT about ‘doing more with less’.  This is an essential premise to creating effective sustainable change.

When attempting to be more efficient, most leaders will look at their cost structure and determine the easiest way they can lower cost or meet their budget.  In government, it is normally the labour cost that draws the most attention from the management group when the pressure is on to reduce cost.  This ill-conceived solution of ‘cutting’ staff should be eliminated right at the outset. The most important asset the government has is not its technology or physical assets, it is their people.  So why would anyone in a leadership role even consider removing their most important assets when trying to get better.

We must challenge the leadership to ‘Not do more with less’ but to ‘do more with what they have’ and do it better, faster and at less cost.  Maximize the output and the ability to provide the service necessary and expected by the public now and in the future.

The staff ‘want to do a great job’!  They wake up every morning hoping to provide exceptional service, but the ‘system’ impedes them in accomplishing their goals.   The existing processes that they are obliged to work in, impede their results, and cause frustration.  Plus it is obvious the staff know what is causing most of the problems in their areas.

The Message also touches on the need to introduce ‘modern project management’ methods.  I again agree with them but caution them in making this statement without some additional clarification.

Most readers will take this as a strong recommendation to engage expert project managers and to get many projects underway.  The approach of ‘doing projects’ is very dangerous.  It is one of the reasons the government has found itself to be slower and more cumbersome. The natural reaction for leaders is to ask their managers to find ‘problems’/‘bottlenecks’ and fix them.  Demanding that the managers within their organization do this, is a recipe for disaster and drives all the wrong behaviours and doesn’t allow us to reach expected results.  We call this type of search and destroymethod, ‘Exciting Chaos’ approach.  It is where we all attempt to fix our own areas of responsibility and end up doing isolated projects without understanding the end-to-end process and the impact upstream and downstream.

Project mind-set is a virus in the operations world that spreads quickly and is difficult to stop once it begins.

The scenario is this – the project expert comes in and draws a map of the current process and then identifies the ‘waste’ or ‘bottlenecks’.  They then convince the leaders that they can fix the problem and set about doing just that.  Quickly, they get a result and that bottleneck is solved.  They then show the results to the leadership.  The leaders are impressed and the project expert then says they have a couple more bottlenecks.  What the leadership may not realize is the project expert has actually created the new bottlenecks they are now presenting.  The new bottlenecks were created by the original improvement they made (point improvement) in the process where the upstream and downstream activities could not handle, or were not prepared to handle, the new improved activity.  The result is ‘exciting chaos’.  The people in the improved area are feeling good about themselves, but those on either side are now scrambling to change to the new tempo and method of the one point – so it is chaotic.  And when you multiply or increase the number of isolated Continuous Improvement Projects happening simultaneously, you create an environment, or culture, of internal competition where groups or individuals are vying to be the best in the eyes of their boss and the customer is forgotten about.  The only winner is the project expert who now has many opportunities to work on – they become the ‘fireman and the arsonist’ and create their own project work cycle that never ends.  So beware!

The solution is not to have projects but to have cross-functional ‘system’ improvements where we can measure the end-to-end process – quality, speed and cost and be totally focused on the client value.  The Message to the Prime Minister needs to explicitly explain what is meant by ‘modern project management’.  We want sustainable transformational change both culturally and process-focused where:

1) the staff are engaged – pride of ownership is increased,

2) the leaders are supporting and driving a vision not projects/point improvements,

3) the selected method of change actually focuses on customer value, quality, speed and cost,

4) the solution is not project based but ‘system’ based change – cross-functional, and

5) everyone is using a similar effective change model.

Hats off to the Committee, they have been able to summarize the key issues that will drive this country to be successful and envied by all others.  Now, all we have to do is make sure we take it seriously.  We must put our energies towards creating the changes properly to create a government that is innovative and responsive and meets the needs and expectations of Canadians in the 21st century.

What do you think?