PRIOR builds know-how with Treasury Board

A Canadian systems integrator is leaving the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat a little smarter than they found it.

Ottawa-based PRIOR has nearly completed a contract to provide the government branch with a documented, proprietary approach to software project management.

The information will help the department better plan, estimate and track future projects – a process that few IT shops, including the Treasury Board Secretariat, have a good handle on, said Julia Ginley, director of the enhanced management framework (EMF) for information management and technology, with the CIO Branch of the Treasury Board in Ottawa.

“[The contract was] set up to address issues related to management of IT projects,” Ginley said. “[We had] trouble coming in on time, in budget and in scope. And even when we did come in, it was often considerably less than what we were looking for.”

Though the contract itself is a recent effort, Ginley said her department has long recognized the need for better project management principles. In fact, the EMF was established by the Treasury Board in 1996 to provide support for government IT projects. The result of that work, of which the PRIOR contract is one part, is posted at

At that time, Ginley said her department took a hard look at why their projects were not succeeding, and they decided that it was not something that could easily be fixed.

“When we started looking at why projects were failing, it had to do more with the management process area than it did with the technology,” she said.

Because resources were already being stretched thin, Ginley’s team decided to look for third-party assistance. After studying several bids, the department chose PRIOR to help get the department’s project record back on track, especially in the area of project estimation.

Larry Humphries, president of PRIOR, admits that the Treasury Board job isn’t a typical one for his company. “Our normal project work is going in and delivering a specific set of software and systems to deliver specific functionality,” Humphries said. “This is more a…consultative-type of project where we create the system and the process which they will use themselves thereafter.”

Ginley said the final results of PRIOR’s work, which at press time was about to be delivered, will also be posted to the department’s Web site so that other departments and even private sector companies can take advantage of the methodology.

But she adds that PRIOR’s involvement will not automatically extend into more-hands on work. “After [the contract is completed] it would depend if departments were looking for help doing estimation with a particular project, but even then they might have to go the procurement route,” she said.

As to why the Treasury Board chose to contract out to PRIOR, as opposed to hiring a seasoned project manager or signing up staff for courses, Ginley said it was important to have the knowledge taught to them, but also made available for future reference.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a knowledge management database, if you wish, so each department doesn’t have to do this research, we’re centralizing it, building on what departments are doing as well,” Ginley explained.

Despite the notorious reputation around software development projects, IT shops are getting better at planning and executing them, Humphries said. And she adds that the blame can’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of IT professionals.

“You’re rarely working with a mature set of tools and an experienced set of developers and a steady-state business circumstance. So, if any of these three variables change, and they’re all changing constantly, getting appreciable results is difficult.”