For Ontario’s City of Brampton, time was a four letter word.
In 1996, a re-engineering effort at the city lead to the creation of a corporate services department that amalgamated a number of divisions, including technology, treasury, human resources and corporate communications.
With this reorganization came “a whole series of demands” on the city’s newly-created department, said Pat Moyle, then commissioner of corporate services.
Client groups “wanted better technology, they wanted better systems and there was a wishlist of new applications they wanted,” Moyle said.
But there was a problem: the city was faced with an aging legacy system that needed replacing in spite of the year 2000, which loomed on the horizon.
“Frankly, we were overwhelmed,” Moyle said. “We knew all this work had to be done, but we needed a process to help in organizing all of this work in a logical sequence.”
Enter John Wright. Brampton’s CIO, who came to the city in 1995, was looking at five or six year’s worth of work that needed to be completed in a three-year time span. Wright quickly recognized the task was virtually impossible without a strong partnership between the IT and business units.
According to Wright, “there was no way that IT could push it through on its own.” That said, there was no solid pattern of IT working with the business units either.
It became increasingly clear the problem was no longer just capacity, but one of a significant language barrier as well.
“There were two very different perceptions on what it took to get a project in successfully. Also…we weren’t speaking the same language at the table,” Wright said.
To make matters worse, “there wasn’t a lot of formal training within IT, so I couldn’t even be 100 per cent sure that in IT there was a common language,” Wright said.
“I saw this as a great opportunity to go from ground zero if we [could] teach the IT folks and the business folks at the same time.”
With that in mind, Wright went searching for a solution. He knew what he was looking for and found it in a project management methodology from Ottawa-based Bates Project Management Inc.
“We had project plans in the past, but they were pages and pages of narratives of what the project was going to be. Bates (methodology) had a simple project charter where you fill in the blanks,” Wright said.
“By virtue of filling in the blanks, you force a common view of what the project is, what it is not, what the goals are, the target outcome, and it is only four or five pages of integration.”
Wright liked the methodology because of its generic nature, which made it applicable to both technical and non-technical areas. And so a pilot group of about 26 people, equally split between IT and business, participated in the methodology training. As “horror stories” of projects past were revisited, Wright said “the lightbulbs were coming on like strobe lights.” Each individual could identify with their peers’ examples of “what went wrong.”
According to Wright, the buy-in happened quickly. “IT people were learning what the urgency was and what the drivers were on the business side and getting an appreciation for that.”
It was not long before the two sides started understanding each other and started following a common language, he said. Words like charter, work packets and Gant charts were no longer foreign terms.
With individuals from the pilot group, a high-profile project was retrofit to the methodology and was brought in on time. “We actually set the [deadline] months in advance,” Wright said, “and people were surprised because there wasn’t a history of getting projects in on time.”
There was not only a confidence level that things could be done on time, Wright said, but “interestingly enough, there was now an expectation from our senior management, having proven it could be done.”
Confidence levels were so high in the group’s ability to bring projects in on time, Wright said, that he was able to go forward with “some very significant budget requests” in order to finance replacing the systems.
According to Moyle, not only were projects being brought in on time and on or under budget, but morale was higher and a sense of purpose created.
Wright said the only challenge was “getting people to realize that this was not just going on a course and seeing what you could apply. From this day forward, this was going to be the way we do projects in the city.”
With the methodology now firmly under their belt and some 150 people trained, including senior management, the City of Brampton has succeeded in bringing all major projects in on time and on budget.
Wright said the city has taken on a number of big initiatives concurrently, including financial and payroll systems, a recreation facility booking system and a tax system, all of which have gone live on schedule. In fact, the organization’s financials, “a big ERP system,” went in two months ahead of time. In addition, the methodology has spread throughout the corporation. Given the success that occurred in the systems projects it took little time to see how this could be applied to other aspects of the business.
Now, Wright said, “it’s interesting for me to go attend a meeting that I was not directly involved with…and hear people talking about work packages and charters. To hear people speaking the language…to me that’s kind of rewarding.”