Agile: How We’re Working Differently

December 4, 2018

By Alex Benay, Chief Information Officer of Canada

Things are moving quickly with everyone here in the NextGen team, and we’re making good progress in exploring options for a new HR and Pay solution for the Government of Canada.

In August, we officially launched our procurement process and notified vendors of our new agile approach. Then, on September 19, we held a very successful Industry Day, which had 100 vendors in attendance, either in person or online through WebEx. Working collaboratively, we used their insights to refine our business requirements. Then on October 1, we launched Gate One of the agile procurement process, which closed on November 13. Most recently, we’ve launched Gate Two of this process, which will close on February 4, 2019.

There’s been a lot of buzz around town about the new way the government is doing large-scale Information Technology projects. The truth is agile is not a new approach, but it is new to government. That’s why the NextGen team is working with organizations that have undergone similar large-scale transformations and with industry to adapt their best practices.

We have met, for example, with the governments of California and Alberta, both of which have been watching us from afar, and have indicated we’re on the right track. While this is good news, we know there is a lot of work ahead.

Now, I’m often reminded that many people, mainly in government circles, don’t really know what “agile” means, or understand the flexibility and pace needed to support it. So, let me give you a glimpse of how it works.

Applying an Agile Approach to the Next Generation HR and Pay Initiative - Transcript

The government of Canada is adopting an agile approach to identify a new Next Generation HR and Pay solution.

While the traditional waterfall approach may work in some instances, it has often proved to be both rigid and slow.

For companies eager to work collaboratively with government, this translates to:

Lengthy and difficult contract processes.

Limited engagement opportunities and interactions with stakeholders and vendors.

And little to no flexibility to adjust the scope or correct the course of a project.

In contrast, the agile method is iterative and provides flexibility throughout the process.

From the planning to the release phase, portions of a final product are understood gate by gate, and in collaboration with stakeholders.

Scope and requirements are flexible and can be adjusted based on industry feedback and lessons learned.

Agile also allows for shorter and more frequent contract processes, and on-going interactions with users and vendors.

In other words, the agile approach process puts the user at the center in order to design with empathy and deliver a better end product.

Speaking as someone who used to do business with government, I can tell you that its typical procurement process is long and arduous. What’s more, there’s limited communication between vendors and the government, and when we do interact, it’s for one part of a project at a time. This can be frustrating to companies eager to enter into a joint partnership with government, and get their solutions out the door.

But with an agile approach, the project scope is always flexible and open to iteration; it’s not set in stone from the beginning. In this way, mistakes and course corrections can be made during development, and the end result is a better product. Not only that, but the lessons learned can be applied immediately to any large IT project we have in the works.

It can also happen that when the scope of the project is locked in from the beginning, the product we end up getting is obsolete by the time we get it. For example, the Phoenix pay-modernization project started about 10 years ago, but when finally launched, it didn’t serve the needs of employees in our current digital world. Today, we’re used to having information at our fingertips, when and where we need it on smart phones and tablets.

Another important part of the agile approach is challenging the culture of government to get out of its comfort zone, for example, by sharing draft documents in advance and working in an open environment that fosters collaboration.

Finally, let me underscore our focus on users’ needs. Our team is working to put users at the heart of our process. We’ve already had a number of sessions to identify and validate the HR business requirements we’ll need. This engagement will continue with organizations, departments, senior officials, communities of specialists, unions, and project partners to ensure we’re integrating their feedback for vendors. Because agile is about users being our partners, and right from the start, having a say in what works and what doesn’t work.

You can see that through this approach, we’re putting more people than ever under the same tent and offering the space necessary to collaborate and succeed.

That’s why we need your feedback!

We’re listening on social media through our hashtag #NextGenHRPay and will continue to hear from current and former employees by email. Please keep your messages coming, because we read every single one of them.

Alex Benay

Alex Benay
Chief Information Officer, Government of Canada

Alex Benay currently serves as the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada. Prior to this appointment, Alex was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation since July 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, he was Vice-President of Government Affairs and Business Development at OpenText. He has played a leadership role in Canada's digital industry, as well as in promoting the global shift to digital in organizations such as the G20, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Olympics. Before joining OpenText, Alex managed various teams and programs at the Canadian International Development Agency, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Library and Archives Canada.

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Submitted by Ken Cound on December 07, 2018 - 8:31 PM

Thanks for bringing your vision and for the agile approach. As a member of the public service who spends much of his time serving other public service members I have to ask, are these comfort zones real places or just theoretical ones like the government culture you picture being in them? The purpose in understanding how you mean that is to know if this means you foresee PS, particularly CS group members, partnering with Big Gov in these projects or was the talk about this potential partnership just a proverbial flash in the pan, of Union-Management collaboration?

Submitted by Steve McAllister on December 17, 2018 - 3:44 PM

I'm anxious to see PGoF evolve and incorporate Agile approaches to it. As this is not yet trickling down to departments...

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Submitted by open-ouvert on December 18, 2018 - 4:46 PM

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The Open Government team

Submitted by CO on January 15, 2019 - 4:08 PM

Thanks for responding to the gentlemen with helpful information; you have done the public service proud Leslie!

Submitted by Lp on December 19, 2018 - 5:55 AM

Why are the departments not conveying this to their employees? I just heard of this today and only because someone posted about it in a Phoenix forum for employees to help each other navigate pay issues. This is something I would be very interested in following and even being a part of, should there be assignments available. I have had so many issues with my pay and would be proud to be a part of the solution to our torment.

Submitted by Malcolm Betts on December 21, 2018 - 3:34 PM

Agile sounds like a good idea. It is all about implementation, fixing problems quickly ( not denying they exist), and lightweight development cycles to get many iterations to achieve a good end goal. NEP, a never ending project (Phoenix?), allows some to make tons of money, but stagnates development and gives a bad end project. Phoenix problems and complaints were pouring in, but high level executives and politicians just ignored them and ordered the working levels to march on towards production. I was not directly involved in Phoenix, but certainly heard tons of complaints about it.

Submitted by Sarah McNeil on January 15, 2019 - 5:48 PM

There are 14 scheduled user expose, 10 of which are in the Quebec (3) or Ontario (7). There are 4 others located in 4 different provinces. I understand the bulk of the public servants are located in Ottawa/Gatineau however If this new agile system to designed to get everyone's feedback, these expo's need to be more assessable to ALL public servants. Each province has their own characteristics / mentality and expectations. This outreach does not seem to be a well sampled pool of opinion, as it focuses mainly on Ottawa. Very disappointing.

Submitted by Richard Dollimount on January 17, 2019 - 1:45 PM

I share the same concerns as Sarah McNeil above you need to get a more diverse look at the system Ocean to Ocean to Ocean. Some of the most affected people are Shift workers, did you consider going to places where these persons are the majority of workers like CCG bases on both coasts? Ships crews are a good example of a real test of the system.

Submitted by charlotte lamontagne on January 29, 2019 - 5:12 PM

Hi there, I have to agree with Sarah and Richard who have the same subject line. The User Expos are mainly in Ottawa/Gatineau region and this is disappointing. As a public servant who lives in Nunavut where we have limited infrastructure as well as information technology services, it would be good for you to test you solutions in this environment. I realize coming here is expensive but NU has internet speeds that are quite different from the rest of Canada and this often has unforeseen implications on the use of applications. If there is any way I can help test the system from afar, I would be happy to help.
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