Case Study: Industry Canada BizPaL

Industry Canada Permits and Licences – BizPaL: engaging Federal / Provincial / Municipal Government to develop a common Permitting and Licensing infrastructure to support Canadian Business

The Situation

One chilly November morning in 2002, one of our Leads took a friend out for breakfast. They hadn’t chatted in a couple years; both had changed jobs recently, and over bacon and eggs at Dunn’s on Bank Street, the Fed fell to talking about his new role.

They’d dropped him into a powderkeg, he said. This project had already failed twice, dismally, and there was every expectation that he would make it three for three. It wasn’t a technology problem, he said – there was technology everywhere that could do what they needed. And it wasn’t a process problem. There were a lot of processes – a WHOLE lot of processes, but that was just complicated, it wasn’t complex. The problem was the people. They all wanted different things, they were all over the map, they just weren’t working together.

For BizPaL to work, effectively, the Fed needed 7 Federal Departments, all Provinces and Territories, and all municipalities across Canada to agree on a common way of doing business. No mean feat.

“I need a silver bullet,” he said. “I need a silver people bullet.” Sigh “So what are you up to, Phil?”

“We’re manufacturing silver bullets, actually… Sorry, the last thing I came here to do today was to sell to you, but what you need is so precisely what we do, that I kind of feel compelled to talk to you about it.”

“So talk…”

The Process

Industry Canada wanted to gently test whether there would be the appetite to support a Treasury Board Submission for enough money to stand up a single window portal to simplify business permitting and licensing for all Canadian businesses.

With the help of the CT team, invitations were sent out to all potentially affected federal partner departments, to the affected Provincial and Territorial ministries, and to a smattering of municipalities from across the country that it was felt might want to contribute to the process. With reservations, the client also invited the Treasury Board analyst who would run the file, so that she could see the business case being built first-hand – or not!

The client was hoping for 3 – 3 – 3. Three Federal departments, three provincial representatives and three municipalities. In a stunning example of “Be Prepared to Be Surprised”, ALL seven departments, ALL provinces and territories, and close to a dozen municipalities from across the country stated that they would be in attendance. Asking for people to attend a 3-day workshop in the middle of the winter, the client had prepared for 12-15 visitors…and the attendee list had already surpassed 50 – including assistant deputy ministers.

Working from a clear intention, and without a pre-defined agenda, the CT team enabled all of the participants to self-manage through two days of open conversations across a broad diversity of topics, covering every risk and benefit element of the project. The conversations were open, honest and useful – but something was missing.

By mid-afternoon of day two, it had become apparent that, if several of the key players would not move on entrenched positions, the workshop would have failed, and the intention, which they all agreed was the most useful future state, could not exist. The mood in the room became quite uncomfortable – closing in on hostile. At one famous moment, our client caught the CT Lead by the lapels and demanded that he “make this stop – NOW!” To which the CT Lead could only smile and say “Sorry – I can’t.”

The reason the project had failed twice was because people walked away from the entrenched positions – they had let the elephants live quietly in the corner of the room. CT had brought them out front and centre in the middle of the plenary circle – and they weren’t smelling all that good.

People being people, wanting to basically do good work, the critical players self-organized, and in a sometimes heated conversation that lasted less than five minutes, they figured out a way forward that enabled all of them to buy in. They managed their own internal people, process and technology risks in ways that enabled them to work together.

As the critical players continued to talk through the details, their second-in-commands spread throughout the room, breaking the news of the breakthrough to each of the workgroups. As it became clear that the elephants had disappeared entirely, and that success was now within their grasp, efforts were redoubled and an atmosphere that had been one of the angriest we had convened was now filled with laughter, excitement and positive energy.

The Outcome

On the morning of Day Three, a common vision statement was drafted and signed by all in attendance. The gentleman from Quebec, who had stated from the start that he was there only in an observer status, stood up and said that he had reported the amazing occurrences of Day Two to his minister, and said that he had received “permission, for the first time in over 200 years, for Quebec to sign on to a common vision statement with the rest of Canada.” And to cheers from the room, he signed the vision statement.

The Treasury Board Analyst shared two comments with the room. First: “I have been a project manager my entire career, and what I have watched you do here in three days could not have been accomplished through standard project management methodologies in months or years – if ever.” And the icing on the cake: “I have not seen your business case. I do not know what exactly will be in it, or how much money you will be asking for. But Treasury Board likes to fund winners. And this project is going to be a winner – you have demonstrated that to me in a way that no business case possibly could. So we will be funding this business case. Write it up and submitted – I’m excited for you to move forward.”

The Business Case was submitted, the project was funded to the tune of over $4M, and 18 months later, the BizPaL team was calling us back: they had met or exceeded all of the goals of their original mandate, and needed a new North Start to challenge them to move further forward. BizPaL is still alive and going strong in 2011, and is still a fan of CT.