Chapter 2.4: Project Management Framework


Project management is the systematic planning, organizing and control of allocated resources to reach project objectives and outcomes. A project management framework is a set of standard project management processes, templates and tools that can be used to initiate, plan, execute, control and close a project. Having such a framework in place facilitates decision making, communication, and coordination across all projects in a portfolio and, in turn, contributes to governance and management rigour. Ultimately, this results in a more efficient use of corporate resources.

Whereas matrix management and a cross-cutting corporate perspective govern the vast majority of Statistics Canada's activities (for instance, every single activity is assigned a project numberEndnote 1 under the matrix-based cost-accounting system), the full series of project management practices, outlined in this chapter, is normally reserved for focused, non-repetitive, time-limited activities with some degree of risk—endeavours beyond the usual program or operational activities. A one-time initiative that does not have regular, ongoing funding should be classified as a project.

There are certain criteria that define a project. A project is defined as an activity or series of activities with a defined beginning and end. A project must produce defined outputs, realize specific outcomes, and support a public policy objectives, all within a clear schedule and resource plan. A project should be managed within scope, time, cost and performance parameters. Box 2.4.1 explains the difference between programs and projects.

Box 2.4.1: Projects versus programs

A program is a group of related resource inputs and activities that are managed to address one or more specific needs to achieve certain expected results, and is treated as a budgetary unit. Programs should have discrete and dedicated annual departmental funding and be supported by a policy authority that could expire.

Unchanging, repeatable processes are not projects. Regular, ongoing surveys, for which specific funding is received in our base budget, are classified as programs, not projects. However, the creation or redesign of a program that includes multiple projects should be treated as a project. For example, the monthly Labour Force Survey would not be a project, as it is part of ongoing operations, and forms part of the Labour Statistics Program. However, a redesign of the Labour Force Survey would be considered a project.

Strategies and tools

This section describes (1) the benefits of adopting a project management framework, (2) the project management process, (3) the measurement of the project performance and (4) the governance structure for efficient project management.

1. Adopting a common project management framework – benefits

The key benefits of implementing a project management framework are as follows:

  • Streamlines and enhances project-management skills by being proactive and by ensuring that communication of the project's status is completed with the corresponding project governance bodies
  • Ensures the integration of financial, human resources and IT planning
  • Ensures repeatable, consistent project management processes
  • Encourages stronger project management skills for managers
  • Ensures improved delivery of projects on time, as well as within budget and scope

When all projects in an organization are managed with a consistent set of project management processes and tools, several benefits are realized. For example, it is easier to compare, assess, and prioritize project proposals during the approval process. This facilitates decision-making in the agency's Integrated Strategic Planning Process (see Chapter 2.2: Integrated Strategic Planning).

Common processes also enhance opportunities for communication and coordination across all projects in a portfolio. Common tools make it easier to provide training and support to project managers,   and facilitate the mobility of managers between projects, even during a project. This translates into a more efficient use of corporate resources. A common departmental project management framework also creates opportunities for good information-management practices, such as providing a central location for storing project documentation, and for ease of access to documents for various purposes; for example, auditing. Project management documentation must be managed effectively for corporate information needs and knowledge-sharing, decision making, process improvement, as well as internal and external audit. This also enhances opportunities for communication between stakeholders, project-management team members and project governance bodies. The Departmental Project Management Office (DPMO) is responsible for maintaining a corporate repository of the mandatory project-management deliverables.

Consequently, having a project management framework leads to stronger project management skills and practices. Common reporting and monitoring practices help managers run projects successfully, from idea generation to close-out. For example, the common processes and tools can be used to:

  • provide justification for new business proposals and scope requirements
  • develop a business case to evaluate options
  • create a project charter so all parties agree on what the project is about and who is involved
  • develop project plans that cover all areas: scope, time, cost, quality assurance, human resources
  • monitor and control projects through all stages
  • handle change requests
  • provide a close-out report that summarizes lessons learned
  • provide finalized documentation that can be kept as corporate history and used for learning and continuous improvement
  • identify risks and implement proactive mitigation strategies

A project management framework ensures that the project manager has the tools to increase the probability of the project's success. To achieve project success, the manager must know at all times exactly where the project stands and whether it is on track or not. If it is not, what could be the impact on scope, schedule and cost? Having this kind of information enables a project manager to respond early and precisely to possible problems. Thus, a departmental project management framework can improve the likelihood of projects being completed on time, on budget, and within scope. The rigour of the framework is based on tracking formal changes, issues and risks, which increases likelihood of project success. Mandatory monthly monitoring of project health, using executive project dashboards, also enhances project transparency and interdependencies.

2. The Project Management Process – various stages

The Departmental Project Management Framework (DPMF) employed at Statistics Canada is a six-step process (which is not to be confused with the six-step process for Integrated Strategic Planning Process – see Chapter 2.2) including a set of standard project management processes, templates and tools. It is used throughout a project's life cycle to initiate, plan, execute, control and formally close the project. The DPMF includes standard project management processes and templates, governance for project approval, standard project status reporting, change management process for scope, schedule and cost, issues management process, risk management process and information management.

The DPMF guides and governs the project life cycle. The project management stages provide a road map for moving a project from idea to completion. The stages are separated by management decision gates, which include a record of decisions from the appropriate governing body. A gate represents a go/no-go project decision point, where one obtains approval to move to the next stage. Cross-functional teams must complete a prescribed set of deliverables at each stage before they can obtain management approval to proceed to the next stage of the project. The DPMF is enforced through the use of gates at each stage.

This process gives project sponsors and project managers opportunities for regular reviews and approvals. It also ensures that projects remain within the predefined constraints, and that they still achieve their planned outcomes. The project manager acts on behalf of the executive sponsor, who provides the funding for a project, and the business sponsor, who provides the requirements. The project manager leads the project and ensures functional representation from all other parties involved in the project, such as the IT, collection, and methodology sections. The project manager reports on the project's status to the project team and to governance committees.

There are six stages and gates in the process, plus one post-launch review. These stages ensure that potential projects are prioritized across the whole department.

Stage 1

At this stage, it is necessary to identify an idea or a proposed initiative that addresses a business problem or opportunity. It is a high-level, first attempt at describing the problem, need, or opportunity, and for roughly estimating the project's scope, duration and cost. The Business Proposal is the key project management deliverable.

Stage 2

At this stage, a business case is produced that consists of an options analysis, cost estimates, risks, assumptions, and business benefits/outcomes. The Business Case, which includes the cost estimate, is the key project management deliverable.

Stage 3

At this stage, high-level business requirements are identified to complete the project charter.

Stages 4 to 6: Project Management

Stage 4

At this stage, decisions are made to determine how the project will be structured and executed. Project planning comprises the development of the project's structure, activities, deliverables and resource requirements, as well as the work plan or timeline that will navigate the project management processes used throughout the project's life cycle. The work plan also sets out the procedures that will be used for tracking and reporting progress within the project. At this stage, it is time to baseline (define) the scope, schedule and cost. For cost estimating purposes, "project start" commences at the beginning of this stage. The key project management deliverables are the detailed business requirements, the project plan, the baseline schedule, and the costs.

At Statistics Canada, projects also produce monthly project status reports, known as "executive project dashboards" once they enter Stage 4. This marks the end of Portfolio Management and the beginning of the Project Management stage of the project-management life cycle.

Stage 5

This stage is comprised of the steps required to execute, complete, track and measure the project activities that were defined in the planning stage. During this stage, the success and contribution of these steps are evaluated. The project status and outstanding issues or problems are also reviewed against the Project Plan. Statistics Canada uses a common tool for risk and change management, called the Change Issues and Risk Management Tool (CIRMT). Information from CIRMT automatically populates the risk and issues sections of the monthly executive project dashboards.

At the end of this stage, a product is ready for production or a service is ready for deployment. If the outcome of the project is an event, such as the centralization of the collection process, the actual event occurs during Stage 5—project execution—and closes (finishes) during Stage 6. In addition to the ongoing monthly project status reports, the key project management deliverable for this stage is the Transition Plan, which describes how the project will become operational.

Stage 6

At this stage, either the transition to production has been completed or the project is terminated for another reason. The product or service must be launched and ready for use, and the project close-out report summarizes the project outcomes, and measures its success against criteria set out in the Project Charter. This report should also include a list of key lessons learned. For cost estimating purposes, "project finish" occurs at the end of this stage. The key project deliverable is the Project Close-out Report, which includes the final costs, schedule and change log, issues log and risk register.

Post-launch review stage

The post-launch review is needed only if some outcomes go beyond the Stage 6 close-out date. In the post-launch review, the project's accomplishments are summarized, and the success of the product or service is evaluated to determine the extent to which the stated objectives were satisfied and the anticipated outcomes were realized.

Table 2.4.1 provides a summary of the documentation required for each stage and the purpose of this documentation.

Table 2.4.1: Purpose of project management deliverables
Stage Document Purpose
1 Business proposal Idea identification and prioritization compared with other projects.
2 Business case Selling the concept and outcomes scoring (estimated at +/- 25%); outline product/service success criteria.
2 Business case costs High-level costing details.
3 High-level business requirements High-level scope definition for business requirements.
3 Project charter Authorizing the project; outlining project expectations, and identifying project success baseline criteria.
4 Detailed requirements More refined scope definition for functional and non- functional requirements, which is referred to as the scope baseline.
4 Project plan Baseline information on scope, schedule and cost (estimated at +/- 10%)
Timeline, referenced in project plan (estimated +/- 10 %).
4 Baseline schedule Schedule, referenced in project plan (estimated +/- 10 %).
4 Baseline costs Budget, referenced in project plan (estimated +/- 10 %).
4 Project status report (executive project dashboards) Communications and control. Used for gate review decisions.
5 Change log, issues log and risk register Monitoring and balancing constraints.
5 Transition plan Ensure appropriate project hand-off.
6 Project close-out report House in order; actuals-versus-baseline analysis; project success analysis; lessons learned for continuous improvement on projects.
6 Final costs Actual expenditures, referenced in the close-out report.
6 Final schedule Actual schedule, referenced in the close-out report.
6 Final change log, issues log and risk register Opened and closed entries, referenced in the project close-out.

3. Measuring project performance

Overall, a project's success is measured by its ability to achieve the desired outcomes within the parameters of scope, schedule and cost. Documenting the lessons learned is important. Moreover, if a culture of reasonable failure acceptance does not prevail in the organization, it will create an excessively risk-averse and innovation-stifling mentality.

In order to measure performance against the triple constraints of scope, time and cost, "baselining" is a useful practice. Baselines are points of reference against which scope, schedule and cost performance are measured. Baselines are created in Stage 4, Project planning.

Creating a new baseline, called "re-baselining", can only result from the change management process.

3.1 Scope

The scope baseline is specified by the high-level business requirements, as well as the detailed requirements. Once the scope is baselined, one of the project manager's main responsibilities is to ensure that the project produces all the required work—and no more than the required work. Any deviation could trigger a change in scope, and must be handled using the change control process. Otherwise, adding features and functionality—called "scope creep"—can put the project at risk.

3.2 Schedule

The schedule baseline consists of the project end date. Once the project end date is determined and the schedule is baselined, the project manager is responsible for reviewing and updating the schedule to reflect progress and to reforecast activity dates, if required. The examination of the start and finish dates forecast for activities and milestones against the most recent baseline start and finish dates is known as variance analysis. The project manager should monitor whether the project tasks are on schedule.

Tasks that are not part of the critical path are a lower priority than those on the critical path. The critical path is the sequence of activities that must be completed on schedule to ensure that the entire project will be completed on schedule. It is the longest duration path throughout the schedule that has no buffer. If an activity on the critical path is delayed by one day, the entire project will be also be delayed by one day, unless another activity on the critical path can be accelerated to compensate.

After the project manager integrates corrective adjustments into the schedule, based on the variance analysis, he or she can then obtain a forecast project end date. If it differs from the approved end date, then a change request must be initiated for review and approval. If the difference is outside the threshold of 10%, re-baselining is required.

3.3 Cost

The cost baseline represents the project's total cost. Once the project budget is determined, the project manager is responsible for ensuring that the project is completed within that budget. The budget must be reviewed and updated regularly, at least on a monthly basis.

Once the project has been initiated, a project manager assigns a program-element number (code) for project-related expenses, both salary and non-salary. Employees will input codes for project-related activities into the agency's corporate time- management system, which are reflected in the organization's financial reporting system (FRS). Non-salary expenses are also charged against the project, and are reflected in the FRS.

The project manager is responsible for performing frequent variance analyses—examining the actual cost to date against the cost baseline. Any variance must be assessed to determine whether corrective action is needed.

Whenever any change to the forecast expenditures is integrated into the budget, a revised forecast total cost must be obtained. If the latter differs from the approved budget, a change request must be initiated. If the difference is outside the threshold of 10%, re-baselining is required.

3.4 Use of an executive project dashboard

The key tool used to monitor the status of projects is a monthly executive project dashboard. An executive project dashboard, within the context of project management, is a business management tool used to visually represent the status (or health) of a project or a portfolio of projects using key project metrics. Executive project dashboards are designed to report on the following core project metrics that affect the project's overall health and benefits—the constraints of scope, schedule, cost, as well as risks, issues, and project interdependencies. Dashboards employ graphic devices, such as green/yellow/red indicators, to communicate information clearly and succinctly.

The benefits of using an executive project dashboard include the following:

  • better communication of the project's health and status to project executives and stakeholders, in line with proven industry standards
  • greater visibility of risks and issues that may impact the project's success, thus providing early opportunities for course correction
  • support for evidence-based governance decisions and executive accountability

Monthly status reporting to the steering committee for each project, and a combined status report for the portfolio of projects, are also quick indicators of the current situation at any given time (see Box 2.4.2 for more information on when projects are threatened). Another key element is project gating—ensuring that senior-level approval is received before projects move to the next project management stage. This gating process takes into account whether the project is on time, as well as within approved scope and cost. Issues, and risks are reviewed to ensure the project is on track, and a rigorous change-management process is followed.

Box 2.4.2: Monitoring what happens when projects are threatened?

  • Monthly Executive Project Dashboards start showing yellow and red colors
  • Issues are flagged at the Project Steering Committee to obtain senior management support
  • Project management reporting on situation and redressing plans
  • Documentation of issues, risks, decisions, changes and new deliverables (expert help could be provided)
  • Closer monitoring and feedback and support to project manager to rectify situation

4. Governance structure

Governance is a management technique that regulates processes and systems and ensures that an empowered governing committee oversees the project throughout its life cycle. It includes appropriate decision points and off-ramps, escalation channels, and support committees to enhance the project's chance of success. The governance structure provides stewardship of project resources, creates accountability for projects, and aligns projects with departmental strategic outcomes.

At Statistics Canada, projects are overseen by governance committees. The level of governance depends on the project size, its scope and its complexity. The mandate of all governance committees is to make senior-level decisions on both projects and the project portfolio by providing support, escalation channels and go/no-go decisions, and by ensuring that investments are appropriate and strategically aligned.

Decisions about strategic projects that require corporate investment are made by the Senior Management Review Board, on the recommendation of Field Planning Boards and, in some cases, the Corporate Business Architecture Committee. (See Chapter 2.2: Integrated Strategic Planning). The Senior Management Review Board acts as the gating committee for the first two project stages (idea generation and project assessment), while the Field Planning Board and/or the Corporate Business Architecture Committee act as the gate for Stage 3 (Project initiation). This completes the Portfolio Management part of the DPMF.

The project steering committee (PSC) is responsible for the business issues associated with the project during the project management component of the DPMF. All projects should have a PSC; however, the membership is not pre-defined. For smaller projects, the PSC could consist of a business sponsor, director general and a director. When necessary, internal stakeholders may also be part of the PSC. The project steering committee acts as the gating committee for Stages 4 to 6 (planning, execution and close-out), and monitors inter-project dependencies, changes, issues and risks on a regular basis. The steering committee also reviews and monitors project progress and budget, at a high level, and reviews and approves recommendations for any baseline changes to any of the triple constraints—scope, schedule and cost.

Projects with a systems development (IT) component are also gated by the IT Architecture Committee (ITAC). ITAC ensures that IT systems are developed using sound architectural principles; a standard set of tools and methods, in a way that meets the business needs of the agency; and the IT security policies of both the agency and the federal government.

Key success factors

The DPMF does not exist in a vacuum. Project management must be aligned and integrated with other departmental processes wherever possible. The stages of the DPMF have been mapped to other existing processes, which include the integrated security and risk framework, the corporate risk management framework, and the Integrated Strategic Planning ProcessEndnote 2 (See Chapter 2.2: Integrated Strategic Planning).

In addition, strong senior executive leadership is key to ensuring that the framework is respected at all stages of a project. Information-sharing at all levels in the organization is necessary, since all levels within the organization have different responsibilities for successful project management. Another success factor relates to ensuring that staff are supported with timely and proper training in preparation for project management.

A project management centre of expertise supports project leaders in the use of the DPMF. The objective of the Departmental Project Management Office is to support managers by providing leadership, training and support with respect to common project management processes and tools used by all projectsEndnote 3. These processes and tools focus on improving the timely delivery of projects within cost, within scope and ensuring adherence to quality standards. DPMO also releases an annual set of tools and templates. On each document template, the release year and version are shown on the document change-control page.

This centre also maintains the official repository of DPMF documentation and records of decisions from governance committees. Project management documentation must be managed effectively to maintain corporate information, as well as knowledge sharing, decision making, process improvement, and internal and external audit. This also enhances opportunities for communication between stakeholders, project management team members, and project governance bodies.

Challenges and next steps

Having a project management framework in place contributes to governance and management rigour by facilitating decision-making, communication and coordination across all projects in a portfolio, resulting in a more efficient use of corporate resources.

Implementing a Departmental Project Management Framework requires the creation of a standard project management culture across the organization. This constitutes an important shift in the way that managers work and the tools that they use.  Some challenges and important next steps include the following:

  • obtaining strong senior management commitment to the implementation of the project management framework, from the head of the Statistical Organization right down to the senior managers responsible for implementation
  • clearly communicating the reasons behind the need for change and the anticipated benefits to employees and line managers
  • involving employees and managers whose work will be impacted in the planning and implementation of the new project management framework
  • providing training and on-going support to managers on the project management framework tools and processes and demonstrating the positive benefits in their daily work

Change creates stress both for employees who support change and those who are uncertain of change. Building an awareness for the need for change, and making the case for change convincingly through repeated communication about the vision, end state and guiding principles can facilitate the transition.


Endnote 1

In such cases, the activity is usually referred to as a "program element" to which a project code is associated for cost accounting purposes. See Chapter 2.3: Financial management.

Return to endnote 1 referrer

Endnote 2

The project planning process can also be modified to meet changing needs of the organization. For example, the business proposal and CBA checklist have recently been merged into one investment checklist and initial cost estimates are now required at Stage 1.

Return to endnote 2 referrer

Endnote 3

At Statistics Canada, projects that are valued equal to or more than $150,000 must use the Departmental Project Management Framework.

Return to endnote 3 referrer

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