Note – I started writing this two weeks before the Government tabled it’s new budget and the story has continued to evolve…
One of the courses I have taught at Boise State’s Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning Program is Thinking in Systems. Looking at the world with a systems perspective gives me a migraine sometimes. Other times I want to poke my head in the sand because systems are messy. Yet other times I get fired up and want to figure out why a certain system is functioning (or not) they way it is intended to.
I came across this article “A conversation with the commander of the navy” about ten days before the Liberal Government announced it’s budget. I have been pondering Vice-Admiral Norman’s comments on procurement, particularly as I have sailed on three classes of Canadian Warships that were purchased (time for fun with my thesaurus… appropriated, wrangled, secured, prevailed upon) at three different times in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Since retiring from the Navy, working from the inside of the military industrial complex gives me a new perspective on the procurement system too!
In the article, Admiral Norman said “I think in terms of the relative priority of the big-ticket items, that’s a tough space and ultimately the armed forces recommends large or major capital programs to government based on how we interpret the equipment needs to deliver on what it is we think government wants us to do.” (My emphasis)
The orange text is what really caught my eye and it had me reflecting back on an excellent movie from 1998 called The Pentagon Wars, starring Kelsey Grammer. If you haven’t seen it, Matthew Gault provides a great synopsis of the movie, a story of scope creep of magnificent proportions. The ability of personalities to influence major decisions (procurement in this case) regardless of facts and common sense is something that has always astounded me.
So what does this all have to do with performance improvement? Based on the ISPI HPT Model one of the first things we check is the organization vision mission and values. What is it that the Government of Canada wants the Canadian Forces and then the Navy to do? Well, that is spelled out in the Canada First Defence Strategy which was published in 2008 (Berthiaume, 2015) Check! But wait…
“Defence officials quietly declared [the Canada First Defence Strategy] unaffordable in 2011, only three years into what was supposed to be a 20-year run. Troublesome procurement projects have also largely hollowed it out, with plans to purchase new planes and other equipment postponed or cancelled” (Berthiaume, 2015).
So it would appear while there was a plan and some goals, the “gizintas” (you know.. 2 gzinta 4 two times) weren’t done very well. The mission goals are now eight years old and in desperate need of a refresh.
Another contributing factor might be that the Canadian Forces isn’t the master of it’s own destiny when it comes to buying stuff. Well, not exactly true.. if they are buying pens, or toilet paper they are masters. Ships? Forget about it. Enter Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC). If the military wants to buy anything over a certain dollar figure (depending on if it is a good or a service being purchased and what the current rules are) they have to go through PWGSC. It gets worse of course as the $$$ figure goes up.
Prior to the release of the budget, this article from the Globe shows how complicated “financial planning” for purchasing big ticket items is. The long lead times in planning and procurement enmeshed with the lightning fast changes in technology and shifting political landscape inside and outside of the military make it very chaotic.
Now that the budget is out Global and CTV reported that the government will “delay $3.7 billion in planned defence purchases – ships, planes and vehicles – indefinitely.” There was quite an uproar within my circle of friends that are retired and/or still in the military.
What got my attention in the CTV article was Morneau’s comment that the Liberals need a year to figure out Canada’s defence priorities. If we consider that the Canada First Defence Strategy is in need of review, wouldn’t it make sense to take a deep breath – pause – and craft a new plan before finalizing plans for major equipment?
Admiral Norman said in his article “We have a structure today that we have inherited over time. More by default than by design. That structure allows us to do a whole bunch of really important things…We can change that structure if need be, but we need to know what we’re changing it for.”
It sounds to me like the Government might be doing just that
Berthiaume, L. (2015). No new defence strategy, four years after original declared unaffordable. Ottawa Citizen.