Working together to achieve the value of project management

the city of Calgary experience


In 2011, The City of Calgary (The City), in response to recommendations documented in reports from its internal City Auditor, undertook to review and revitalize project management practices across the organization. This was a significant undertaking because it included many City departments involved in numerous types of projects, including transportation, utilities, buildings and information technology. In order to accomplish this, a program was initiated to create a Corporate Project Management Framework (Framework) that would lay the foundation for organization-wide project management practices.

This paper focuses on the importance of starting with and adhering to foundational principles in the area of organizational change management. These key principles are highlighted along with a discussion on how they were applied. The application of these principles has led to achieving significant progress through strong engagement of the organization in the development, implementation and application of the Corporate Project Management Framework. A core principle of this change initiative was the belief that if the Corporate Project Management Framework is built by City project managers for City project managers, then the result would be successful and sustainable.


The City of Calgary, located in Alberta, Canada, has had the experience of being one of the faster growing municipalities in North America over the last number of years. With this growth has come major investment in public infrastructure in the form of rapid transit, roadways, buildings, interchanges, parks, recreation facilities and water services. In 2011, internal audits focusing on project management highlighted some areas for improvement. The City takes very seriously a commitment to being good stewards of public funds invested in operations and projects. As such, it was important to take the feedback from the audit reports and review internal project management practices.

A program was initiated to create a Corporate Project Management Framework that would lay the foundation for organization-wide project management practices. While still underway, the program has made significant progress.

The information that follows is a case study that features a discussion of organizational change management principles, including the importance of an implementation approach based on a sound organizational change management model, strong sponsorship and governance, constant stakeholder engagement and flexibility. There is also some discussion on how these principles were applied in a large and complex organization environment.


Project management came significantly to the fore at The City in 2006 when a Corporate Project Management Center was established. This was a result of negative perception of some projects due to reports prepared by the City Auditor that pointed to a number of opportunities to improve in the area of project management. In response to this, a Corporate Project Management Center was established to support the practice of project management by developing and providing training and other services available to project managers across the enterprise. The challenge at that time was that the services offered by the Corporate Project Management Center were optional. There was no requirement to use the services or take the training. While there was a documented set of Project Management Guidelines, compliance was not mandatory.

The limited compliance with the Project Management Guidelines published at that time was essentially a result of the culture at The City being traditionally one of departmental and business unit autonomy. Corporate involvement was often seen as interference and counterproductive. However, this did not stop the Corporate Project Management Center from achieving some success by establishing relationships with like-minded groups and individuals throughout The City. This was supported through the delivery of a strong internal project management training program along with other service offerings such as facilitated project planning and lessons learned workshops.

In 2011 the City Auditor released reports on subsequent projects and recommended that project management be taken to the next level by creating corporate project management standards that would apply to all construction projects. It was found that the audited projects were lacking, or could not provide evidence of certain elements of good project management practice. This is not to say that construction projects were not being well managed or that there were not project successes. It is to say that the reports pointed out that there was a lack of consistency in project management practices. Also, in some cases clear and complete records of projects were not available to tell the story of the project from business case to implementation to close out.

It was recommended in the audit reports that a Corporate Project Management Framework with project management standards be developed and that the role of the existing Corporate Project Management Center be enhanced. Role enhancement meant that the Corporate Project Management Center would lead the development of the Corporate Project Management Framework and standards and maintain them once developed.

While this recommendation and the enhanced role were welcomed, it did put the Corporate Project Management Center in a difficult position. This took the form of developing and implementing project management standards that would apply across the organization, across a diverse range of projects and in an organization structure and culture that were highly autonomous. The challenge was also greater as the Corporate Project Management Center was a small corporate group in relation to the size and complexity of the business groups they were supporting.

The Corporate Project Management Center could have attempted a top-down approach in the development of the Corporate Project Management Framework. A unilateral approach of developing and implementing the Framework would surely have been faster and easier, at least in some respects. However, it was determined early that this approach would face significant challenges in terms of acceptance and adoption. Since sustainment and ultimately continuous improvement were part of the plans for the Framework, acceptance and adoption were essential desired outcomes. Another approach would need to be found.

A Model for Change

Principle 1: Base the approach on a sound organizational change management model.

Given the challenge of developing and implementing project management standards across the organization with a formidable culture to overcome, it was recognized that while the task ahead was about project management standards, it was more about organizational change management.

Having arrived at this realization, it was fortunate that some internal capacity in the area of organizational change management existed, along with a model. The model and capacity that existed were based on Prosci ADKAR. The model used in the development and implementation of the Corporate Project Management Framework was loosely based on Prosci ADKAR. ADKAR is an acronym that stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. These refer to different stages of engaging stakeholders that can be applied at the organizational or individual level. Since it is beyond the scope of this paper to advocate one model over another, the discussion of Prosci ADKAR is limited to the short description above. The point to be emphasized is that having a model to work with to guide organizational change management activities was essential. This is because it provided some key elements to guide the development and implementation of the Corporate Project Management Framework and to specifically address the people aspect of change.

The adopted model was a modified change management approach geared specifically to the organization. Emphasis was on support across all stakeholder groups while recognizing the need for strong belief in the solutions being developed. It proved to be useful very early in the process in the areas of stakeholder identification and the planning of engagement activities around desired outcomes. Using this model as a guide made it possible to identify and assess stakeholders and target specific engagement activities depending on the stage of development. It also provided a model to think through different aspects of communication, including the appropriate method of communication, what should be communicated and who should deliver the message. In some cases the executive sponsor played a role by communicating expectations, which helped in the areas of increasing awareness and addressing desire. In other situations other levels of management were engaged to communicate. Communication and engagement were also facilitated through existing training courses that were updated to ensure people had the knowledge and ability to use the Framework.

The principle to take away from this discussion is the importance of organizational change management. While project managers will often focus on deliverables, it is organizational change management that is the key to achieving the value of the deliverables. Asking people to be part of the change effort and help in the process of defining how they work as opposed to telling them is extremely powerful and at the same time equally difficult. It takes time and commitment. An approach based on sound organizational change management facilitates the process of assessing impact on the people of the organization and how to effectively achieve the outcomes being sought.

Sponsorship, Governance, and Organization

Principle 2: Seek out and confirm active sponsorship and oversight to support the program.

One factor essential to the success of any initiative involving organizational change management is active and effective project sponsorship. The importance of this principle was recently highlighted in a report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by the Project Management Institute titled, “Why Good Strategies Fail: Lessons for the C-Suite.” A key point in this report is that buy-in and support by senior leadership are essential for the successful implementation of strategies (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013).

The process for ensuring the buy-in and support by senior leadership for the Corporate Project Management Framework started by engaging early with the City Manager who readily acknowledged and accepted the role of executive sponsor. Also critical was fulfilling the role of project sponsor. Why was it deemed necessary to have an executive sponsor and project sponsor? What was the difference between the two? If it is important to establish sponsorship it is equally important to ensure that the sponsorship is at the right level and that there is active involvement. Since developing and implementing the Corporate Project Management Framework spanned much of the organization, it merited sponsorship at a very senior level to facilitate alignment. However, it was not reasonable to expect that the City Manager, who is the “chief executive officer” of the municipality, would be able to fulfill a day-to-day role on the project. This is why a project sponsor was also appointed. The project sponsor, who had experience in many of the areas of the organization and was responsible for corporate project management, was in a position to participate on a daily basis.

Sponsorship is important to ensure projects are aligned to organizational strategy and objectives as well as to actively champion the project. In this case, it was decided that the roles of executive sponsor and project sponsor would complement each other and this did turn out to be the case.

The executive sponsor was involved and active from the start. It was agreed that there would be monthly meetings to provide updates on progress and to review issues and risks. The executive sponsor was also engaged to communicate electronically, at internal town hall sessions and where other opportunities existed. The project sponsor was involved as needed but also fulfilled another key role as chair of the program steering committee.

The program steering committee was formed early and played a significant role in the governance of the program. The steering committee was comprised of a management representative from each business unit that performs a significant number of major construction projects. The steering committee also included supporting business unit, including Supply and Procurement, Information Technology and Finance. The steering committee was formalized by terms of reference and met every two weeks to receive updates on progress and for opportunities to provide direction to the program.

A key responsibility of the steering committee was to review and endorse Corporate Project Management Framework deliverables. Primarily these were the new standards that were developed by project teams established to work on specific aspects of the Framework. Each team was represented by project managers, engineers and support staff from the business. The project manager of each team had the opportunity to present the completed deliverables to the steering committee for endorsement. This was a major means by which steering committee members were engaged in the process.

Corporate Project Management Framework program organization/governance structure

Exhibit 1 – Corporate Project Management Framework program organization/governance structure

Another essential component of governance was the formation of a program office. This small team consisted of a staff program manager and external consultants who facilitated the planning and coordination of the overall effort, including regular progress reporting. The project office served as a liaison between Framework development teams, the steering committee, project sponsor, and executive sponsor.

Taking the time to consider the sponsorship and governance model for the Corporate Project Management Framework contributed to the success that has been achieved. This is what makes appropriate and effective sponsorship and governance one of the principles to keep in mind. Sponsorship and governance are instrumental in linking to organizational strategy and in maintaining focus when there are many things that can be a distraction or even derail a program such as this one.

The Case for Change

Principle 3: Stakeholders must understand the case for change in their terms.

Closely related to active and engaged sponsorship is the need to prepare the case for change. Ultimately this is about being able to speak to the value of the program and being able to answer, when someone asks, why are we doing this? Kotter (1996) speaks about establishing as one of the first steps of a major change effort a sense of urgency and ensuring that there must be a concerted effort to move away from complacency.

The Corporate Project Management Framework program certainly had justification and motivation. The previously mentioned reports from the City Auditor spoke to a number of areas that in their view needed to be addressed. Responding to audit report recommendations is not considered to be optional. Reports from the City Auditor become public and are approved by City Council. This means that The City certainly felt the urgency and had a case for change simply based on the need to respond to the audit reports.

However, this by itself may not have resulted in the lasting change that was desired. As a result, the Corporate Project Management Framework program examined where benefits could be realized. Four major areas were identified where benefits could be achieved; cost management, risk management, transparency and increased support for project managers (refer to Exhibit 2 below).

Benefit Target Areas

Exhibit 2 – Benefit Target Areas

These areas of benefits were included and discussed in presentations to senior management and other stakeholders to ensure that benefits beyond the need to address the City Auditor's report recommendations were identified and understood. It was found that the benefit areas identified above did resonate with different stakeholders, ranging from senior leaders to front-line project managers.

It is essential to ensure that time is spent on being able to articulate the benefits to be achieved by undertaking a major effort such as this. Benefits must be aligned with stakeholder expectations. Stakeholders must understand the case for change in their terms.

Engagement and Communication

Principle 4: Involve stakeholders from the start in roles that are defined and meaningful.

Closely related and difficult to distinguish at times are the elements of stakeholder engagement and communication. They are certainly intertwined within the concept of organizational change management and must be effective to be successful.

It was mentioned previously that one option the Corporate Project Management Center had was to develop the Corporate Project Management Framework using a top-down approach. It was quickly decided that to be successful and to increase the likelihood of lasting change, full engagement of stakeholders was necessary. People from departments and business units who would be expected to adhere to the Corporate Project Management Framework needed to be part of the process from the start. They needed to have defined and meaningful roles and see themselves in the result. This level of engagement was critical.

While formal communication strategies and plans were created, the communication activities complimented the involvement of stakeholders in the development of the Corporate Project Management Framework. Having stakeholders from the departments and business units included in the process of developing the Framework accomplished a number of things. It brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience to the process. It turned the participants into advocates. It established a devolved network of support aligned across the organization as well as a baseline for sustainment.

Additional organizational change management activities were undertaken at the senior leadership level. Their assistance and support for the program were critical. Meetings with senior leaders were held to keep them apprised of activities and their respective departments’ involvement in the process. It was through this means that their continued endorsement and support were confirmed. Communication was drafted to support the outcomes of these meetings and was part of the communication campaign.

It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of involving stakeholders from the beginning. It is equally important for their roles to be reasonably well defined and meaningful.

How the Corporate Project Management Framework Developed

Principle 5: Strive for balance and flexibility.

At this point in the discussion, it is useful to describe at a high level how the Corporate Project Management Framework was developed. Development work on the Corporate Project Management Framework started with a conceptual model. The conceptual model is shown in Exhibit 3. Creating this conceptual model was the start of the process to ensure that the Framework development process would be aligned with good organizational change management practices.

The model started with the general stated goal of being able to deliver project results consistently, effectively, and efficiently across the organization. This is shown at the top of the conceptual model in Exhibit 3. The model also recognized that there are various inputs to be considered. These are listed in the four boxes along the bottom of Exhibit 3. These included existing organizational policies and practices, industry standards, legislative and regulatory requirements and practices already developed within individual departments and business units.

The Corporate Project Management Framework is represented by the four major elements in the middle of Exhibit 3. Of course there was to be a documented component of the Framework; what is referred to in the first box as project management policy, practices and standards. These are the documented requirements with respect to project management. The second component is the support required for the Framework. The support includes training, tools, templates, mentoring/coaching and other support services to ensure project managers and other stakeholders have the knowledge and ability to adhere to the Framework. The third component recognizes the importance of organizational support through governance and specifically ensuring quality and effective reporting. The final component of the Framework explicitly states the need for people to put the Framework into practice in order to achieve the benefits.

Corporate Project Management Framework conceptual model

Exhibit 3 – Corporate Project Management Framework conceptual model

By starting with an overall conceptual model it was possible to recognize that there were contributions to be made by other areas of the organization and that they were parts of the process.

As mentioned above, a major component of the conceptual model of the Corporate Project Management Framework is the formal, documented part of it. This takes the form of policy, practices and standards and is illustrated in Exhibit 4. While this may sound like significant overhead, the three components complement and build upon each other.

Corporate Project Management Framework Policy, Practices, Standards

Exhibit 4 – Corporate Project Management Framework Policy, Practices, Standards

Development of a formal corporate policy had already been underway for some time. A formal policy is useful at The City because it serves as a formal statement by senior leadership of priorities and sets expectations for the organization. In this case it reinforced the importance of project management. Establishing policy also served as a vehicle to engage senior leaders and other stakeholders in the development process. The policy itself is straightforward. It requires adherence to The City of Calgary Project Management Practices. Having a policy for project management is a means of raising its profile and highlighting its importance to the success of the organization.

The City Project Management Practices guide evolved from Project Management Guidelines that were originally developed and released in January 2008. The City Project Management Practices guide serves the purpose of broadly defining project management process at The City. Important components of the practices are twelve foundational principles of project management to be applied at The City and a summary level process including expected deliverables.

While the practices guide provides a summary of expectations, it does not go into detail on specific project management deliverables. Where it was determined that additional direction would be beneficial, standards were developed. Standards provided additional direction on specific project management deliverables or practices.

While the Framework could already leverage the policy and practices guide, additional work was required to review the audit reports and identify other opportunities that stakeholders wished to bring forward. Consistent with good organizational change management practice, stakeholders from the departments and business units were included in the process of assessing and prioritizing opportunities. These opportunities were defined at a high level and organized into a program of work.

This program of work was presented to the program steering committee, senior management and City Council and approved.

Some of the opportunities that were approved would result in standards as mentioned above. Examples of areas where specific standards were developed include:

  • Project Business Case
  • Estimating and Contingency
  • Project Charter
  • Project Plan
  • Project Progress Reporting
  • Project Change Control
  • Project Records and Information Management

The process for developing new standards involved forming a team of representatives from departments and business units across The City. A project manager for each team was also recruited, in many cases from participating departments or business units. Each team set a schedule for regular meetings to develop the content for the standard. Upon completion of a draft of the standard it was circulated for review to the steering committee. At a subsequent meeting of the steering committee the standard would be presented, there would be opportunity for discussion, and a vote on approval was taken.

The process for developing and approving standards was not without challenges. Having to find common ground with representatives from different departments and business units each with different interests and challenges was demanding. This is where the principle of striving for balance and flexibility comes into play. While the direction could have been given to create very detailed and prescriptive standards, it was decided that it would be better to challenge teams to find the right balance between being prescriptive and establishing principles to be followed. In other words, teams were asked to focus on what needs to be done, not how it is to be done. This allowed for the creation of a flexible Corporate Project Management Framework that focused on outcomes rather than details. It also allowed teams, who were responsible for developing the standards, and the steering committee, who needed to approve the standards, to focus on where agreement could be reached rather than where there were differences at the detailed level.

While the process started out slow and did encounter challenges, it become easier as individuals became comfortable with the process and each other. In the end, all new Corporate Project Management Framework standards that were developed by project teams and presented to the steering committee were approved for implementation.

This has been a short description of the process that was followed to develop new standards to become part of the Corporate Project Management Framework. The intent of this was to highlight the importance of finding the right level of detail and maintaining flexibility in approach, especially where there is a large and diverse group of stakeholders involved. This approach does result in buy-in, develops advocates and increases commitment to the change. The importance of flexibility cannot be over emphasized. A willingness to be flexible, without compromising on outcomes, demonstrates a willingness to be collaborative. This in turn builds trust.

The Roll Out

Principle 6: Continuously engage stakeholders throughout; recognizing that the people involved and roles may change.

It was one thing to design and develop the Corporate Project Management Framework. It was quite another to implement it. Implementation involved taking the deliverables from the Framework and putting them into practice. It meant in most cases a series of activities where stakeholders in the departments and business units reviewed practices they had in place and took the necessary steps to ensure compliance to the Framework; meaning the policy, practices and new standards. It also involved new people getting involved and a change in role for those who had been participating in the development of Framework deliverables.

Again, organizational change management comes into play and to be successful, the departmental and business unit stakeholders would need to take the lead; they would need to own the implementation. In this regard, each department assigned an implementation lead who worked directly with leads in each business unit to develop implementation plans. In addition, a staff member from the Corporate Project Management Center was assigned to each department to provide assistance. Corporate Project Management Center staff provided ongoing consulting support as well as tools to help assess alignment to the Framework and in particular, the new standards. This shared implementation model was necessary not just because it facilitated ownership at the department and business unit level, but there simply were not enough corporate staff available to lead and complete the implementation across The City.

The shared implementation model enabled some unanticipated benefits. Some of the departments and business units were creative in how they approached their respective implementations. This resulted in some ideas starting in one area and being utilized successfully in other areas. For example, there was an issue around engaging all project managers in a timely fashion to share the new standards with them. A formal training course was available for project managers but there was insufficient capacity to accommodate the entire project management community in a short period of time. In addition, it was determined that simple electronic communication would not be sufficient to deliver the information the project management community needed to hear. There needed to be a more collaborative approach to sharing information.

The idea of using a modified world café format emerged in one department. In this model, project managers and other stakeholders came together and had the opportunity to hear from people involved in developing the Framework and standards directly.

The format involved setting up stations for each new standard along with a facilitator who was a member of the team who developed the standard. As project managers circulated in small groups from one station to another they had the opportunity to learn about the Framework and new standards and the rationale behind their development. The world café format also afforded the opportunity to invite senior leaders to speak directly to their project managers to express their support. This had a powerful positive impact on the overall program.

Stakeholders must be part of the process. Including them will pay dividends in many ways, not the least of which is higher likelihood of successfully embedding the necessary changes.

What is next for the Corporate Project Management Framework?

While much has been done and has been achieved, there is still work to do. Two of the feature components of the Corporate Project Management Framework are in the pilot stage. These are the Corporate Project Dashboard and a new Project Management Quality Assurance Program. The Corporate Project Dashboard will facilitate transparency by consistently reporting project performance for senior leaders and City Council. The Project Management Quality Assurance Program is a new initiative that will help ensure compliance to the Corporate Project Management Framework and, just as important, provide opportunities for sharing of knowledge, experience and lessons learned. This is also at the foundation of a plan for sustaining and continuous improvement of the Corporate Project Management Framework.

There are also some challenges. The program executive sponsor will retire in early 2014. There are also changes to steering committee membership and project teams. An ongoing challenge is maintaining focus on the Corporate Project Management Framework as there are always new initiatives getting underway. However, this is why so much effort was put into the organizational change management aspects of the program. It was to help ensure the Framework was embedded.

Reassuringly, there are signs that embedment has been successful. The City Auditor continues to promote enhancements to the Corporate Project Management Framework and there is an ongoing requirement to report progress on the Framework to City Council. In addition, the Framework has been recognized as a component of the Mayor's strategic Transforming Government initiative.

Also, the City recently experienced the most significant flooding ever recorded with substantial damage to homes, private businesses and public infrastructure. While it would have been easy to dismiss the Framework in a time of crisis, it was stated by many senior stakeholders in the flood recovery efforts that projects must still comply with the Framework. This surely is a sign that much progress has been made in the recognition of the value of project management!

Concluding Comments

The theme of this paper has been to emphasize the importance of organizational change management. While the task of creating and implementing the Corporate Project Management Framework at The City was not simple, success has been achieved by recognizing and adhering to key organizational change management principles.

As discussed at various points in this paper, these can be summarized as:

  • Recognizing the importance of organizational change management and the role it plays in realizing the benefits from projects.
  • Ensuring that there is appropriate, active, and effective sponsorship.
  • The importance of a holistic, active and strong governance model that in addition to facilitating decision making and resolving issues, helps to build commitment.
  • Utilizing an approach where stakeholders are not just part of the solution but are the solution, including direct engagement in development and implementation as this facilitates a sense of ownership.
  • Entering into the process with a focus on desired outcomes, allowing for flexibility in development and implementation. Where agreement is required across a diverse group of stakeholders in a large, complex organization, it is more important to agree on what needs to be done and not necessarily how it is to be done.

As a final comment, this case study is an example of how commitment to organizational change management principles is a means of building something that will be resilient and can weather the storms that will inevitably come.


Hiatt, J. (2006). ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government, and Our Community. Prosci Research: Loveland, CO.

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA.

Project Management Institute (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (2013) Why good strategies fail: Lessons for the C-suite [White Paper]. Retrieved from

© James Duggan, The City of Calgary and Michael O'Neil, KPMG LLP
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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