Portfolio Offices
December 2010


2.1 Business Planning

Planning processes are appropriate in the three Portfolio Offices examined.

Business planning is used by successful organizations to identify activities and initiatives that will contribute to the achievement of stated objectives. It is also the process by which managers identify priorities—an important aspect of managerial responsibilities, especially in situations where resources are scarce.

Each Portfolio Office develops an annual two-section integrated business plan as part of the Department of Justice’s integrated business planning cycle. Section 1 of this plan documents:

  • the portfolio’s and the Portfolio Office’s organization and structure, including the number of LSUs in the portfolio Footnote 1, the number of employees, and the annual budget;
  • the results of an environmental scan that identifies new initiatives in the portfolio, key issues, and risks that affect the portfolio, including key client initiatives that will have a major impact on the work done in the portfolio;
  • business and management priorities, including human resources, finance, and information management/information technology priorities (Business priorities are related to major client initiatives and issues.);
  • risks (Both corporate and portfolio level risks are documented; the portfolio level risk is described; the risk level is assessed; and planned mitigation measures are documented.);
  • performance indicators.

Section 2 of the plan, which is completed two months after Section 1, provides detailed operational planning information regarding specific resources (financial, human, information management/information technology, communications) that are needed to address the requirements and priorities identified in Section 1. Section 2 includes a Human Resources Plan that is based on a series of templates designed by the Management Sector, which must be completed by each Portfolio Office and its LSUs. The templates include a staffing plan that forecasts the number and level of full-time equivalent (FTE) Department of Justice positions that will be filled in each LSU and the Portfolio Office. The templates also identify whether the positions are indeterminate/term or new/existing positions.

We found that the integrated business plans produced by the three Portfolio Offices are consistent with the Management Sector’s requirements.

It is the audit team’s opinion that the planning process followed by the Portfolio Offices examined is appropriate.

The three Portfolio Offices’ business plans document the alignment of their strategic directions and priorities with government, departmental, and client priorities.

Strategic directions should be established and revisited through formal strategic planning activities. Consideration should be given to government and departmental priorities and client needs.

The Department of Justice’s annual planning cycle requires each Portfolio Office to align its planned activities with government, ministerial, departmental, and client priorities, as well as with the Department’s strategic outcomes Footnote 2. Each Portfolio Office’s plan therefore includes a description of how the portfolio’s activities align with the Department’s Program Activity Architecture Footnote 3. All three portfolios contribute to the same Strategic Outcome—a federal government that is supported by effective and responsive legal services—through program activity B1- Services to Government.

When the Portfolio Offices prepare these plans, they respect government and departmental objectives and priorities that flow down to the portfolio from the Assistant Deputy Minister’s (ADM) or the Assistant Deputy Attorney General’s (ADAG) Performance Management Agreement (PMA) (e.g. implementing the Law Practice Model Footnote 4). In addition, the Portfolio Offices consult the LSU heads who have regular contact with their clients. These consultations result in the legal issues and legislative priorities of client departments being incorporated into portfolio business plans.

The Public Safety, Defence and Immigration Portfolio’s 2009-2010 Integrated Business Plan, for example, includes priorities to:

  • advise the government in relation to commissions of inquiry;
  • support the government’s national security, information technology security, emergency management, and border management initiatives and strategies, as well as parole and corrections initiatives;
  • support the government’s citizenship and immigration initiatives;
  • efficiently represent and support client organizations in litigation.

Specific initiatives are listed for each of the priorities documented in the plan. The priority to support the government’s citizenship and immigration initiatives, for example, includes initiatives regarding foreign credential recognition and amendments to the Citizenship Act in relation to overseas adoptions.

It is our view that the three Portfolio Offices have appropriately documented the alignment of their strategic directions and priorities with government, departmental, and client priorities.

The three Portfolio Offices examined identify risks to the achievement of their priorities and develop mitigation strategies for the risks.

Risks to the achievement of objectives and priorities should be identified and assessed, with explicit mitigation strategies for each significant risk.

Each Portfolio Office’s integrated business plan contains a section that documents the risks facing the portfolio, the level of the risk (low, moderate, or high), as well as planned mitigation strategies for addressing each risk. Some risks (e.g. the implementation of the Law Practice Model) are common to all three portfolios, as are the mitigation strategies. These include monitoring LSU staffing to ensure departing senior lawyers are replaced by more junior lawyers. Other risks are portfolio-specific. In the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio, for example, the key risks include:

  • legal skills and expertise shortfalls that could affect the Department’s ability to meet the needs of the government;
  • capacity shortfalls in corporate functions, especially human resources, that will reduce the ability to complete the staffing actions necessary to implement the Law Practice Model and reach its objectives;
  • reductions in the portfolio A-Base budget with resulting incremental costs for client departments and agencies that will compromise client relationships and quality and level of legal services provided;
  • lack of clear communication of the Law Practice Model to employees and clients that could compromise service delivery;
  • timing of changes to cost recovery processes that create funding pressures for client departments and agencies, especially if the Department does not provide sufficient lead time for clients to seek their own funding increases.

The respective mitigation strategies for the above key risks include:

  • succession planning, mentoring, enhancing the legal excellence program, active management of individual learning plans;
  • preparing detailed human resources plans and setting up service level agreements with the human resources sector;
  • planning for legal costs with client departments; clear and transparent discussions with client departments and agencies about the cost recovery model, legal services rates, and available A-Base budgets; and making the effects and impacts of portfolio A-Base budget reductions clear to the Department of Justice;
  • clear, focused, and coordinated communications on the implementation of the Law Practice Model by the Department to its own organizational units and client departments and agencies, and ongoing active monitoring of its implementation in LSUs;
  • providing advance notice to LSUs of changes in cost recovery processes so that they have time to discuss and negotiate changes to legal services agreements with client departments and agencies.

It is our view that the Portfolio Offices have appropriately identified the risks to the achievement of their priorities and developed reasonable mitigation strategies for these risks.

2.2 Organizing

The span of control in each portfolio is appropriate.

An appropriate span of control is essential for an effective organization. A wide span of control may limit the amount of feedback that can be provided to any one subordinate and/or the amount of time the supervisor has to focus on longer term objectives and plans.

The three portfolios examined differ in size. The Central Agencies Portfolio comprises seven LSUs. Its ADM serves as Counsel to the Department of Finance and is a member of the executive team of that department. The ADM is supported by a Special Advisor and Counsel to the ADM and a two-person business office.

The BRL Portfolio comprises 19 LSUs, plus two secretariats, and the (planned) Commercial Law Section, and is headed by an ADM who is Counsel to Industry Canada. He is supported by two deputy ADMs Footnote 5; three special advisors, who are lawyers; and a three-person business office. Approximately equal numbers of the LSUs report to the ADM and the two deputies for day-to-day operational matters. We were told that the deputy ADMs support the ADM in providing ongoing direction and guidance to the LSU heads Footnote 6 on substantive legal issues and are available to meet with LSU heads and their legal staff as required.

The PSDI Portfolio includes nine LSUs, plus the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes sections. The ADAG is supported by a Deputy ADAG, who provides direction to the LSUs on substantive legal issues and is available to meet with LSU heads as required. The PSDI Portfolio Office also has a Special Advisor/Inquiries Coordinator, a Special Advisor/Legal Counsel, the National Litigation Coordination Team, and a five-person business office.

All portfolio heads and their deputies stated that the number of LSUs in each portfolio were manageable. For example, the ADM, Business and Regulatory Law, pointed out that the portfolio has decreased in size since the National Defence and Canadian Forces LSU was transferred to the PSDI Portfolio in 2009, and that with two deputy ADMs, the portfolio has increased its capacity to coordinate activity, provide oversight, and deliver services to its LSUs.

The Portfolio Offices have established measures to promote a consistent approach to issues facing their LSUs and the Department of Justice. The BRL Portfolio, for example, has a specialized legal advisory service for matters of intellectual property, information technology, and Internet law, known as the Intellectual Property/Information Technology Secretariat. It provides expertise in areas relating to the protection and exploitation of the government’s intellectual property assets and the intellectual property dimensions of the federal government’s presence on the Internet. The PSDI Portfolio has a National Litigation Coordination Team that scans files for novel or significant legal issues, analyzes them for legal trends, disseminates them to LSUs and regions, and prepares briefings and opinions. In the Central Agencies Portfolio, copies of case summaries and legal updates are posted on the portfolio’s Intranet site.

The audit team interviewed a sample Footnote 7 of LSU heads from all three portfolios on whether they required any changes to the span of control in the Portfolio Office. None indicated that any changes were required. The heads were generally in agreement that both the amount and frequency of direction they received from their Portfolio Office on substantive legal issues were sufficient.

It is our opinion that the current span of control in each portfolio is appropriate.

2.3 Controlling

The three Portfolio Offices examined have processes in place to monitor their performance.

Monitoring is the ongoing, systematic process of collecting, analyzing, communicating, and using performance information. Monitoring is an essential component of assessing an organization’s progress toward meeting expected results. It supports decision making, accountability, and transparency.

Each portfolio’s integrated business plan includes an annex that lists performance indicators that are linked to the Department’s Program Activity Architecture’s strategic outcomes. The performance indicator for the Strategic Outcome Footnote 8 that is common to all three portfolios is trends in client perceptions of the usefulness, responsiveness, and timeliness of the legal services provided.

Performance against this indicator is monitored by client feedback surveys of all LSUs in a portfolio over a three-year cycle. These surveys are conducted by the Management Sector’s Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management (SPPM). Each survey provides LSU-specific measurements and comparisons to portfolio averages. The results from each LSU’s survey are provided to both the LSU and the Portfolio Office.

As noted earlier, all portfolio heads have PMAs that include government and departmental objectives and priorities, some of which are flowed down to the PMA established with LSU heads (e.g. implementation of the Law Practice Model). We were told that both the BRL and PSDI Portfolio Offices regularly review progress on PMA commitments, and that a list of portfolio accomplishments is periodically updated as the year progresses. Implementation of the Law Practice Model is a particular focus at present and is monitored in all portfolios, as is financial performance. (See “Monitoring Financial Performance”.)

It is our opinion that the performance monitoring of the Portfolio Offices examined is satisfactory.

2.4 Leading and Communicating

The three Portfolio Offices examined communicate their plans and priorities to their LSUs.

Communicating priorities is an important step in ensuring that each portfolio’s LSUs understand expectations.

LSUs are kept informed about their portfolio’s priorities though a variety of measures. Drafts of each portfolio’s integrated business plan are circulated among its LSUs for review, comment, and input before they are finalized. In two portfolios, the ADM’s or the ADAG’s PMA is provided to the LSU heads for use in preparing their own PMA with the portfolio head. LSU heads are kept up-to-date about changes in priorities though email messages and during meetings that take place throughout the year.

The three Portfolio Offices examined use a variety of communication mechanisms to strengthen links with LSUs and regional offices.

Effective and appropriate communications are essential in any workplace. Information needs to be shared on a timely basis so that actions can be taken based on current and correct information.

All Portfolio Offices use email to communicate with their LSUs and with personnel in the Department of Justice’s regional offices who provide services to the portfolio’s client departments that have a regional presence. The email communications include directives, advisories, and other information on legal, management, business, financial, human resources, social, and training matters.

Additional communications mechanisms used in the BRL Portfolio are:

  • monthly bilateral meetings between the ADM and each LSU head (More frequent meetings may be held with individual LSU heads (i.e., if there is a pressing or high-profile legal issue);
  • a monthly lunch meeting with the ADM and all LSU heads and their deputies to discuss legal, management, and human resources issues (regional directors attend by phone, unless they are in Ottawa and can attend in person);
  • an annual retreat with the ADM and LSU heads and regional directors that focuses on major legal issues, the Law Practice Model, and new portfolio initiatives.

In addition, the ADM stated that he tries to visit each LSU and region annually.

We were told that LSU heads were satisfied with the amount and frequency of direction they receive on legal issues, adding that the BRLP was very responsive and supportive.

The Central Agencies Portfolio supplements email communications with:

  • monthly meetings between the ADM and all LSU heads, at which each LSU head makes a presentation on current activity in the LSU followed by a discussion of horizontal issues (e.g. the Law Practice Model);
  • annual all-staff meetings in Ottawa;
  • as required ad hoc meetings to discuss urgent or high priority issues.

The PSDI Portfolio holds:

  • weekly conference calls between the ADM and LSU heads and regional directors that deal with management of the law and administrative management issues;
  • monthly bilateral meetings with the ADM and each LSU head;
  • as-required face-to-face meetings between the ADM and LSU heads;
  • three all-managers meetings each year.

The LSU heads and regional directors in all portfolios advised that these mechanisms provide a satisfactory amount and frequency of direction on legal issues and priorities. However, in some portfolios there were calls for more support with regard to administrative processes and horizontal issues such as financial reporting, cost recovery, and staffing. This is discussed in more detail in the “Leading and Communicating” sections of the “Observations – Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio” and “Observations – Central Agencies” sections of this report.

It is the audit team’s opinion that the communication mechanisms used by the Portfolio Offices examined serve to strengthen the links with LSUs and regional offices.

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