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Phoenix Payroll Project lessons learned — Canadian Federal Government

The Auditor General of Canada has published the findings of two related reviews on the Federal Government Phoenix Payroll Project failure.


The Auditor General described the Phoenix Payroll Project an “incomprehensible failure of project management and oversight”.

As a consequence “about half a billion dollars was owed to staff who had been paid incorrectly”.

The learnings from this review can help projects successfully delivery on future investments.

The Auditor General reports are available on the Federal Government of Canada website.

Building and Implementing the Phoenix Pay System

Phoenix Pay Problems

Key themes from the review

Independent assurance oversight

Establish independent assurance oversight and schedule reviews at key decision points in the project lifecycle and most importantly at the go-live decision point.

Effective governance

Establish a fit for purpose governance structure, ensure accountabilities and decision right are explicit and ensure transparency. Ensure governance is effective based on high quality information and reporting for decision-making.

Effective and transparent go-live decision process

Ensure there is rigour and transparency in the go-live decision process. The go-live readiness decision must be evidence-based with clear and agreed decision rights.

If there is a problem it’s the ‘putting it right’ that counts

Importantly with payment systems, have a contingency plan in place in the event of issues at implementation. Understand the risks and plan, resource and organise for resolving any issues.

Do not compromise quality if the schedule is not achievable

Be prepared to ask for more time (and funding) if the quality and integrity of the system is likely to be compromised by an unachievable schedule.

Effective stakeholder engagement

Do not leave your stakeholders guessing. Establish open, honest and transparent engagement and communication and understand and respond effectively to their needs.


The System Assurance team provides Ministers, the Government Chief Digital Officer and other key stakeholders with confidence that the system of assurance supporting digital government outcomes is effective.

We publish government's formal assurance frameworks and guidance, and provide independent assurance oversight over high risk digital investments.

Assuring digital government outcomes

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