To ensure that the significant investments made in CFI-funded projects deliver the expected benefits, the timely implementation and completion of projects is important. In some instances, significant delays in project implementation can reduce the relevance and/or competitive edge of the infrastructure or research. Therefore, it is important for the institution and the CFI to finalize award agreements quickly and to carefully monitor the implementation of each project.
To achieve this, several institutions have implemented processes and mechanisms to mitigate the risk of significant delays. These can include:
- Giving consideration to all key aspects of a project’s implementation at the proposal development stage: Discussion of key considerations such as the project’s readiness and special requirements if any (e.g. space, technical specifications) takes place at the pre-award stage. This helps ensure that only projects that are mature enough and viable are considered for submission to the CFI, thereby reducing the risk of implementation delays and post-award changes that may negatively impact the project.
- Establishing realistic and reasonable implementation timelines at the proposal and award finalization stages: Key support units that will manage the project (e.g. research services, purchasing services, and facilities management, if there is a renovation or construction component) are involved in the earlier stages of an award. Their experience and expertise allows for consideration to be given to important factors that may delay the acquisition of certain items (e.g. negotiations between various institutions, time needed to finalize specifications, contract negotiations, acceptance testing).
- Finalizing award agreements quickly: Monitoring the award finalization process closely so that projects can be moved along and implemented on a timely basis. Matching funding must be secured prior to finalizing an award agreement with the CFI. While most institutions will finalize an award agreement with the CFI only once provincial funding is confirmed, some institutions will do so before obtaining this confirmation and bear the risk related to provincial funding in order to allow projects to be implemented more quickly (i.e. in the event that the contribution does not materialize, they would make the contribution themselves). Practices in this area vary based on the risk tolerance level of institutions.
- Monitoring project timelines during implementation: Implementation timelines are usually monitored by one or several key support units. Practices may include, for example, the review of the project’s spending rate (e.g. at financial reporting or more frequently as required) and follow-up procedures performed several months ahead of the project’s established end date to discuss and confirm the expected end date for the project. Some institutions tailor the nature and extent of their oversight activities to the risk of delays for each project (e.g. more frequent reviews for higher risk projects).
Here's how some institutions have implemented these practices.
University of Ottawa
At the University of Ottawa, the management of the life cycle of CFI projects is under the responsibility of the Strategic Project Management Group (SPMG). The SPMG is composed of key services representing the Vice-President Research Office, Procurement Services, Facilities and Finance. These key services interact at all stages of CFI projects to coordinate and support the planning, implementation and reporting of the CFI projects in collaboration with researchers and their faculties. The SPMG steering committee (associate vice-presidents and directors of key services) meets monthly to discuss strategic priorities and challenges associated with CFI projects.
Once the university has received an award notification from the CFI, a meeting between the SPMG and the project leader is held to discuss the award finalization process. Procurement Services, Facilities (when required), Animal Care Services (when required), and the project leader work together to establish a procurement strategy and ensure that realistic implementation timelines are built into the project.
The university will allow the finalization of the award agreement with the CFI for certain projects (e.g. those under the John R. Leaders Fund) before confirmation of provincial funding is obtained, hereby allowing these projects to quickly move along. The decision to award bridge funding is based on a risk assessment matrix. Low-risk projects will benefit from bridge funding: high-risk projects will wait for confirmation of provincial funding before award finalization.
During project implementation, delays or significant changes that may negatively impact project completion are discussed at regular SPMG meetings, paying specific attention to higher-risk projects. In order to better communicate challenges, risks and issues associated with the CFI portfolio, the SPMG developed in 2017 a CFI Project Status document providing a high-level overview of active CFI projects and projects awaiting decisions. Each of the four key services provides an update from its perspective on the project, with a standardized colour code (red, yellow, green) to readily visualize project status. A General Project Status column summarizes the overall project. The CFI Project Status is shared with Vice-Deans Research, Service Directors, and with the SPMG Steering Committee on a quarterly basis. Project status is also reviewed as part of the financial reporting and project end date review processes, as well as during the budget updates done throughout the year for the university and the Province. Steering committees and assigned project managers ensure proper monitoring and oversight for the implementation of large and more complex projects. These measures ensure that issues with the timely implementation of projects are identified as soon as possible and addressed.
Director, Office of Strategic Development Initiatives
Phone: 613.562.5800 ext. 3405
Email: cbeaule [at] uottawa.ca
Director, Research, Trust and Endowment
Phone: 613.562.5800 ext. 1509
Email: france.boucher [at] uottawa.ca
University Research Services is highly engaged at the proposal development stage, and seeks input from key support units prior to application as project needs dictate. Space considerations are reviewed at the proposal development stage to ensure proposed space is adequate and suitable for the required technical specifications of the infrastructure requested.
Queen’s University finalizes award agreements quickly with the CFI, often within a few months. At the award finalization stage, the university obtains updated quotes and pricing for very large items and submits an updated budget to the CFI when required (updated quotes are also obtained when original quotes are more than a year old). The university does not wait for the provincial funding decision to finalize the award agreements with the CFI. Spending of the CFI funds is allowed by the institution when the CFI Award Agreement has been received and the provincial funding decision is known. For the spending of provincial funds, the provincial award agreement must be in place. This process allows projects to start spending quickly, while balancing risk and exposure related to provincial funding.
University Research Services works in close collaboration with Strategic Procurement Services, Research Accounting and Physical Plant Services to monitor progress at various stages of the project. At the procurement stage, costs and in-kind valuations are monitored by Strategic Procurement Services. Project Managers from Physical Plant Services monitor the status of projects with a construction or renovation component. Project status is also monitored by key units during operations committee meetings. Financial reporting provides an opportunity to monitor the project status and is completed by Research Accounting where actual expenditures are reported and explanations provided for cost variances. University Research Services oversees project implementation and works collaboratively with all offices noted above to ensure the project is operational in a timely fashion, and reports any delays or project changes.
Research Facilitator, Institutional Programs
University Research Services
Phone: 613.533.6000 ext.32757
Email: hoilesh [at] queensu.ca