Phoenix Failing

The following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed or troubled projects from around the world.

Department of Public Works and Government Services – Canada
Project type : New payroll system
Project name : Phoenix
Date : 
Jul 2016
Cost :
 $2B +

Synopsis :
A Phoenix is supposed to rise from the flames. Instead of rising, Canada’s new federal government payroll system (called Phoenix) seems to be stuck firmly in the flames. According to reports from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), since the deployment of a new payroll system started in Feb 2016, as good percentage of public servants have been incorrectly paid. Some have received too little, some too much and some have received no pay at all.  Some employees have reported receiving no pay for a full five months resulting in people having to borrow, dip into retirement savings or simply not pay their bills. The CBC has been championing the cases of the affected workers and has collated sample stories in the following links…

The breadth of the problem and the fact it has endured for 5 months has forced the issue up the political agenda to the point where the Prime Minister has been forced to comment on the problems (“you know your project is in trouble when … the Prime Minister has to address the issue”)…

As soon as the system was launched it was clear there were problems. As many as 7,000 calls per day were received by the system help desk. Being sized for a maximum of 2,200 calls per day the help desk was quickly overcome. By July of 2016, the number of outstanding problems reported by government employees had reached a staggering 82,000 cases. An analysis of the problems by government staff and IBM (the IT systems provider) found that the costs to address the ousting issues could be as a high as $50M).

UPDATED – Reports in 2018 now indicate the cost to fix the issue have ballooned into the billions! The Phoenix pay problem – working towards a solution – Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance – July 2018

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Failure to provide users with adequate training. Failure to cleanse data prior to migration to the new system. Software quality issues. Failure to have sufficient resources on hand to address launch glitches and problems.


  1. PHOENIX FALLING – Public servant who wasn’t getting paid quits in disgust
  2. TIMELINE – How the Phoenix pay system rose and fell
  3. Liberals agree to emergency meeting Thursday over Phoenix payroll mess
  4. Cost to fix federal government’s Phoenix pay system jumps to $25M
  5. Payroll fix could cost $50M this year, government says
  6. Government of Canada provides an update on Phoenix, the federal public service’s new pay system