Practice advisory services review project underway

What are the challenges for practising professional engineers working for certificate of authorization (C of A)–holding firms? How is the business environment for professional engineering changing? How do firms solve their engineering project problems over the project’s lifecycle? How do C of A firms make use of PEO’s practice advisory services and tools? These are some of the questions being addressed in PEO’s practice advisory services review project, which started in July by PEO’s policy and professional affairs department.

The project aims to improve the effectiveness of PEO’s practice advisory services and tools for the approximately 5600 engineering firms holding a PEO-issued C of A—which allows firms to offer professional engineering services to the public and assures that a P.Eng. can assume responsibility for its engineering work. All engineers, clients and members of the public can also access the practice advisory services, which are available on PEO’s website ( and include guidelines, standards, webinars and presentations.

PEO’s policy and professional affairs department began working with Overlaps Associates, a Kitchener, Ontario–based consultancy firm, on intensive ethnographic research to determine—using design thinking—the needs and values of firms and practitioners who access the services.

The impetus behind the research began two years ago, according to PEO Policy Manager Jordan Max. “As we recognize the importance of company values, policies and practices on how engineers practise professional engineering in a C of A firm, we wanted to complement the earlier research by talking to the professional engineer assuming responsibility for the engineering work at the firm,” Max says. “We’re now looking more closely at individual engineers and how they practise. In the first round, we explored how individuals working in C of A firms operated.” He adds that other Ontario regulators, notably the Law Society of Ontario, have also studied the influence of firms in determining the decisions and behaviours of licensed individuals and have introduced entity regulation to address those issues.

Max adds that the project finished its ethnographic research stage—studying and interpreting the behaviour of people in specific social situations and understanding their interpretation of their behaviour—in August to better understand their practice needs and then conducted an online validation survey of their results in September to assist with prioritizing practice needs and identifying solution opportunities.

Based on the findings from these sessions, the team conducted a series of sessions in October with members of PEO’s Professional Standards Committee and its subcommittees, PEO practice advisors and other staff, and interviewed participants from the summer session to review the research findings, generate ideas and rapidly prototype new solutions for tools and services. The team used activities, such as empathy maps, feedback grids and journey maps, to build around the needs of PEO’s stakeholders. “It’s not your typical report, with data, peer reviews and closed-room analysis,” Max says, noting the team is building out and testing new formats, products and services. “When you build a prototype and do iterative testing and feedback improvements, you know that when it’s ready to launch, you’re much more certain [of what you’ll be doing],” Max notes. “It’s informed doing instead of informed planning.”