blended project management

Have you tried to blend agile methodologies into your traditional waterfall world?

Did you get a tasty stew?

….Or a culinary disaster?

I like to cook, but I’m not exactly a purist.  By that I mean that I almost never follow a recipe exactly.  Instead I treat a recipe as more of a guide.  Sometimes I omit ingredients that my family doesn’t like; other times I add in ingredients to see what the affect will be. I often combine a couple of recipes together, mixing and blending ideas from several sources.  Sometimes the result is a wonderful creation that suits the tastes of my family.  Other times, we take a bite and reach for the pile of take-out menus.

I find myself taking the same approach to development methodologies.  Like most of you, I find traditional, waterfall methodologies to be too rigid, too slow, and too removed from reality.  Their assumption that everything about a project can be known and documented up front has always struck me as laughable.

But when I look at pure agile methodologies, I find them too rigid and idealistic as well.  Successful projects need a framework around them; they can’t be driven simply by empowering a team to prioritize a backlog and deliver chunks of code.  Project components need to be fit into a larger vision and architecture; organizations need to have a sense of scope, plan, and budget.  Large, complex systems can’t always be nicely packaged in 2 or 3 week sprints.

So I find myself mixing and blending.  Take a few waterfall concepts like a defined project scope, written business requirements, defined technical architecture, and a project plan.  Blend with an agile development window where the project team can work through detailed requirements, development, and testing together; shifting priorities as business needs change.  Garnish with some user testing, training, and release planning.

Maybe this is agile book-ended by just enough waterfall to frame the work that the agile teams will take-on and integrate their work with the organization’s larger planning processes.  Maybe this is diluting agile precepts by subjugating them to overreaching controls.  Some call these approaches “waterscrumfall”; some call them an abomination.

My experience (and the experience of at least one of my colleagues) has been that a pragmatic blending better suits the needs of most projects and most organizations. It creates just enough structure to tame the chaos while recognizing that projects can’t be and shouldn’t be totally defined up-front.  It ensures that project deliverables fit into the larger enterprise architecture and meet strategic objectives.  Yet it takes advantage of the agile team’s strengths, allowing them to drive the project’s pace and details.

What has your experience been?  Have you tried more blended approaches?  Have they been successful?  Or have they resulted in the equivalent of a culinary disaster?

Does your PMO get in the way of your Agile Development Teams?

Do your agile teams have your PMO pulling their collective hair out in frustration?

A family in harmony will prosper in everything. ~ Chinese Proverb

Does this sound familiar:

We value face-to-face conversation We need formal, written documents
Working software is our primary measure of progress Where is your status report?
How are you progressing against your project plan?
Self-Organizing Teams Defined Roles and Responsibilities
Individuals and Interactions Processes and Tools
Respond to Change Follow a Plan
Culture of Change Culture of Order

You’ve embraced an agile development methodology, empowered your teams, and they are eager to move forward.  They want to deliver a quality product to the organization as quickly as possible.  They want to add value and make a difference.

Your project management office (PMO) understands and supports the agile development approach, but they still need to manage the overall project portfolio and they want to be sure that the agile teams deliver in alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives.  They want to add value and make a difference.

Both groups have the organization’s best interests in mind, but there is a definite culture clash.

Agile teams can be dismissive of the PMO. Their approach is different, they don’t need to worry about those processes and frameworks; they just need to focus on their own project.  The PMO should get out of their way.  It reminds me of a teenager who wants their parents to just leave them alone – until the parent is needed.

PMOs can act like a dictatorial parent.  They can demand process and procedure from agile teams because that is what they’ve always done.  But process and procedure that doesn’t add value does get in the way.

Both groups need to respect each other and adapt.

Just like the parent of a teenager, the PMO should be loosening the rules and allowing greater freedom while demanding accountability (and standing by with a safety net). The PMO has to adapt itself to the agile world,  working with the agile teams to understand the tools that they are using to manage and control the agile project.  It should adapt these tools to their use rather than making the agile team use the same old PMO provided reports and templates.

The agile team, like the teenager, also needs to acknowledge and respect the role of the PMO.  The project and the project team aren’t operating in a vacuum.  It needs to fit into the larger organizational plan and processes.  So the agile team needs to fit itself into the framework that the PMO has established.  That may mean complying with certain project checkpoints or processes, such as conducting a formal risk analysis or establishing a milestone-level, project plan, budget, and scope.

If each can recognize that the other is not purposely trying to obstruct them and understand the value of the other to the organization, they should be able to leverage on another’s strengths.  While there may still be friction and areas of disagreement, the end result should be a set of processes that improve project outcomes and ensure alignment with overall organizational objectives.

Are You an Effective Leader?

Edgewater ConsultingI’m a bit of a history buff and I recently finished reading Jeff Shaara’s new book “The Smoke at Dawn” which focuses on the Civil War battle for Chattanooga.

The book has me thinking about what makes an effective leader. At the beginning of the novel, one general has every advantage, but focuses on the wrong things. While the other general begins at a major disadvantage, focuses on the right things, and ends up winning the battle.

The novel reinforced some core leadership principles that were good reminders for me.

  • First and foremost – where you decide to focus your energy matters. You can allow your attention to be distracted and squandered on the petty minutia or you can keep yourself focused on key goals. An effective leader doesn’t ignore the details, but does know what is important and what is not. An effective leader actively chooses to spend most of his or her energy on what is important.
  • Second, you need to identify a goal to be accomplished and share that vision. An effective leader ensures that everyone on the team understands what the goal is, why the goal is important, and the part they play in making the goal a reality. Even the “reserve forces” play an important role, and they need to be told what it is.
  • Third, you need to listen to and trust the people in the trenches. An effective leader listens to the team’s problems and removes roadblocks. He or she also listens to their ideas and lets them experiment with different ways to reach the goal.
  • Fourth, you need to recognize and acknowledge the efforts of the team, even when they don’t succeed. An effective leader holds people accountable, but also helps them learn from mistakes.
  • Finally, you need to recognize, acknowledge, and act to correct your own mis-steps.

So in brief, the refresher leadership course I gained from reading a novel. It seems that others have found similar inspiration:   http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/what-made-a-great-leader-in-1776/  http://theweek.com/article/index/259151/lessons-from-lincoln-5-leadership-tips-history-and-science-agree-on

So — What leadership lessons have you drawn from unexpected sources?

 

Little innovations lead to big change

When carriers think about innovation and achieving competitive advantage, most focus on big changes: introducing new products like Usage Based Insurance, redesigning business processes, deploying major technology initiatives like customer and agent portals or new policy administration systems. They think of trends like social media, predictive analytics, and big data.

But innovation and competitive advantage can be achieved by making smaller improvements in everyday processes. For example, understanding and keeping current with ISO changes is critical to most carriers. Consider ISO’s recent Commercial Lines updates. Per their October briefing, ISO CL Update, the Commercial Automobile Program alone included a new auto dealers program and 26 new optional endorsements.

datagrailFor most carriers, hearing that major updates are coming raises shudders. Carriers know that analyzing ISO updates, comparing them to the current version of rates and forms in use, and identifying changes is a challenge. It takes significant time and knowledge to pour through the various ISO materials and determine what has changed and how the changes impact the carrier’s book of business. Since so many carriers already have too much on their plate, they often let ISO updates slide, failing to adopt them in a timely manner. Thus they miss the small innovations that can improve their product offerings and improve their bottom line. When they do choose to catch-up, it is often a daunting effort to jump several versions in one leap, introducing massive change to their systems, processes, and books of business.

Applying automation to the comparison of ISO changes could improve the efficiency of the analysis process, allowing carriers to more quickly determine the impact of adopting or not adopting ISO changes. This targeted solution is not a major system implementation, but it is an innovation that would allow you to best leverage your investment in ISO content, and improve a cumbersome process. It is a small innovation that would allow a carrier to dramatically improve its ability to analyze and react to ISO changes. A small innovation with a big payoff in more efficient internal processes that can translate to improved products, product pricing, and the bottom line.

A solution already exists. Edgewater Consulting has leveraged its deep industry and technical knowledge and long-standing ISO relationship to develop a cloud-based solution to address this critical business need. The solution compares ISO rate books and quickly identifies what has changed, and presents results in Microsoft Excel, a familiar yet powerful analytical tool.

We will be hosting a webinar with ISO to demonstrate the tool, using it to analyze ISO’s commercial auto changes released on October 1. If you’re interested in attending, register here.

PMOs and Business Strategy

cogsFor most organizations, the Project Management Office (PMO) is simply a centralized organizational structure for standardizing practices used in the delivery of their projects.  An effective PMO allows these organizations to more consistently deliver successful projects.

For some high-performing organization, the PMO is able to achieve much more.  It is able to help the organization drive and achieve its business strategy.  So how can something as boring and ordinary as good project management become a key to organizational success?

First, let’s think about the planning process.  Successful organizations define their goals and their plans for meeting those goals using some type of strategic planning process.  As a goal (e.g. achieve 5% organic growth) is refined into a strategy (e.g. by attracting more customers through a better customer experience), strategic and tactical projects emerge (e.g. redesign customer portal to improve ease-of-doing-business).

A mature, fully-engaged PMO becomes the keeper of the project portfolio.  If the PMO understands the strategy that the organization is striving to achieve, the PMO can use this understanding as it manages the project portfolio to drive that strategy.  First, and most critically, the PMO ensures that key, business-critical projects are delivered successfully.  It also ensures that project success is aligned with and measured against the strategic goals that the project is defined to address.  The PMO works with the project teams to define KPIs that clearly tie to the organization’s strategy.  If a project can’t be tied to the strategy, the organization can then determine if the project fits into the portfolio.  Similarly, the PMO can be used to resolve priority conflicts between projects, helping to clarify situations where the strategy may be at odds with itself.

More pro-actively, the PMO can forecast capacity, helping the organization understand how much change it can realistically undertake within a given budget or timeframe.  The PMO can also see and exploit synergies between projects, helping the organization take advantage of unexpected opportunities.  For example, given its view of the project portfolio the PMO may see how a service being built to support one project can be utilized to simplify or enhance another project.  Finally, the PMO provides a feedback loop, informing the organization of its progress against its strategic goals and allowing it to take early, corrective action when progress lags or goals shift.

Thus, a PMO becomes a crucial management tool for implementing the organization’s strategy.  Organizations that are able to effectively use this tool are better able to achieve their organizational goals and thus continue to thrive.  In today’s competitive and challenging environment, can any organization afford not to take full advantage of a PMO?

Do PMOs Matter

successProject Management Offices (PMOs) have become a fixture in many organizations.  According to the 2012 State of the PMO Study, 87% of organizations surveyed have a PMO, up from 47% in 2000.   Although mid-size and large companies are more likely to have a PMO than small companies, the biggest growth, by far, was in small companies – 73% of small firms now have PMOs and over 90% of mid-size and large companies have them.

Still, people question their value and ask, Does having a PMO matter?

The statistics say yes.  According to the 2012 State of the PMO study, PMOs directly contribute to the following performance improvements:  a 25% increase in projects delivered under budget, a 31% increase in customer satisfaction, a 39% improvement in projects aligned with objectives, a 15% cost savings per project, and a 30% decrease in failed projects.

Experience also says yes.  A 2012 PMI White Paper described multiple PMO success stories.  In one case study, a company shifted the focus of its PMO from a process orientation to an outcome orientation. The PMO now focuses on working with organizational units as they launch projects, requiring them to build a business case and complete a scorecard to demonstrate how the project aligns with corporate strategy.  The reorganized PMO was able to triple the number of projects that delivered on organizational strategy.  In another case study, an organization was able to reduce project planning time by 75% through standardizing and leveraging common project plans defined by the PMO.

Having a PMO CAN matter, but simply having a PMO is not a silver bullet.  Implementing an idealized methodology that isn’t tailored to an organization’s needs and cultures won’t suddenly or magically solve all problems.  To meet its objective of improving the likelihood of project success, the PMO must gain maturity and acceptance within the organization.  It must become more than another structure or process.  It must become focused on continuous process improvement and proactive management of the project portfolio.  Keys to achieving this level of maturity are strong executive sponsorship, tailoring the PMO to solve practical, real-world problems within the organization, and actively measuring PMO and project success.

So if you are an organization that struggles to consistently deliver business critical projects do you have a PMO?  If you do, is it as effective as it could be?  Maybe it is time to consider the benefits of a PMO assessment and reap the rewards that a highly functioning PMO can bring to your organization.

Why a PMO

shudder_homer_smallProject Management Office

The words make some shudder.  Of course PMOs have existed for a long timeThey grew as the discipline of project management itself matured and people recognized that project management was a distinct skill set that demanded training and experience, as well as certain natural talents.

While PMOs are often associated with larger firms which need to establish a standard methodology and approach for initiating, managing, and controlling systems-related projects, there are many reasons why a company might consider establishing a PMO.

First, a PMO does not need to be focused on systems-related projects.  The real benefit of a PMO is its ability to bring a disciplined approach to how an organization approaches projects.  Any time an organization is contemplating a series of projects to introduce transformational change, a PMO can improve the odds of success.  Those projects can be systems focused, but they could also be focused on business process redesign, new product development, geographical expansion, acquisition, or reorganization.  Each organization can decide for itself what type of projects should fall under the auspices of a PMO.

Similarly, a PMO does not need to be focused on all aspects of project management – at least in its initial implementation.  A PMO should address existing organizational problems.  If the organization struggles with prioritizing project requests and deciding which projects to fund and staff, the PMO should be focused on this issue.  If the organization struggles with keeping projects on track and resolving issues during project execution, the PMO should be focused on this issue.  Simply implementing a PMO doesn’t bring value to an organization.  Implementing a PMO so that it addresses the real-world issues that the organization is facing does bring value.

While PMOs take many shapes and flavors, they all seek to improve communication, collaboration, and consistency.  Organizations face increasingly complex environments while striving to respond to customer demands.  They often rely on a set of projects to drive the organization towards a new strategic vision of itself.  These organizations can leverage a PMO to more effectively meet these commitments.

So why consider a PMO?  If your organization is facing substantive change and needs to improve its ability to consistently and successfully deliver projects so that it can implement that change, a PMO can help.

Usage Based Insurance and Big Data – What is a Carrier to Do?

sma ubi tableThere is little doubt that Usage Based Insurance (UBI) (a.k.a. Telematics) is a hot topic in the U.S. Insurance Market. A recent survey from Strategy Meets Action found that while only 18 P&C insurers have an active UBI program in more than 1 state, 70% of insurers surveyed are in some stage of planning, piloting, or implementing UBI programs.

A carrier cannot venture into this space without considering the data implications. Usage Based Insurance, whatever its flavor, involves placing a device in a vehicle and recording information about driving behavior. Typical data points collected include: vehicle identifier, time of day, acceleration, deceleration (i.e. braking), cornering, location, and miles driven. This data can then be paired with publicly available data to identify road type and weather conditions.

Now consider, a 20 mile morning commute to work that takes the driver 35 minutes. If the data points noted above (9) are collected every minute, that 20 mile commute would generate 315 data points (about 16 data points per mile driven). If the average vehicle is driven 1000 miles in a month, it would generate 16,000 data points each month or 192,000 data points each year. Now consider what happens if a carrier enrolls even 1000 vehicles in a pilot UBI program. Within a year, the carrier must accommodate the transmission and storage of over 190 million data points. Progressive Insurance, the leader in UBI in the U.S. market, has been gathering data for 15 years and has collected over 5 Billion miles of driving data.

Even more critically, the carrier must find a way to interpret and derive meaningful information from this raw driving data. The UBI device won’t magically spit out a result that tells the carrier whether the driving behavior is risky or not. The carrier must take this raw data and develop a model that will allow the carrier to score the driving behavior in some way. That score can then be applied within rating algorithms to reward drivers who demonstrate safe driving behaviors. As with all modeling exercises, the more data used to construct the model, the more reliable the results.

While data transmission and storage costs are relatively inexpensive, these are still daunting numbers, especially for small and mid-sized carriers. How can they embrace the changes that UBI is bringing to the market?

From a pragmatic perspective, these smaller carriers will need to partner with experts in data management and predictive modeling. They will need to leverage external expertise to help them successfully gather and integrate UBI data into their organizations’ decision making processes.

In the longer term, credible 3rd party solutions are likely to emerge, allowing a carrier to purchase an individual’s driving score in much the same way that credit score is purchased today. Until then, carriers need to make smart investments, leveraging the capabilities of trusted partners to allow them to keep pace with market changes.

Usage Based Insurance – What Systems Implications does a Carrier Face When Implementing a Program?

usage based insuranceUsage Based Insurance (UBI) (a.k.a. Telematics) is gaining traction in the U.S. Market.   At least 18 states have four or more Personal Auto programs implemented, and 49 states have at least 1 program.

As mid-sized and smaller carriers venture into this space, they need to consider the system implications that accompany a program implementation. While the specifics will vary depending on the type of program implemented, there are several areas that will be impacted.

First, Policy Quoting and Issuance: Assuming that the carrier utilizes some type of on-line portal to support the quoting process, the carrier must update the portal to accommodate enrollment into the UBI program on a per vehicle basis. Rules may be needed to limit those who are eligible for the program or to encourage certain individuals to join the program. If introductory premium discounts will be given just for joining the program, these discounts must be accommodated within the new-business rating algorithms. Additional data may need to be gathered about individuals joining a UBI program, such as email address, a field not commonly maintained in legacy systems. If the carrier makes rating available through a comparative rater, the carrier will need to decide if and how the comparative rating site will reflect the UBI program. Policy Declarations will also require alterations to reflect the new program. Finally, upon issuance of the policy, a new workflow will need to be triggered in order to issue a UBI device and installation instructions to the insured.

Second, Administration Systems: Once the policy is issued, various back-end systems and processes need to be altered to accommodate the UBI program as well. Policy Administration and Renewal Processes will need to incorporate the data gained from the UBI device, typically in the form of a driving score. Billing System changes may be needed if the carrier decides to charge drivers for lost or damaged UBI devices. Customer Service systems need to be updated so that service representatives know which customers are participating in the UBI program and can answer their questions related to the devices and driving discounts. The carrier may consider special telephone routing so that UBI program participants are handled by specialized customer service representatives. Claim System changes may also be needed if the carrier wants to ensure that Claims Adjusters are made aware that a vehicle is part of a UBI program.  For carriers who rely on independent agents, Agency Download should also be updated to reflect the new program. Finally, back-end data warehouse and management reporting systems will need to incorporate UBI related data and develop new analyses to support the program.

Third, Workflow and System Capabilities: First, the carrier must manage an inventory of UBI devices, tracking which have been issued and associating issued devices to specific vehicles. The carrier must also develop a number of communication protocols in partnership with their Telecommunications Services Provider. For example, if an issued UBI device stops communicating, the carrier will need to communicate with the insured. The timing and format of these communications requires some forethought. If a UBI device goes silent for a day or two, it could mean that the vehicle is temporarily out of range, perhaps in a remote vacation spot, or the device was removed while the vehicle is in the shop. On the other hand, the device could have been unplugged for routine service and accidentally left unplugged. If the carrier reacts too quickly, they could easily annoy the insured and appear like “Big Brother”; if they wait too long to react, they could lose valuable data. Changes are also needed to accommodate drivers who want to add, remove, or change vehicles within the UBI program during a policy period; this may require a separate management system altogether and could impact the scoring algorithms created. Thus, establishing the right communication protocols is critical to the program’s success.

Similarly, the carrier needs to determine how they will receive and model the driving data collected by the UBI device.  Will they gather the detailed data, transform it into meaningful information, and develop predictive models based on that data that can be applied within renewal rating algorithms. Or will they partner with an expert who can manage data collection and manipulation for them, providing them with some type of a score to apply within their rating algorithms. In either case, the carrier needs to understand the data that they will be receiving and establish systems for managing and utilizing that data.

Finally, the carrier must establish a means to provide feedback to the drivers participating in the program. Typically this is accomplished via a web-site where the driver can view his/her driving history, compare that history to some type of benchmark, and view tips to improve driving behaviors.  Again, the carrier may be able to partner with the Telecommunications Services Provider to deploy this functionality, but the carrier must work with the provider to define what data will be presented, and the carrier must be prepared to answer questions that their insureds will have about the data presented.

In closing, successfully implementing a UBI program has ripple effects across a wide swath of an insurance carrier’s infrastructure.  Before embarking on this journey, a carrier must give thought to both the initial launch and ongoing support of the program, making decisions about how to best integrate the program into its underlying systems and processes. Strong partners, both those with specific UBI expertise and those with more generic system, process, and project management expertise, can ease implementation and speed time to market.

Usage Based Insurance – What Value Can Carriers Offer Customers Beyond A Premium Discount?

usage based insuranceWithin the U.S. market, Usage Based Insurance (UBI) (a.k.a. Telematics) is primarily marketed as a means of lowering premium.  As discussed in a previous post on Usage Based Insurance, a driver allows the insurer to monitor his/her driving behavior, and in exchange for safe driving habits, the driver receives a discounted premium.   But these programs also offer an opportunity for a carrier to provide value-added services to their customers, an opportunity to craft a product rather than to offer the lowest price on what is often seen as a commodity.  Depending on the device chosen and the data collected, a wealth of services can be offered that allow for additional touch points between the carrier and the insured, beyond bill paying and claims settlement.

For example, safety related services could form the foundation for an offering.  The UBI device could be used to monitor, and proactively report to the driver, information about needed car maintenance items.  It could also be used to offer road-side and accident assistance, to remotely unlock a vehicle, or to locate a lost or stolen vehicle.   For a driver who is searching for his/her car in a large, dark parking lot, this last ability could be both a major convenience and a huge safety feature.

Teen or Elderly driver monitoring services could be the basis of another offering. For example, the UBI device could send text messages when a vehicle arrived, as expected, at a certain destination (e.g. when a student arrived home from school each day).  Similarly, the device could issue an alert when driven outside certain preset geographic boundaries, speed limits, or curfews (e.g. when an elderly driver operated the vehicle at rush hour). The device could also be used to provide mapping, showing where a vehicle was driven or locating a vehicle/family member at any given time.

Innovative gaming techniques and feedback mechanisms could be used to provide driver guidance. These tools would allow each driver in the household to profile and compare his/her habits to others in the household and to the “average” driver. The integration of gaming into current feedback loops would better engage drivers. By comparing driving profiles over time and by competing to improve their profiles, drivers would also improve their driving habits.

While many of these services are available through various venues, a carrier can use a telematics offering to craft a product that provides both value and service to its customers. It can attract and retain customers by providing a unique blend of tools that provide benefit on a daily basis rather than a basic promise of service when an accident occurs. By carefully considering its target market and by focusing on services of benefit to that market, a carrier can differentiate itself within an increasingly commoditized field. As UBI programs permeate the market, smart carriers will leverage their capabilities for far more than another way to compete on price.