Staffing Policy Admin
Defining roles and dedicating staff requires careful thought and consideration. Putting the right people in the right place is crucial.
Tips from Novarica on how to put the right people in place for core systems replacement projects
You are about to engage your company in a multi-year policy administration transformation project. You have established and communicated the vision and you have defined criteria. What else should you do? Probably the most critical thing is ensuring that the right people assigned to the project and that their roles and accountability are clearly defined. Here’s how to get started on that path: Define the roles and accountabilities first. Too often companies assign titles like project sponsor and project manager to people on an existing organization chart without drilling into the accountabilities, skills required, and time demands for the roles. Detailing the authority levels and project responsibility is the right first step, and this applies to both IT and key project stakeholders.
An especially important position is product owner, a common request of Agile teams. While senior VPs are often named project champions and have final say over budget and direction, it is critical to define a specific owner. Carriers need to choose someone who is respected within impacted departments, forward-thinking, organized, and able to build consensus and influence opinions. They must be engaged and embedded in the development team, as business people often hesitate to let go of departmental responsibilities to take on project roles.
Define authority levels and governance processes. Clearly defining accountability will save a great deal of time during the project. Companies often assign shared responsibility for oversight or definition of direction without indicating how decisions will be made or problems resolved. This is done to avoid conflict but often results in confusion, cost overruns and longer projects. High-performance teams work through these issues early, and establish clear direction to expedite the process.
Authority levels for scope decisions, priority decisions and change control are most important items to define. To this end, it is imperative that a steering committee be established to define guide rails and controls, monitor progress and resolve strategic questions. Carriers subsequently need to define when the product owner has decision-making authority and when the steering committee has jurisdiction. Agile development teams will need access to one or more decision-makers to resolve project and sprint scope issues, clarify priorities and approve deliverables.
Requirements cannot be defined at the steering committee level, but carriers must make sure the requirements decisions do consider the “out of the box” versus customization impact and the desired future state. Even when authority is clearly delegated, things can break down if the process for communicated changes is not clear. Very often requirements decisions can be made in meetings but not reflected in the specifications the team is developing or testing from. Good project managers make sure that decisions are documented and communicated.
Chose the right person to lead the project. The most senior or experienced person might make a great subject matter expert, but may lack the skills necessary to be a successful project lead. For instance, individuals nearing retirement may be less likely to take risks or move the business solution far enough toward the future state. It is more important to choose the right person based on skills required and supplement them with SMEs.
Project managers must know how to drive decisions and escalate issues to keep projects on track and results-focused. Organizations often appoint project administrators into project management roles. Project administrators are good at tracking status and reporting outcomes, but rarely act decisively to impact outcomes. Successful team have both skill sets in place.
Organizations that lack the skills necessary to successfully staff a program or project manager role internally often look outside for experienced people to full these roles. This is an acceptable practice especially for large and complex projects. However, this does not mean that the carrier can abdicate its leadership and oversight roles entirely. It must choose a consultant who has a track record for delivery and for managing complex projects successfully, and who can clearly define success criteria and direction.
A common mistake is assigning people to critical roles on a parttime basis, especially business analysts and project managers who are required to keep product systems running or the project work load is underestimated. But these are full-time roles. While it is challenging to free up your best people, best practices suggest that carriers should do just that. Another strategy is to over-staff critical roles, bringing on new hires. This can provide coverage and can also help reduce the risk of turnover during long projects.
It is an excellent idea to have introductory meetings to discuss roles and help establish norms. When new team members are brought on, it is important to repeat this process. Successful team create onboarding packages and procedures to make sure new team members know the expectations and authority levels.
INNSight is exclusive content from Novarica.
Chuck Ruzicka is VP of research and consulting at Novarica. His experience includes time at Liberty Mutual ,where he was CIO of its agency markets division. He also was a technologyVP at Progressive.