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Six Drivers of Project Success You Can’t Overlook, PartCommunication III

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I talked about the importance of strong, consistent sponsorship and the fundamental need for organizational relevance to ensure a project’s success. Part 3 builds on a driver closely related to both of these: Communication. Telling people things is easy. Communicating is hard, especially when a project has many moving parts and spans a long duration. So, what makes for great project communication?

  1. Target the right messages to the right audiences. A great communication plan is, in effect, a marketing and branding exercise. Go beyond the traditional “get the message out” and concentrate on creating excitement and enthusiasm around the program. Use the organizational relevance statements to target your messaging to the audiences – the same message will not resonate with everyone! Contact center representatives will have a completely different view on a delay in a server delivery than the CIO, for example. Your plan must consider the differences in audience and WIIFMs (what’s in it for me) to appeal to each audience’s specific filters and priorities.
  2. Make someone responsible for project communication. For a smaller effort, the project manager herself often takes on communication. For larger efforts, a communication manager becomes more important. Having a communication and change management team is common for big projects with correspondingly big changes. If no one is responsible, communication just won’t happen. Someone has to be accountable for making sure communication happens. Assign the responsibility and then follow up.
  3. Don’t ignore multi-channel and omni-direction communication. Top-down is not enough anymore (if it ever was). Bottom-up and peer-to-peer, facilitated by internal wiki boards or social media, round out the communication plan. Establish a way for project members to raise issues, especially on large, complex initiatives – this will feed your plan. Plus, the more you use interesting and varied formats, the more likely people will consume the information and internalize what you’ve tried to tell them. People need to hear something seven (7!) times before they remember it.
  4. Measure. People pay attention to what gets measured. Part of measuring is determining whether the intended message was received by the intended recipients. You might think you’ve told everyone that the efficiency project is about creating capability, but all anyone heard was job elimination. If you don’t check, and measure, you remain unaware of potential blockers to project success.

Of course, engage your sponsor and other leaders as appropriate messengers. Provide speaking points or a talk track to managers and peer leaders for consistency’s stake. There are a million handy, dandy tips and techniques for effective project communication as long as you actually have a tailored, multi-directional plan that someone is accountable to execute and measure.

NEOS has written a number of articles and whitepapers on communication and its close cousin, change management. You can access those resources here.

Getting a Project to the Finish Line – Six Drivers of Success You Can’t Overlook – Part II

In the first part of this series, I talked a bit about the impoOperational Relevancertance of a strong sponsor with the organizational authority to effectively lead and champion the project and associated changes. Several people chimed in to make the point that in companies today, it’s sometimes nearly impossible for one person to serve as the only sponsor. It’s an excellent point, and I should have mentioned the existence of sponsorship coalitions. A coalition brings together a small group of sponsors, all of whom should be on the same page when it comes to messaging, purpose, and reinforcement of what’s changing. Which brings me nicely to the topic for this second installment in the Six Drivers series:  Organizational Relevance.

In its simplest terms, organizational relevance links the business value of the project to the strategic purpose or objectives of the enterprise. It engages people at each level of the organization because they can see how the project helps move the needle in some important way. It also becomes the basis for effective communication and target employee engagement (upcoming topics for Parts 3 and 4 of this series).

Simple terms don’t make this a simple concept, however, and it’s one of the most overlooked dimensions when setting a project up for success. So how can you effectively create and maintain organizational relevance?

  • Keep the project’s outcomes in commonly understood business terms. Even if the entire reason for being is the upgrade of technology infrastructure, articulate the milestones in a business framework: mitigating the risk of technology failure, reducing total cost of ownership, enabling increased capabilities or performance. Figure out what will resonate with your sponsor(s) and the people who will experience whatever is different about the future state and use those words to craft your business value statements.
  • Associate your project’s major milestones and deliverables to business value statements. If you can’t match each project outcome to at least one business value, your effort is already at risk of becoming organizationally irrelevant! This isn’t easy; in fact, it can be darned frustrating because certain highly technical project outcomes are sometimes hard to frame in simple business terms. But if you don’t keep at it, the only people who will understand, celebrate, and appreciate what’s been accomplished will be the five people who got it done. And that would be a shame.
  • Establish one or two simple, relevant metrics for each statement of business value. Then, baseline the current state performance against that metric, using proxy measures if necessary. As the project achieves key milestones, report performance changes to prove the delivery of business value. It’s key to have simple but relevant metrics that people can identify with, and you can measure.

NEOS has developed a Business Value Linkage Model that brings all these components together, but any project leader or program manager can put this type of model together.

Probably 25% of the time, when we engage with a client whose project has stalled and is bleeding money, we find that a giant, black abyss has opened up between the business’ understanding and expectations of the project and what the project leaders are thinking. It’s understandable because project personnel are engrossed day in and day out with the inner workings of the effort (e.g., the minutia of form automation and design or the intricacies of an Exadata implementation), The two “sides” begin to speak a different language. The Rosetta Stone should be the Business Value Linkage Model that explains how the form reduces new business submission errors, or Exadata shrinks reporting time.

If your project is losing funding, no longer gets A-player resources, and can’t get executives to attend the steering committee meetings, then take a close look at how organizationally relevant you are perceived to be. Re-frame your business value in terms the decision-makers understand to put your project back on solid footing.

Part 3, coming before the end of the month, will tackle the thorny issue of Communication, both within the project team and to the organization as a whole.

BPM…. To Automate or Not to Automate- Is that the Question?

A NEOS Whitepaper

Your core processes are vital business assets. They define your business and make you stand out from your competition. However, because so many organizations are now seeking process efficiency solutions, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on process optimization. Luckily, finding the solution that will help deliver the business process efficiency you seek to gain for your organization may be puzzling, but it is not impossible…


In this paper, we will look at simple, actionable steps to:

  • understand technology’s role in identifying and improving your organization’s desired future state
  • determine the right path to achieve your organization’s strategic process improvement goals

Download the whitepaper and begin learning how to treating your business processes as valuable assets while improving efficiency.

business process management

Select a System like a Pro

A NEOS Whitepaper

System selection is often the first approach to tackling business pain.  With all the new software and emerging technologies out there, it is tempting to try  jumping in and buying a new system. Jumping too quickly to a technology solution can expose your company to unnecessary risk and additional pain from selecting the wrong system, solving the wrong problem, or the failure of users to adopt the system. By first examining the current systems that support processes in question and ideating the best way to get that work done, stakeholders can ensure any solution  will solve their problem with the added benefit of simultaneously developing criteria that will guide them to select a system successfully  if it is needed.

This whitepaper explains how NEOS’s proprietary FutureWeek™ solution can be useful in conjunction with our lens-based system selection approach in choosing the system best aligned with your organization’s needs. The diagram below illustrates the major steps to take along the way, from Strategy and Business Linkage all the way through Plan and Implement.

Select a System

How to Reach Millennials with Your Retirement Plan Products

A NEOS Whitepaper

There is no reason to wait to begin courting the Millennial generation. Today, retirement planning advertising efforts are focused on singles and couples nearing retirement in the baby boomer generation. However, insurers and retirement services companies have another significant customer group coming down the line. There is much to do to build a meaningful business to attract and retain Millennial customers. Products, marketing approaches, technology infrastructure and distribution channels will all need to be developed to woo and support this new generation.

In this report you will learn:

  • Why Millennials are prime candidates for retirement services products
  • Social characteristics of Millennials
  • Recommended actions for companies based on social characteristics

Download this white paper for an understanding of the Millennial generations and how to reach them with retirement services products.

Millennial Generation

Breathe Life Into Your Product Development Lifecycle

Optimizing a highly problematic product development process 

Every business has to sell something, make money and satisfy its customers. It is a lifecycle that keeps businesses going, or “breathing.” Insurance companies are no different, especially with their core need to develop products. They are under constant pressure to deliver and must have a solid, adaptable process for developing and delivering products in order to “keep breathing” and ultimately stay ahead of their competition.

This paper highlights one company that, with a little help, was able to develop a practice-able product development process and supporting governance model. Using the NEOS Process Redesign and Optimization approach, this insurer designed and implemented a new product development lifecycle that addressed its high priority pain points and supported its overall business strategy.

In this report you will learn:

  • The definition of the PRO model and its abilities
  • What a practical product development process includes and its supporting governance model
  • How to conduct a high-level assessment and develop a process design strategy
  • What it takes to breathe life back into product development process, quickly and efficiently

Download this whitepaper for insight on essential techniques that will help save your processes.

Breathe life into your product development lifecycle

Stop! In the Name of Your Project

Realigning a runaway project back to the original business goals

The CEO of an educational services company approached NEOS in desperation. After a tumultuous board meeting where members asked penetrating questions about an expensive, multi-year effort to modernize one of the company’s core admin systems, the CEO realized she had no good answers. The project was on track to exceed its original budget and run far beyond the planned duration; however, it had yet to deliver anything of any real business value. She contacted NEOS after learning about our Project Value Assurance (PVA) model.

In this paper, you will learn:

  • What the PVA model is and what it can accomplish
  • How the joint NEOS-client team applied the model, uncovered root causes, and recommended a set of actions to take the modernization effort forward
  • Best practices to keep your project in line with business goals

Download this paper to see how a project can be realigned to deliver its intended result and best practices to keep the project on track.

realigning runaway project

Operational Excellence Trends for 2016 and BeyoOperational Excellencend

In April, I spoke at a meeting of operational leaders from the insurance industry. At their request, I opined on a few trends that impact and will continue to impacts an insurer’s quest to achieve operational excellence. The trends resulted from keynote panels, discussions, and presentations at the 2015 Operational Excellence in Insurance conference, which NEOS chaired. Here are the five trends I presented in April – how would you add to or refine this set?

  1. Operational Excellence initiatives have a greater likelihood of success when they can demonstrate a clear link to business value. Get in the minds of your stakeholders. Ask them what value they expect from the initiative and what they’ll be monitoring to see if it’s being delivered. Then figure out how you can prove the value is being delivered and align your project outcomes and milestone to those metrics.
  2. Replacing a policy admin system is a great catalyst for operational excellence. When you replace or significantly overhaul a core system, it creates the opportune moment to leapfrog your operational excellence because you can radically re-work your business processes, embed new automation, and re-think jobs, roles, and teams. The careful selection of the right admin system goes a long way to advancing your operational excellence journey.
  3. Companies are incorporating the customer at the center of their processes. Journey mapping, customer experience design, and voice of the customer initiatives are three increasingly common ways insurers are shifting to become more customer-centric.
  4. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is capable of automating repetitive, well-defined, rules-driven activities, transcending rules engines and workflow systems to liberate capacity.
  5. Any operational excellence initiative must draw from outside industries. It’s not enough to acknowledge the trend – practitioners must articulate what customers expect from insurers based on what they experience with other industries from account or profile management to alerts and online self-service opportunities.

Would you add to this list? Remove something? Or is there a nuance or refinement you’ve observed?

Getting a Project to the Finish Line – Six Drivers of Success You Can’t Overlook

Part 1 of 6: Leadership/Sponsorship

So, it’s mid-year. The strategic initiative your organization kicked off in January with high hopes and celebration has just missed a key milestone. Maybe you can re-plan and re-estimate (most projects get at least one reset); maybe you’ve used up your one-time get out of jail free card. Either way, how do you uncover the reasons the project failed to meet expectations? How do you avoid compounding whatever weaknesses Leadership/Sponsorshipexist?

This is the first in a six-part series that will examine several dimensions of project success. I’ll draw on client experiences as well as research and subject matter opinion to explore the six primary drivers of project performance.

  1. Leadership/Sponsorship
  2. Organizational Relevance
  3. Target Employee Engagement
  4. Communication
  5. Program Mechanics
  6. Technology/Solution Fit

I welcome comments and contributions from project managers, sponsors, business owners, products owners, and project team members alike. Feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts. And if you’d like, feel free to click here to make your opinions part of the “record” by participating in the 2016 Project Pitfalls survey.

Driver 1: Leadership/Sponsorship

In study after study, year after year, most experts attribute the greatest weight to project sponsorship for success or failure of any given initiative. From Prosci to NEOS, studies find that nearly seven in 10 (that’s 70%!!) respondents cite lack of strong sponsorship as the number one reason their project failed to deliver on its promised benefits. (Remember, if you’d like to participate in our 2016 survey update, please click here.)

Think about that for a moment. 70% of people like you and me say that their project would have been more successful with better/different/stronger leadership or sponsorship. This makes it very likely that you’ve got room for improvement in the sponsorship area. How do you know what to fix?

Client A invested millions in a new core system. In Year 3, after the system failed to transition any users to the new functionality, sponsors were ready to stop funding. One of the root causes? “Regime change” had ousted the key sponsor, and new leaders had no understanding of the original business case, scope, or mandate.

Start by comparing your project’s sponsorship to these five best practices:

Leadership/Sponsorship Best Practices

  1. The project has one, clearly identified, sponsor.
  2. The sponsor has direct authority over the target employee population, business processes, and technologies.
  3. The sponsor demonstrates consistent, visible, commitment to the project.
  4. The sponsor effectively communicates with his/her peers to build the coalition necessary for project success.
  5. The sponsor is willing to make difficult decisions to resolve issues and move the project forward.

Yes, these things matter, and it’s a balancing act because rarely do you find yourself on a project where all five best practices are fulfilled. I’ve seen it happen only once in my nearly 30-year career. It was a custom policy administration system project that spanned 5+ years. In that project, the sponsor was dynamic, committed, and passionate. She made tough decisions every day and held people accountable. Both the developers of the system and the end users reported through her, so she had the complete organizational authority to make things happen. And, boy, did she make things happen. She fought for funding, celebrated successes, and embodied servant leadership. To this day (20+ years later), people who were on this project still reminisce about how hard we all worked but what a good time we all had.

But…what if you don’t have such a sponsor? Usually, one of two scenarios turns out to be true:

  1. You have a great sponsor – full of commitment and passion – but they are the wrong person for the job because they don’t have jurisdiction over the people who are impacted by the project.
  • You have to get the right person. Unfortunately, all the enthusiasm in the world can’t counterbalance a lack of organizational power. In that case, you need to start by getting a different sponsor.
  1. You have the right person based on organizational authority, but they don’t demonstrate any of the qualities you need– excitement, commitment, holding people accountable.
  • There are any number of techniques you can use to strengthen the way in which your sponsor supports your project depending on your specific scenario. Start by having a candid discussion with your sponsor about expectations and behaviors. Engage a coach for your sponsor, someone who can help him or her develop certain skills. Create opportunities for visible, enthusiastic communication and give your sponsor the talk track you’d like him or her to follow.

Don’t underestimate the degree to which weak or missing sponsorship creates program risk. It’s one of the leading indicators that you can actually do something about early in the life of a program.

Part 2, coming in mid-July, will explain how Organizational Relevance can keep both project team members and the business community engaged and motivated throughout a program’s duration. Subscribe here to receive notification of new content.

Four Steps to Data Governance Success

There is a growing interest in data governance recently, as many companies are identifying a wider swath of data that they must Data Governancemanage. However, data governance is not merely a project with a definitive start and end; it is an operational capability and requires an effort that is geared to change the culture of the organization. If your company has decided to start a data governance program or is considering one, there are four key elements which will help you design success; data discovery, sound project management, engaged key stakeholders, and a toolset that supports your goals. Include these in your project planning to improve data quality, ensure data alignment, and further leverage your data to boost your bottom line.

1. Encourage Data Discovery
For many years, there have been several pushes for companies around data; to think of data as an asset, encourage business involvement in data projects and use data for decision making. That’s all well and good, but what is data an asset for? Companies must determine what they are looking to implement through their data governance projects. Data governance should go well beyond determining common definitions of data elements, ensuring data standards, and reusing key references or master data. Internally, you must identify additional information about your data to understand what your governance strategy is achieving. This must include:

  • Data lineage: where did it come from and how did it get here?
  • Data linkage: what is the relevance of the most important data and what contextual meaning can you derive from it?
  • Usage and data context: who is using the data, HOW are they using it, and what different contexts can the data be used in?

There is not a comprehensive list, as there is limited space in a blog post. However, if you are interested in other key information to collect during data discovery, shoot us a note here.
It is important to remind stakeholders not to get in the way of data discovery. In-depth data knowledge is gained through direction and clarity, but discovery phases will be unsuccessful if there is a suffocated data flow or experimentation with constrictive processes. Consider data governance as an enablement and empowerment core capability and you will find greater success in its implementation.

2. Establish Program Purpose, Metrics, and Timeline
The tactics to implement data governance and to determine the scope of a data governance program can range can vary widely, from reducing compliance risk to improving data quality. No matter your organization’s focus, establishing a goal is crucial to the success of the program. Today, most stakeholders have an understanding that data is an asset and a company-wide responsibility. What is not as widespread a belief is that data governance should not be just an IT initiative or just a business initiative; without good data, it is challenging to make decisions, create new products, retain customers, or perform many other vital business functions. Set specific goals for the program that align with organizational strategy, and define metrics for success so that you can track progress and troubleshoot issues. Allocate adequate time to implement, test, and monitor the solution as well. Lastly, select a place where data governance and overall data management should live in your organization. Traditionally placed in the hands of the IT organization, data is really a business asset. Strong program management in the form of purpose, metrics, and a timeline will set you up for success.

3. Include Key Members of Your Enterprise
Ensure key members of your organization, from both the business and the IT sides of the house, are involved in the effort to achieve success. Enterprise-wide data governance is founded on the notion of collaboration, meaning that data used across business units and IT groups must be linked together into an organic whole. Including both sides of the house will make for better data, but it will also facilitate a general understanding of business issues by IT and IT issues by the business. Feedback and concerns from IT and business should then be combined in a tool with metrics, rules, and procedures to identify, remediate and prevent business rule failures, data duplication, and other organizational issues that impact the bottom line.

4. Choose a Toolset that Supports Defined Program Goals
Not all data governance tools are created equal. The underlying philosophy of data governance is to strengthen business goals with enterprise-wide data, thereby unlocking additional utility of that data. Whichever tool you select, make sure it supports this collaborative nature. Some of the key functionality a data governance tool should have are:

  • The ability to capture overall business goals and enforce business and technical rules surrounding the creation, use, and destruction of data assets.
  • Techniques for monitoring data within the systems of the organization, including occurrences where data fails to comply with business rules.
  • The creation of documentation by the repository as you populate it, such as data flows, data lineage, and data dictionaries. This is crucial as it will save you time down the road.
  • Built-in metrics to track things like data quality, quantity, and timeliness.

We believe that Collibra is the ideal data governance toolset, as it includes all of the functionality above and has been written from the ground up expressly to support, enable and enhance the organization’s collaborative efforts from a business users point of view. NEOS has partnered with Collibra specifically for that reason (plus, the technology is top-notch). To learn more about Collibra, click here.

Kicking off a successful data governance program requires knowledge of existing data, cross-sector program management, stakeholder engagement, and the right tools. Most importantly, make sure that accountability and ownership are bestowed to the correct organization at your company. Data governance is not always best owned by the technology group.
Keep these four points in mind to help you plan and execute your program. To learn more about how NEOS views Data Governance, watch our webinar, “Top Practices for Achieving Data Governance.”

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