Before you start a big project, you probably develop a business case (sometimes called the Cost/Benefit Analysis). You demonstrate that the anticipated benefits of the project more than offset the costs, providing a tempting Return on Investment for the company. Standard operating procedure, right?
Unfortunately, it has also become the norm to “lose sight” of the business benefits when a large project is underway and churning right along. In 2014, NEOS worked with five clients to re-align their long-term programs with the business value the programs were supposed to deliver. We recommend a New Year’s Resolution for all our clients: Keep your projects grounded in their business value. Here are three ways to make this resolution stick (unlike your diet or workout resolutions…).
- Announce project wins in business value terms. It’s easy to applaud when an arduous server upgrade or process implementation is complete. Unless you can link it directly to a business benefit, the project team will be the only people clapping. Most senior business leaders will file that away under “IT investment” if you don’t draw clear lines to business benefits. Rather than announcing the technology improvement, publicize the delivery of business value. For one of our clients, their Oracle Exadata upgrade enabled the Compliance team to run complex reports 10 to 15 times faster than before, impacting hundreds of users globally. That’s something the business can appreciate!
- Make sure all project team members understand the business value of what they are doing. It’s not just the steering committee and program managers who need to converse in business terms. Every developer, architect, DBA, business analyst, process analyst, and project coordinator should have a firm grasp of the business value he or she is working so hard to bring to reality. The quality or completeness of user stories takes on new importance when those user stories link directly to a measure of business success. 2014 brought us one client who was struggling with a four-year custom system implementation with no end in sight. We helped them articulate four business value statements along with key indicators and metrics. We then aligned every user story to one or more of the metrics. Each business analyst and developer knew the “needles” they were helping to move. With a business value report card in hand, the program leaders re-assigned resources to higher priority features and stories and generated a new milestone plan aligned by business value.
- Stay customer focused. And by customer, we mean the distributors, plan sponsors, and policy-owners who are outside the company. The concept of “internal customer” dilutes the unwavering focus that all insurance company staff should have on the end consumer of their services. Whether your project is a process improvement or technology enhancement, the reason for doing it should begin and end with your customer. We worked with one company during their policy admin system implementation who maintained a physical bulletin board with photos of their customers, emails from their customers, and statistics about their customers. The project team couldn’t escape their customers. During the darkest days of testing and conversion, the team was able to put the customer first and work across internal boundaries to overcome difficulties and deliver the business value that the customer could see and experience.
Look at your portfolio of projects for 2015, from admin system enhancements to new product launches. Consider whether your project teams understand how they are building business value and serving your true customers. If the lines of sight aren’t clear, NEOS recommends taking some time to establish a firm business value foundation before getting too buried in the day to day demands of a complex program.