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  • Andy Mackmin

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Do you remember March 2020? As we all waded through the disastrous news that Covid-19 was here to stay, a vacation started to mean that you would wander from your home office to the kitchen! The days of hopping on a plane were over and a quick walk outside felt like a week on the beach.


As things started to normalize, those of us who decided to get away did so in a more local or even regional manner. Road trips started making a comeback in the summer and some of us embraced the thought of an eight-hour car ride, yes, even with children. Our family was lucky enough to be able to get away for about a week in August and, after about 20 hours in the car, I was ready to get back to my daily zoom calls.


As we made plans, I couldn’t help but think how family vacations are quite the project. You need to make sure that your accommodations are booked, bags are packed, kids are fed, the gas tank is filled, activities are planned, itineraries are made, etc., etc., etc. There are so many pain points where things could go wrong that surviving a family vacation is almost as impressive as enjoying it.


Project environments anywhere, and especially in the reinsurance industry, can be just as stressful. Expected outcomes, much like family vacations, are often unrealized. Our work family doesn’t always adjust well to the changes that we make, our work parents sometimes can’t relate to the actual challenges on the ground and a retreat to an old favorite past time, the game of hot potato, begins.

At ROE Solutions, we have seen the vicious cycle of project mismanagement and finger pointing and we are here to let you know that you’re not alone. Following the theme of the family vacation, let’s take a look at four reasons projects fail.


Time/Scope/Resource Disconnect

Let’s play a quick game.


I am your travel agent (I think they still exist). I give you a call to tell you about an exciting vacation package that the whole family can enjoy. You quickly get excited as cabin fever has you ready to go just about anywhere. As the conversation continues and you get your favorite travel rewards card out, you start to ask a few questions:


When are the travel dates and for how long?


Where are we staying? What amenities do they have?


Are there any tours included?


How about on-site baby sitting for an adults’ night out?


Is transportation provided to and from the airport? Oh yea, what about the airline?


Oh, and finally, how much is this going to cost?


My response: GOOD QUESTION!


How likely are you to book this trip?


Luckily, this exercise is a vast exaggeration of the travel industry but not so far off from where projects start to fall apart in our world. It is imperative to not only align the Time/Scope/Resource paradigm but also execute against it. This means that each project should be planned against a specific timeline, with project milestones and deliverables along the way, while holding participants accountable for meeting these goals. Further, maintaining an eye on scope creep, a fancy word for distractions, will assure that your project will deliver what was promised at kick-off. Don’t fret, there are going to be must-haves that were not foreseen. The goal is to push the nice-to-haves and vanity additions off until the project has been implemented and signed-off. We will file them away in the maintenance of the final product. Lastly, make sure that your project can make it through on the resources provided. Project leads often try to do things for less money as opposed to more value. Strike a balance in your project where the human and capital resources will deliver the best outcome. There is nothing worse for a project sponsor to hear than, we need more money.


In short, don’t be our friend the travel agent.


 

Project Sponsorship (or lack thereof)

Did you ever go to Disney as a kid? As a parent? Did you ever catch a glimpse of that mom or dad that had a blank stare as if he/she were headed to the slaughter house? Though mom or dad are physically present, they may have already checked out. They are on edge from waiting in line all day, melting in the sun and all they can think about is getting back to the hotel and getting the kids to sleep. They were never fully invested in what the vacation entailed and thus miss out on the fruitful memories for which they invested dearly.


Likewise, every project has a parental figure and his/her name is project sponsor. The project sponsor is the senior or even executive level manager that has skin in the game for a successful project. They will ultimately hold the project team accountable and be a sounding board for variations on the time/scope/resource continuum.


Too often, projects lack a strong leader that is ready to stake/make a career to improve the overall well-being of the business. In his/her absence, a void is created when challenges do arise, resources are lost or finite investment pools disappear. Without a credible and involved project sponsor, your project is doomed from the outset. It will be important to identify this asset early and lean on him/her often. Good project sponsors will look out for the company’s and project team’s best interests first while holding all involved, from the top down, accountable.


 

Unmotivated Project Teams

Where are my friends with teenagers? Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: you and your spouse have been run through the ringer all school year getting the kids ready for school, dropping them off, rushing to work, rushing home to get the kids to after-school activities, getting dinner ready and getting to bed, just to get up and do it all over again. Finally, the school year ends and you have a great trip planned. Included is a tour of ancient Roman ruins (or insert fun historical destination here) where you and your family can walk where the great Julius Caesar roamed. Unfortunately, when you get there, the kids are glued to the smartphone complaining they are hungry and that they don’t like any of the local food. You have two choices: make a scene or dive deeper into the real reason behind the ‘tude.


It is a bit harsh to think of our project teammates as children, so don’t go too far with the analogy. However, it is often the case that a lot of your hard work, and theirs, can go by the wayside from a lack of communication. Like the teenager, all project members need to feel incentivized for going the extra mile. It would be hard for anyone to feel motivated while completing daily operational tasks and, oh by the way, delivering on project responsibilities. Make sure your team is quantitatively and qualitatively incentivized on any project. On top of that, make sure that your message about financial and operational benefits to the company are clear. People want to be recognized, understood and want to make things better. I think you could even say that about teenagers! (see: it’s not about the nail)


 

Business Analysts vs Industry Business Analysts

Well, we met the travel agent earlier so now it is time to meet the tour guide. Let’s just say that not all tour guides are built from the same cloth. Imagine a scenario where you travel to a Brazilian rainforest and hire a guide only to find out that you have woken up in a Holiday Inn Express commercial (see: holiday inn express commercial). Sure, he is a real tour guide but his specialty is Madrid, Spain.


Again, the analogy is a bit extreme but serves to make a point. Whether internal or external resources, many times we go with a brand name or a price point that we think will get the job done. Unfortunately for those of us in reinsurance, building a bridge between IT and the business in a niche industry takes more than just technical skills. It is important to have hybrid BA’s that can add value to both sides. From requirement gathering to business process analysis, reinsurance provides its own unique challenges as a niche industry. Thus, always make sure that your tour guide is an expert, not only of tours, but the region as well.

 

Reinsurance Operational Excellence (ROE) consultants serve as a bridge in reinsurance project environments where clients are seeking to grow their business, increase efficiency and/or comply with regulatory mandates. Our experts are typically industry veterans that have grown up in the back and middle offices throughout the (re)insurance value chain. We pride ourselves not only on delivery but also creating the right cultural fit for your organization. By aligning people, processes and systems, ROE Solutions assures lasting change for your investment


If you find yourself in a similar situation with a stalled project or challenges with stakeholder engagement, we can help!


We know the common pitfalls as well as project and system implementation best practices and will work with your teams to get any project large or small unstuck.


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