Recently, while making a run through the refrigerator for a late night snack, I happened to notice that almost everything has a “use by date.” While I don’t suspect things become poisonous on that date, the quality does appear to trail off at some point, ultimately leading to the product in question morphing into something else. In reality, some of these changes can happen mighty quickly! Think about how fast fine wine can turn into something that more closely resembles vinegar. Both useful fluids, but hardly interchangeable.
All of this got me to thinking about technology-dependent projects at insurance carriers. Regardless of how much time has gone into planning an effort, working to achieve IT/Business alignment, appropriate levels of sponsorship and the necessary architectural review–every project as designed and planned has a natural “shelf life.” If pursued outside of that window, the results of the initiative may well be significantly different than what was originally conceived and approved.
How can this be?
Projects are complex combinations of components that, when assembled correctly, lead to the desired outcome for a carrier. The elements that drive this include:
- Technical: Versions of code change, infrastructure morphs and other projects that drive the core of the business can make assumptions invalid.
- People: This has implications for both carriers and vendors. Having the right resources, at the right time, are crucial. Trying to field the B Team can add notable risk.
- Political: Every significant change event requires executive sponsorship, organizational support and resource commitment. If an effort loses these elements due to changes in the political environment it can make a tough project impossible.
- Vendor: Vendors are in the business to make money and to keep things running on their end requires managing a pipeline of projects and a pool of resources. Delaying from agreed upon plans can lead directly to an effort to “crash” their plans. While a very large vendor may have capacity for this, small ones most certainly do not.
Get these right, and the project has a reasonable chance for success based on all the best practices from program/project management. Alternatively, taking a project and allowing it to sit in a shelf to be picked up and executed at some future date can have wildly unpredictable results. Context can change, support can change, even the fundamental business problem can change which, in worst of all possible worlds, can lead to a carrier “solving a problem that nobody has–anymore.”
In order to avoid this, carriers should have the courage of their convictions. Once a project is approved, organizations need to move smartly and efficiently toward execution. If an organization has legitimate reasons for holding up on an effort, they should take the time to re-plan and re-validate before pulling the trigger.
Failing to do this can lead directly to truly unfortunate “Ready, Fire, Aim” events that can have adverse career implications.