Things don't always go as planned, and that's never more true than for large-scale projects. Jeff Frazee, CIO of Aviva USA, talked to Insurance Networking News about the challenges associated with enterprise projects and the strategies and tactics professionals use to deliver on time and on budget.

INN: What typically happens when a project does not meet expectations?

JF: When a project miss occurs, it's often due to the lack of communication surrounding misinterpreted business requirements, scope changes or just plain failure to execute. And the larger the project, the more critical the communication becomes to ensure all the elements and resources across the project remain in lock step with one another.

With the various important project elements, including various stakeholders, implementation teams, business objectives, tight budgets, short timelines and increasing customer expectations, communication must be at the forefront with each project. Starting with the project sponsor, who pushes the project from start to finish, to the project team responsible for elevating concerns in the execution, communication must be open, honest, clear and timely.

INN: What proactive measures should the technology/business sides take to counteract logjams?

JF: We use several methods. These include establishing sound business requirements and a solid technical architecture—even if employing agile versus waterfall methods—using proof-of-concept techniques, ensuring key skills and resources are available and carefully tracking project milestones and deliverables.

I strongly believe in using an issues log and holding regular project meetings to discuss major logjams, unanticipated issues and areas where the project may get off track. The faster these issues are discovered, the greater the chance they can be corrected, allowing the project to stay on track and on budget.

The project manager should review project activities weekly to assess "say-do" ratio. Did we make appropriate progress? If not, why? And what should be done to get the task back on track? If the project scope must change, we have a formal process to ensure changes are documented clearly and accurately. We address the scope changes, reassess cost and time implications and reevaluate resource requirements so the project team, sponsor and business executive collectively understand the implications of revising the schedule.

INN: Why is a project champion so vital to a business/technology initiative?

JF: Champions bring a face to a project and reduce the risk of project-decision ambiguity that can inhibit results. Champions must stay abreast of the project's progress and business objectives, keep the team focused and motivated, and ensure delivery expectations are clear to the business and technology stakeholders. Project champions are instrumental in knocking down barriers, eliminating logjams, communicating across the organization and keeping the project team connected.

INN: How should insurers go about determining project management priorities?

JF: The first crucial element is attaching a business case to every project. With today's high expectations for financial performance, projects shouldn't be undertaken without clear articulation of the anticipated benefits. For Aviva USA, our business-case-driven projects ideally have a payback of two years or less. Projects demonstrating potential revenue growth or cost reductions are prioritized accordingly.

It's also important to align enterprise investment decisions and major initiatives. We created an executive prioritization committee to review major programs. We review major program dependencies, impacts and alignment with our company's vision. The committee is made up the CIO, CFO, and heads of marketing, sales, operations and legal. Our discussions determine what programs the company should focus on, and as a committee we make strategic investment decisions and tradeoffs. This ensures that at an executive level, we are in sync with strategic investment projects and the desired results.

INN: What other elements are critical for connecting promise to delivery?

JF: Post-project business case and benefits tracking are both crucial. Another helpful technique is reviewing traceability matrices to ensure that what was promised actually was delivered.

Our project management office right sizes and adjusts the rigor so it's appropriate for the size and investment of our projects to achieve the promised results. Not every process fits every project.

Lastly, it's important to ensure the right expertise is ready to go for upcoming projects. We closely assess our resources and available skill sets and regularly conduct a three-month resource utilization view to see what our teams are working on, what their capacity is or will be, and in what skill set areas. This allows us to make more informed decisions on future projects and anticipate talent management requirements early on.

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