Archive for July, 2006

31st

I’m buried following two weeks out of the office, but I wanted to post a few comments and pictures from PIMA before too much time elapses. I will also be posting a pod-cast of thoughts and observations from the event later this week. Click here to view more pictures (Opening, wine-tasting, Closing). There is a Slideshow button on the top-right of the gallery page. I must say that if you are in the Insurance Marketing industry at the carrier or mass-distribution level, I highly recommend that you give PIMA a try. The next conference is MarkeTTech in Chicago the first of October. ICMG is also excellent, as well as AM Best’s EFusion Conference.

Of note, there was quite a bit of talk about Internet utilization and marketing techniques, especially targeting ‘cohorts’ among Babyboomers. I also heard that a few more large carriers are getting into e-signature, so that’s good news. Unfortunately, a lot of carrier folks reported that their hands are still tied by internal IT resources trying to reinvent the wheel. Call me crazy, but it would seem illogical not to use a group that specializes in that kind of marketing.

On a side-note, if you are ever in the San Fran area, carve a little extra time into your schedule, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, and take a tour into Muir Woods. Walking through 1000 year-old Redwoods reminded me of a trip to the Grand Canyon – incredible!

There’s never a dull moment at PIMA! Here’s a picture from the Opening.

Ah yes. If you are in Napa, you must do a wine-tasting tour. Sumptuous!

50s Night theme party presented ample opportunity for a fun-filled Closing!

Look at that tree trunk! Imagine how HIGH it goes!

Alcatraz Island from the North Beach area. I happened to catch the search light.

Transamerica Tower as seen from Little Italy. Great fun for an Ohio guy!

18th

Last week we talked about the who, the why, and the what for communications in an insurance Web development project. Before we move on to controlling the scope of the project, here’s a few words about enforcing effective communications.

This is really important. One of the biggest killers of insurance Web development projects is project participants engaging in disruptive or divisive side conversations. That’s exactly why I said you need to use e-mail and an extranet, so EVERYONE sees ALL communications regarding the project. These projects are inherently stressful and high-profile because a lot of money is being invested. There are always nay-sayers and skeptics and those who would rather the bucks be spent elsewhere. And the sites are usually braving new ground. So it’s easy for “glass is half empty” types to take shots at derailing or disrupting the project.

Here’s the thing: Side conversations invariably lead to divisions. Even if useful and informative in their own right and not consciously intended to be disruptive, they often don’t get communicated properly to the rest of the group. It then puts the project in jeopardy because expectations will start to shift from the original project plan for some parties and not others.

So what do you do when this happens? It’s been my experience that you need to diplomatically call attention to the offending parties. Then, loop back to the original expectations set at the beginning and reiterate the importance of using the extranet and e-mail so everyone is aware of all communications. Hopefully, that will eliminate ongoing side conversations. If you have to do it a second time, you have a major problem.

You know, an insurance Web development project is a team process. Like with any good team, a common goal and cooperative spirit is needed. So good communication is a must. Disagreements are fine, but divisiveness is not.

Next week, I’ll take a break and post some pictures of Napa, California where I will be attending the The Professional Insurance Marketing Association (PIMA) 2006 Summer Conference. I hope I won’t be taking pictures of shriveled grapes caused by global warming.

My daughter’s starting to get the photography bug… I know, I’m giving away my age!!

12th

I’ve been talking about effectively managing an insurance-related Web development project. Again, in a typical insurance project, there are lots of stakeholders.

Typically there is the carrier, the distributor, the marketing company, possibly a third party administrator, and the insurance technology developer. Within the carrier there are multiple stakeholders as well, including marketing, operations, finance, security, and IT.

(By the way, in a really good project, within the carrier, marketing should own the project — not IT. After all, insurance Web sites are first and foremost marketing projects.)

Next week we’ll be talking about how to make sure you are communicating effectively. But right now let’s talk about setting up efficient communications. My preference is to use a collaborative tool such as an extranet and group e-mails, so that mission critical items are shared and EVERYONE on the team gets a copy of ALL information. You also want to have a weekly conference call, so everyone is on the same page. You also want to have a password-protected development site so all interested parties can watch the project progress.

Each of the stakeholders needs to have a primary project manager. Nothing should happen concerning the project without their knowledge. Project managers should make ALL the assignments for deliverables and coordinate ALL follow-up activities. And, they should be the main contact between the developers and other stakeholders. An experienced project manager can save a lot of time and confusion.

This kind of lays out the who, the how, and the why for a Web development project. It’s really important to have someone with experience working for you. You can save yourself a tremendous amount of time and money — not to mention egg on your face — by using a Web development company that has “been there and done that.” It’s interesting to note that I have started seeing more independent consultants managing projects for the carriers. If you think about it, there’s a lot of upside to that strategy — and very little downside.

Next, we’ll take a look at Enforcing Effective Communications.

A little mesquite-charcoal grilled steak anyone?!?!

11th

Web enabling insurance products and processes is often a complicated process requiring the input of many people. So how do you keep the project in control? Based on my experience guiding multiple projects, here are some guidelines for effective Web-development projects with multiple players.

There are five areas of major consideration. They are:

  • Defining the scope
  • Defining communications protocols
  • Enforcing effective communications (thwarting behind the scenes discussions and side-conversations)
  • Change-management during the project
  • Potential landmines

Today I’ll discuss defining the scope. The rest will come later.

The thing about building Web sites is that often times an idea comes from a traditional marketer who wants to use the Web to compliment or replace traditional channels. Thus they have a “general idea” about what they want to accomplish, but they have limited knowledge about the execution part.

At the same time, there is often a carrier involved who also has limited Web-based marketing experience. But they also have ideas for the project.

So the first and most important step is to define the scope of the project.

To do that, outline:

  • The primary concepts – What are we trying to do?
  • The business objectives – How will top-line revenue or bottom-line costs be impacted? Or both?
  • A reasonable time frame – Can it be completed in three months or less?
  • A reasonable amount of new technology – Not too much; not too little.
  • Anything else should go into Phase Two.

Once you’ve defined the scope, make sure all parties are in agreement. Then make sure the roles and processes are well defined. Who is going to do what by when?

I’d strongly encourage a carrier to hire an experienced, Web-savvy, independent consultant for the project. I’ve started to see this more and more and it really works well. The consultant’s experience in developing Web sites is invaluable in keeping the project on time and within scope.

Next week: Defining Communications Protocols, or who decides what and tells whom when.

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