Archive for August, 2006

30th

I am not going to apologize for the lack of insurance news this week. After all, it’s the end of summer with precious few nice days left in Cleveland!

I recently participated in a golf outing sponsored by a new IdeaStar insurance client, Nationwide®. The Nationwide® Tour ProAm at Barrington Golf Club in the Cleveland area was a pleasant respite from promoting online insurance e-business applications. Although the conditions were a little soggy, it was great fun playing the Jack Nicklaus course. (Click on the picture to see my partner with Nationwide hitting a shot on 18 destined for a watery grave…)

I played with touring pro Tim Conley, originally from Akron, now living in Atlanta. He was on the PGA tour in the ’90s, and seems to be biding his time until he qualifies for the Champions Tour in a few years. He was having WAY too much fun. Every ball he hits goes a mile with a nice little power-draw. And of course everything lands near the pin. EXCEPT… he tried to reach the PAR 5 at the 11th hole in two strokes. But he hit the wall in front of the green and the ball landed in the pond. I felt a little better at that point. (Check out his approach to 18 – click on the picture and you can see the divot flying in the top-right corner…)

What got Tim upset however was the pro behind us. He layed-up on 11! Tim left him a note on the 12th tee and a few extra balls – something about being a weenie and afraid to lose a ball!

When we got back to the clubhouse, we discovered we won! by one stroke with the low score of 49. My best contribution was a 179 yard tee-shot over water to the par 3 6th using a 5 wood. The ball landed within 6 feet of the flag. Lucky shot for a guy who never plays… Yes!

I was in an especially good mood anyway because I found out we won our third A.M. Best E-Fusion Award, the third in four years. We are a Finalist in the customer management division, which includes e-commerce sites. Plans are underway to attend the E-Fusion Conference, Oct. 23 and 24 in Boston, where the grand prize winners will be selected. I encourage any insurance person interested in technology to attend. It’s a great conference for e-business insurance types. You can learn all about online best-practices in a non-competitive environment. I hope to see you there.

23rd

I thought I’d take a break from insurance technologies today and talk about Cultural Links. Last Thursday, Aug. 18, I had the privilege of attending the 3rd Annual Cultural Links golf outing at Fowler’s Mill Golf Course in Chesterland, OH. The event, sponsored by the local chapters of the NAACP and AJC, fosters camaraderie among African Americans and Jews. It was organized by Kevin Gregory, an independent consultant currently working with IdeaStar on an insurance project. Kevin asked me to play. I asked if he’d like me to take some pictures of the event. So I tried to capture everybody participating and get the feel of the event. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely perfect for photography – take a look here. (The Slideshow button is on the top-right once you are in the gallery.)

What better way to break down barriers and open communications than a round of golf, a dinner sponsored by Outback, and some golf-related awards and stories.

Anyway, I’ll be checking out the pictures again in a couple months when the snow is flying, the wind is blowing, and everything is a shade of brown!

“Is this your ball? You hit it so hard, you broke it!!!”

Kevin after sinking a long putt!

14th

Last week I discussed scope creep, in-house IT resistance, and passive-aggressive behind-the-scenes divisiveness. Now let’s take a look at Part 2 of landmines that can derail an insurance Web project. Three more perilous issues include:

  • Lack of focus by senior project sponsors
  • Over zealous IT security people
  • Unrealistic time frames and rushing to market

Lack of focus by senior project sponsors can cause major problems. Sometimes the main project sponsors get things started, then disappear for eight weeks, come back, and start giving more orders. The big issue with that is a lot of work has already been done, and now needs to be redone — or put on hold for Phase two.

Project sponsors are often deep subject matter experts and their input is invaluable, so they need to be available for timely input. In either case, redo’ing stuff costs time and money which could have been better spent, not to mention the frustration factor.

Over zealous IT security people can also derail a project. Don’t get me wrong. IdeaStar takes online security very seriously. We have outlined security procedures and participate in security programs such as Hacker Safe. However, as an example, we received a 250 question security questionnaire from a carrier for an e-commerce site involving a simple guaranteed-issue AD&D product. We considered it overkill and declined to move forward with the project. Here’s the thing: There are all sorts of levels for Web security. We didn’t think the project warranted the time necessary to document security measures worthy of plans for a thermo-nuclear submarine!

Time frames can be a very sensitive, and clients need to be realistic. Often, a time frame for launch is set months in advance of a planned major marketing event. The ball starts rolling toward that deadline, but the Web site gets delayed because of contracting, the IT department, security, lack of cooperation by a carrier, etc. But the marketing event deadline is still approaching.

So finally, when everybody starts screaming loud enough, contracts get signed, information flows, and work begins on the Web site. Weeks of development time have already been lost, but the marketing deadline still has to be met. That can leave the project with inadequate time to test, make changes, get market feedback and so forth. You are better off delaying the launch date than risking Web site failure in some form.

These are just a few of the landmines which we’ve run into – on more than one occasion with more than one client. Please let us know if you know of others.

Hope this series has been helpful.

10th

There are so many landmines which can derail an insurance Web project, I decided to break this post into two parts; next week — Part B.

Based on my experience, here are three landmines to watch out for.

  • Scope creep
  • In-house IT resistance
  • Passive-aggressive behind-the-scenes divisiveness

Scope creep, where a project continues to grow beyond its original guidelines, can continually delay the launch of a Web project. The essential functionality gets delayed, and you end up trying to launch too much at once in a hurry. It is better to keep a project small — taking one or two steps at a time — so the intended audience is not overwhelmed with new stuff. Additional functionality can be added in the next phase.

In-house IT resistance can be a big problem. Whether intentional or not, IT often drags their feet and/or over-complicates the Web-enabled processes. It is better to sit down and discuss the project with them before starting. You want them on board. It’s not in anyone’s interest to have IT as an obstacle.

Passive-Aggressive behavior. Am I the only one or does PA behavior seem like a plague in our society these days? Here’s an example: Open-floor calls for input in meetings are met with silence. But after the meeting, the PA person gets on the phone or fires off emails to express comments that should have been raised in the meeting. Whether that opinion is good or bad is not the point. It is critical that everyone involved in the project remains part of the conversation. As a receiver of the PA behavior, I would encourage people that if somebody tries to discuss an issue after the meeting — whether you agree or not — tell them to bring it up in the next meeting. If it is relevant information, there should be no problem discussing it in a public setting.

If anyone has suggestions or additions, we’re all ears! Next week:

  • Lack of Focus
  • Over-zealous IT Security
  • Unrealistic Time Frames

Cheers!

4th

No gettin’ around it, an ever-present aspect of Web development within the insurance quoting and enrollment vertical is scope change — most commonly, scope enhancement. My experience is that even with the best project specifications, when you get in development, something invariably comes up that either IS or seems like a necessary inclusion into the current project. So how to handle this…

Firstly, right up front at the project Kickoff meeting, the ground rules need to be agreed upon regarding then-unknown items that might potentially come up during the development. Most Web-dev projects begin with items that have already been tabled for “Phase Two”, so an easy concept to gain agreement on is this: Anything that comes up during Phase One that’s not absolutely urgent will be earmarked for Phase Two, no matter who the idea comes from. Here’s the thing: If the scope isn’t controlled in this manner, including sometimes taking a hard line, the project can easily over-run boundaries in time and money. Then you have a perception problem, solutions aren’t being solved, etc., etc.. And if you do it once, that opens the door for the next item… and the next… etc.

But what if something comes up that DOES require inclusion in Phase One? This is where detailed documentation (developed on an urgent basis) is critical. What is the issue? Why is it critical? How will it impact the budget and timeline? Who is authorizing? How will it be integrated into the existing scope? If these items don’t get addressed immediately, what tends to happen is at the end of the project, stakeholders forget the scope change and wonder why the project took an extra xx weeks and cost $xx,000 more than budgeted.

These seem to be a couple of the bigger concepts… gtg to get something critical done…! :-)

Next week — the ever-popular discussion of landmines that derail projects. Should be fun!

Real quick… On a side note….

If you are ever in New England and want a refreshing, quick break from the grind, try the Inn at Jaffrey Center, located just east of Jaffrey, NH in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock — the second-most climbed mountain in the world. (Can you guess the first? Hints: ‘religious’ experience, densely populated area, NOT Mt. Everest…) Monadnock is a fun climb, especially in October – stunning arial view of the foliage in NH, VT, and MA! (I was there a couple weeks ago and took some pics…)

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