A lively debate around “overcoming the cultural and technological challenges to deliver transformational change” amongst leaders from across the insurance industry was held at this week’s TINtech 2022.
A roundtable discussion to debate the main blockers to change within medium-sized to larger organisations was held following a highly insightful presentation from Jen Dallas, Digital Director at RSA Insurance. The debate focused on team and project management, and the best ways of ensuring “change” strategies are genuinely delivered on.
Getting Agile working practices right
In her talk, Jen focused on the key principles of an Agile approach, and why getting that right is key to delivering transformational change. For that to happen, she explained, focus must be on the culture and working practices, which is often overlooked. To back up her point, she asked how many people in the room had read the 12 Principles of Agile – tellingly, the answer appeared to be “very few”. She then highlighted the importance of the Principles and how the majority are focused on teams and collaboration rather than technical skills.
Jen talked through her own experiences in RSA and across her career as a digital leader, and explained that giving accountability to teams is crucial; enabling teams to “Build, Run and Manage” their own teams is key to creating customer-centricity. She also explained that her personal favourite element of a project process is ensuring the teams are regularly running demos and showcasing progress across the business, to keep teams motivated and excited. She also shared one overall recommendation for success in delivering change: start small, make it sustainable and then scale.
The discussion was then opened-up via a series of roundtable debates, under Chatham House rules, with some key points coming out in terms of both barriers and solutions to enabling change.
In terms of challenges, the CTO of a major life insurer claimed that team collaboration and performance can break down when they aren’t given full autonomy. For this to happen, he argued, they need to manage their own resources (including budgets) and have a full end-to-end understanding of the project – not just their own part.
Blended project management approach?
A senior project manager from a global specialty insurance carrier argued that whilst Agile projects can unintentionally slip into Waterfall, sometimes a hybrid “Wagile” approach is necessary to keep projects moving in the right direction. He suggested that teams need to work out which elements need to be linear (and follow the Waterfall methodology), and which need to work simultaneously and iteratively, and be flexible in the approach overall. This created some lively debate in the room, with reactions mixed as to the most effective route to project management. The conclusion was perhaps that there is no one-size fits all approach – but getting everyone aligned on what the approach is, why, and having the discipline to ensure teams are all bought in to the same plan is fundamental. It’s essential that, starting with the leadership, there is full transparency and commitment to the approach, and that any milestones hit are shared and celebrated.
An industry expert on Insurtech, and ex-CIO of a global specialist insurer, revealed that his most successful projects were always delivered when the commercial teams and tech teams were working as one. He used the analogy that they used to have the red team (commercial) in one corner, and the blue team (tech) in another, and misalignment meant projects broke down. They landed on ensuring “purple teams” were formed, with a mix of people from across the business, and this made a huge difference to success.
Finally, a simple but highly effective recommendation was made by the Head or Operations of a major commercial insurer. He said an often-overlooked blocker to transformation is the misunderstanding of key terms. As technology and working practices evolve, he found that many people in his organization were unintentionally talking at cross-purposes because they didn’t have a clear understanding of some key terminology. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page with a clear business glossary has proven to be a highly effective tactic for improving efficiency – a recommendation that met lots of approval in the room.
In an extremely open and collaborative session, a huge number of topics were covered, focusing on the working practices that need to be implemented to ensure transformation and innovation plans really come to fruition and succeed. Whilst it was clear that the industry is evolving rapidly, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution, some clear themes emerged: leadership needs to understand the importance of culture; teams need autonomy to drive success; there must be transparency and alignment across goals, working practices and terminology; and finally, keep communicating, sharing and celebrating success!