Geographic expansion and offshoring for insurance transformation have made multi-site development the norm rather than the exception. The disruption we are all experiencing due to COVID-19 is going to force a rethink of this. Our white paper (which can be fully downloaded here) goes into detail on how insurers can (and should) adjust to a post COVID-19 world.
Agile is an approach to project delivery that emphasises collaboration, communication and responding to change.
This is accomplished by being both incremental and iterative, breaking the project work and timeline down to be more manageable. Project work is broken down into user stories, which are high level descriptions of functionality for specific users. These are meant to generate conversation rather than provide exhaustive documentation.
Delivery methods differ for large-scale insurance transformation programmes. They tend to rely on a mix of co-location, near-shore and offshore delivery. The Scrum methodology recommends co-location and involves a set of well-developed practices for innovation and programme delivery.
So how will insurance transformation be affected in a post-COVID-19 world?
If insurance transformation programmes are to continue (and there is no reason to think that subject to some reprioritisation they won’t), then delivery methods need to bend to fit the new world. This is where a Distributed Agile Methodology comes in. Distributed teams involve individuals or groups of individuals that are dispersed geographically but working on the same project and/or team.
The benefits and costs of distributed teams for project delivery
One of the benefits of using distributed teams is the availability of talent. The other easily understood benefit involves lower costs. While there are benefits to distributed teams, there are potential challenges too. The primary cost involves communication.
The most effective form of communication is face-to-face where both verbal and nonverbal communication is a possibility. This can be lost, or at least diminished, in distributed teams. Video calls help enormously, but they can’t replace non-verbal communication interpreted in face-to-face comms.
These are certainly not insurmountable challenges for insurance transformation.
The recommendation here is to judiciously select the right elements and blend two approaches. This is dependent on government guidelines for dealing with Covid-19, but there should be scope to have some (reduced) face-to-face working and delivery, potentially in a staggered approach with only core delivery team members and stakeholders. Then underpin this with distributed team techniques.
As mentioned earlier, culture must play a significant role in this. The technology is there, the commitment to delivery is there – but the will and appetite for adapting to this needs to be there also. The main areas of focus for Agile are the project work and the way to approach it.
A culture of communication for insurance transformation
Communication is key and is typically integrated into the way the project is approached. However, because teams are distributed, communication needs to be more intentionally managed. Project work needs to be clearly defined and communicated.
In Scrum, there are regularly scheduled meetings throughout the cycle, including daily status updates (the daily stand-up). For many, these meetings are the most important of the day. These can be done virtually, but there needs to be more management and consideration put into the communication.
Another decision for communication that comes with distributed teams is what form that it should take. The team has different options, such as video conferencing, phone calls or chat functionality. A decision needs to be taken to confirm which of these forms are acceptable for the different meetings and then make sure that different teams are set up with the capability for each form of communication. The best results are achieved by combining these options as appropriate, not mandating one form for all communications.
From a technical point of view there are many platforms to choose from – Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, the old-fashioned phone! But this isn’t about the technology – this is about which channel for communication is most appropriate. Again, culture plays a part.
Having highly motivated team members is going to be important. Remote team members are going to have to be remarkably self-motivated, because they are going to have to work harder to communicate, stay engaged, focused and productive.
They won’t have the informal network of co-located team members to fall back on. And in direct relation to this, the co-located team members are going to have to work harder, too. They are going to have to make a special effort to engage their remote team members.