IT Development

Overcoming programme blockers

IT Development | Georgina | 16 July 2021

Digital transformation programmes are not known for being simple. With many moving parts, often spanning over years, these tricky programmes often present their own challenges; both for the implementation teams and the insurer. Depending on the stage of the programme, these challenges can morph from a niggling business issue into a blocker; potentially having detrimental effects on the programme as a whole. Blockers can mean that the programme will:

  • be delayed
  • incur further costs
  • accrue technical debt (which has further consequences of its own)
  • be plagued with bugs and errors

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t even go into the internal frustrations felt by the implementation teams, customers and other partners involved along the way.

With our experience, we’ve seen it all. Here we explain some programme blockers and our recommendations for overcoming them.

Poor project and programme planning

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance is the common adage. We’d actually say that Proper Planning Propells Programme Progress!

Without decent planning, every project is doomed to fail. Where insurance transformation programmes are so complex, this couldn’t be more accurate. Poor planning on a programme of such intricacy leads to;

  • incorrect work being undertaken
  • …which is a waste of time and money
  • and will block the rest of the programme from being delivered properly

Planning must be a priority with transformation projects; and the plans must be adaptable, realistic and hold suitable owners to account. Nobody likes tight deadlines; you needn’t worry about the added stress among your team with a suitable plan.

Cultural inertia to change

This is incredibly tricky. Insurers are understandably risk-averse organisations; digital transformation programmes require heavy investment and buy-in. (This is another bonus of having suitable planning; it can assure that the programme is proceeding at a suitable pace and direction that everybody has agreed on). Being cautious isn’t itself a blocker on a programme. The blocker can appear further down the line when teams are reluctant to adapt to coming changes to the way they work and the way the business operates.

Unfortunately, despite investing in a programme that defines change for the business, these hesitations can creep in at any stage of the programme. Our main recommendation to keep the pace of the plan and dissolve this blocker would be to have a Single Point Of Contact person on the programme. They check across the programme for tracking, planning and seeing across the organisation for the culture change that is needed, or pointing out where the ways of working of the wider business impact the programme. Ultimately, trusting your partners, working as one team and letting their experience and expertise shine through can be the much-needed catalyst for change.

Inexperienced resource

Complex programmes require complex expertise. Without this level of knowledge, the programme is at risk of delays in sprints and the programme as a whole. Additionally, the inexperienced resource can have a knock-on effect on the wider teams on the programme. Experienced talent can end up inadvertently having their workload doubled. This means that even the teams with full understanding are affected. Before long, the entire programme is at risk of failure.

The solution here is simple – get the right experience for the role! Where there is room for more junior roles to learn and thrive, ensure they are suitably prepared and supported. Placing inexperienced talent on a team and leaving them to it will only frustrate everyone. The experience in question isn’t always technical either. It can be experience of a particular domain or company – or even boil down to individuals who have worked well together in the past. This can improve the plan and ensure project management is running smoothly.

Lack of communication between teams on the programme

With everyone managing their own workload, it can be easy to fall into the silo trap. The problem with this is that it leads to misunderstandings and progress on the programme becoming blocked. This is one of the reasons why we work within Agile. In our experience, working within Agile principles forces much-needed, regular communication with the right people. Scrum meetings for example ensure small problems are caught early and dealt with, whilst any larger priorities are solved simultaneously.

Having Product Owners and those with subject matter expertise on hand to respond to queries helps prevent further misunderstandings and blockages on a programme.

Poorly elaborated user stories

This follows on from the poor communication point above. User stories, often depicted on post-it notes as part of the Agile way of working, must make sense. These user stories are requirements are taken into sprints. Both developers and testers rely on user stories being succinct yet well-communicated. If these are misunderstood, this can lead to programme blockages and further delays – not to mention frustration from team members. The obvious solution here is to ensure the user stories are understood from the get-go. It can be easy for elements of communication to get lost in translation, however, if the user story is well-elaborated, there shouldn’t be room for misunderstanding between teams.

The above are just a few programme blockers many may resonate with. The results of the above blockers are all the same: programme delays, increased spend, mountains of technical debt, and overall poor delivery of the programme and what was promised. Luckily, many of the above blockers can be easily resolved as long as they’re recognised in good time. At Endava, we’ve found that working within the principles of Agile can prevent many of these blockers and frustrations – leading to a smooth delivery and an enhanced system for everyone.