Impact of a specialist project manager on an insurance modelling project

Innovators have turned around and delivered a number projects that had overrun their budgets or allocated delivery timing.

A risk and actuarial modelling project had commenced without a written mandate. Its timing had been dictated by a CXO without reference to a plan. The budget had been based on available staff, not estimated work and had not factored in any constraints or risks.

A governance structure had been agreed and three of the business’s CXOs sat on its steering board. The ‘project management’ was shared between the two heads of functions, both of whom were brilliant operational managers.

What the Innovator observed

The Innovator spent time with the function heads, listening to their issues, understanding their problems and gaining their trust. She also spent time with the teams that were doing the work.

Focus was on the results of the financial models, but little attention given to the management of the work. There was still no plan or budget. Most of the work was undertaken on top of normal work. Team members were left to prioritise their own activities without guidance. Each department’s work was carried out in isolation and issues quickly became departmental conflicts. Both the functional heads recognised that the project was a problem but blamed each other.

It was clear that both teams were working so hard that their performance was deteriorating. ‘Overengineered and complex project management’ was not encouraged.  We were asked by the Group Chief Risk Officer to help.  After investigation, the Innovator decided that a simple and high-level approach would be best approach for this project.

What the Innovator changed

She started by getting the CXOs to agree a ‘Terms of Reference’ for the project and the project team. It included:

  • The desired overall outcome
  • What needed to be done to achieve the outcome
  • Who was going to own delivery of what
  • Who was required to make decisions (of different types and at different levels)
  • When key milestones needed to be delivered

The Innovator was able to identify gaps between the desired outcome and the ‘current’ state of the project. She then worked with the subject-matter-experts to re-plan the work to fill the gaps. The result was a plan which included:

  • Agreed milestones
  • Planned resource levels (accounting for other peak workflows in the organisation)
  • Contingencies for when model runs failed and required re-work
  • Identified risks
  • Budgets agreed and back on track

The teams were unused to systematic project management. The approach was alien to the team members and the prevailing culture.  The Innovator kept reporting relatively informal but kept control by maintaining plans and budgets. She had weekly meetings with team heads to track progress, raise issues and manage risks.

The outcome

The project was delivered and passed through into business-as usual. The insurer’s Group CFO commented

“This is the best run project in… [this insurer]”