Industry Spotlight - Benefits Outsouring
Contributed by Lea Stabler, PMP
(reprinted with permission - originally published Feb 2018)
This month, our Project Management spotlight is on Benefits Outsourcing. This is the practice of managing benefits data for a corporate client. The client’s objective is to offer good or better service to their employees as economically as possible. Projects require management of client relationships, software development for rules engines, data conversion activities, and developing operational guides and call center scripts. The work involves assuming and on-boarding historical and current benefits data along with the rules that govern that data. Waterfall methodologies are used for data, operations, and call center components as, typically, there are few changes. Software development and rules conversion teams have moved to Agile.
As a Benefits Outsourcing Project Manager, I was involved in planning, execution, reporting, and closure of customer implementations to convert and migrate client data onto the outsourcing company systems. I had oversight of client data corrections, new benefits rules, and data workflow, which often required new tools and processing changes.
Project Managers in this environment face the challenge of task ownership because requirements are not clear and/or not detailed enough. Plan Documents are written from a legal perspective and can be vague on servicing features or rules applicable only to small subsets of the population. There may be multiple vendors responsible for current and past administration therefore, there is no one source with first-hand knowledge. For clarity and decisions, the client’s legal council is often involved. Often, there is more than one acceptable way to execute the requirements. The challenge becomes guiding the client to solutions that can be implemented efficiently and economically in the outsourced system and still meet requirements.
A second common challenge is competition for resources. Available resources do not always align with the scope or schedule that are sold by the outsourcing organization.
One of the lessons I learned was to report issues as soon as they emerge rather than waiting for scheduled review meetings. A key part of the project, data conversion, was completed in three parts. In order to identify and resolve missing or questionable information, an initial file, then an adjusted file, and then the final production file were created. Project status was provided to the client after completion of each file. If the file contained errors or missing information, management escalation ensued. The client would escalate to their upper management who would then meet upper management and relationship management of the Outsourcing company. Most often, the project team was authorized to move forward, activating the service and potentially even making the data corrections. If identified problems were discussed with the client immediately, the team could gain time and meet the agreed upon activation date. Upper management involvement would be limited so they could focus on more important policy discussions.
I focused on relationship-building because I recognized that future projects would be staffed with the people currently assigned. Conversations with my team members provided insight into their experience, comfort level with assigned tasks, and how dependencies and precedents came into play in their role. This also allowed me to track issues to their source versus just where the current issue resided.
My advice to other Project Managers is that change is the new normal; we are being asked to be more efficient and economical. Cycle times will be shorter for waterfall and expectations higher for Agile based projects. Everyone must stay current with technology, communication, and tracking requirements.
Project Managers also need to stay current on the trends in their business and industry. He says “Keep an eye on the money both for the client’s business and yours. This will provide clues on how decisions will be made and the direction of projects.”
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