How to own Product

Introduction

The insurance industry is one of the few industries to almost exclusively look to consultants and technology vendors to build and maintain their strategic and core technology platforms. There is a reliance on industry specific legacy technology that is expensive to build and maintain. It is little wonder when you consider the custom coded solutions that are built for each client and the developer day cost for these projects – what is the incentive for innovation? 

Compared to other highly competitive industries like retail and manufacturing where tech is at the businesses core, what are we all missing? If we consider that the insurance industry sells insurance products and this product is one half insurance and one half technology – the optimisation of any product has a direct impact on the business. We can go one step further and consider that the business and the product are the same thing. Therefore, if you’re outsourcing one half of the core product functionality i.e. technology that is unresponsive to iteration and change – this is somewhat of an uphill struggle.

What is insurance product?

Insurance product is selling a product that requires the customer to transfer risk at a price point that is acceptable, with the understanding that there is a promise to pay claims. Similarly and with equal importance, is that transactions are fair and profitable for all counterparties. This is the eternal assumption, however, how can we validate and improve based on real time feedback? Initial product launches are based assumptions on how the insured’s and/or brokers will interact with your product. If the business is unable to create a feedback-loop based on up-to-date insight the product success will only be as good at the initial assumptions.

The process and framework for product

The insurance industry could take control of their own agile technology development; delivering a product that is continually improving in order to grow revenue. This can take the form of better user experience through improved and enhanced customer journeys, or even just better documentation. The ability to broaden or reduce the underwriting box and update pricing based on real-time insight can have a direct impact on the bottom and top line.

In order to achieve this, there has to be a consideration on the process. Based on Jeff Patton’s work https://www.jpattonassociates.com/ who is one of the grandfathers of product and agile, we can explore an optimal way of growing products. The below diagram outlines a process and feedback loop in order to optimise revenue and profitability. 

  1. The formula for product is: Input – Output – Outcome – Impact. Input is what you want to build; Output is what is actually built; Outcome is the response of the users or customers and Impact is the ROI and profit for the business.
  2. Opportunity backlog considers the road map for enhancements, new features or products and should be prioritised based on ROI. Items in the Opportunity backlog can either be actioned or binned.
  3. Product backlog are the items for an opportunity that should be discovered and understood.
  4. This is a cycle of discover work to understand what and how to build out the opportunity.
  5. Development backlog is the articulation of requirements that fulfil the potential opportunity.
  6. Development cycle to build and deploy working software.
  7. The first version of the product or enhancement to launch.
  8. The second version of a product or enhancement based on feedback from the first version.
  9. Based on understanding the discovery and development process and measuring outcome and impact – this can be used to understand the next best opportunity to work on.

Team structure and culture

This approach is not without challenge (including ultimate failure). However, it can also achieve great success with the consideration of a number of factors including: company culture, adequate buy-in from board level and an acceptance of apparent challenges and set-backs. 

In order to develop successful products, there must be ‘product squads’. These squads will be cross functional, consisting of members from different departments within the business. The hierarchy of the team should be flat with the interest of the product being prevalent and not its control. The management should ensure the environment above the individual team members are isolated from divisive politics that will affect the delivery.

The team could be made up of:

  • Team lead (responsible for the development and technical design of the product)
  • Developers (software engineers)
  • Product owner  (responsible for the communication of requirements of the product including the prioritisation of development and stakeholder management)
  • Product manager (responsible for articulating the requirements for the desired business outcome)
  • Actuary
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Sec Ops (responsible for security of the platform)
  • Operations

The squad will consist of full time members like the development team and product manager whilst other members will be part time. Regular communication will be structured with 10 minute daily stand-ups, where all participants offer an update on their contribution. This will ensure transparency and allow the whole squad to take ownership of the outcome of the product.

The product delivery would work in 2 week sprints, initiated with a sprint planning meeting. The objective of this meeting is for the team to agree on what to deliver within two weeks that can be defined working valuable software. They will then focus on delivering that value to the product, showcasing this at the end of the two weeks.

After the product has launched, the core team will remain to work on improvements and enhancements based on feedback from customers and revenue performance. The key to the success of the product is to validate key assumptions and improve when these assumptions are proven incorrect.

Conclusion

There are many obvious advantages for the insurance industry to own its technology – with the ability to iterate and make their products better based off actual insight rather than assumption. However, the industry has to be brave and move away from its dependence on others telling it how to manage and build strategic and core technology. This will involve a fundamental shift in behaviour and the need to attract new talent with appropriate skill sets. These new positions may involve considerable influence in the direction of the business. This is a great opportunity for the industry to seize; and the brave organisations and markets that do will be sure to thrive. 

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