How do you Get Ready for a Guidewire Project?

In this Guidewire Smart Approach Blog post, I am going to attempt to answer one of the most common questions I get as a Professional Services Director at Guidewire. That question comes very early in the project lifecycle, sometimes even before a project is approved to move forward.  The question I hear repeatedly from a majority of our customers is, “What should we be doing to get ready for our Guidewire project?”

That sounds like such a simple question to answer, and I’m sure I could easily come up with dozens of generic items that would potentially be of benefit for any project that is just getting started. However, I feel that the most useful answers to this question are somewhat more elusive and require a conversation of their own that causes customers to engage in some deep thought.  The reason I say that is because it is human nature to dive right in with the blindfold still tied over your eyes. When projects are finally given the funding and support of an Executive Committee or a Board of Directors after months or even years of hard work, the project level managers that we work closely with are eager to get started. This is truly amazing and very exciting for us as a Professional Services team to see, because everybody is excited to work with Guidewire InsuranceSuite software to help bring about positive change to their core insurance operations. But, the best approach is to temper that enthusiasm and have a frank conversation with Guidewire and/or your Systems Integration Partner regarding what tasks are most beneficial to undertake prior to the formal start of the project.

In the paragraphs that follow, I’m going to outline three key recommendations that every project manager should understand and contemplate in the time before the Guidewire project actually starts. While every customer situation is different in regards to internal business practices, overall time period, budget, and attitudes, my experience dictates that these items often prove to be the best use of the valuable time prior to the project start date.

First, my highest recommendation is to invest in the Guidewire Product Introduction course(s), and to ensure your key personnel attend the course(s). This training should be conducted prior to the official start of the Inception Phase. While it is always a balancing act to determine who should attend such training, my experience shows that it is beneficial to include the project manager(s), product owner(s), and the business analysts that will be dedicated to the project. If there are more training spots available, you can also invite key subject matter experts and those tasked with change management. Going through the introduction courses is very valuable as it introduces your project team to the Guidewire application(s), and gives them a non-threatening environment to learn about and interact with the user interfaces and functionalities that are delivered in our base products. Furthermore, we introduce key terminology about our application, which gives the project team an opportunity to start comparing and contrasting our base functionality and terminology against what they might be accustomed to today in legacy systems. All of this means that your team is better prepared to enter Project Inception. A better prepared team that has exposure to our products is of substantial benefit as team members are better equipped to participate in Inception workshops and have an appreciation for base functionality and how the application works. This makes the environment more suitable to using the Guidewire application as a basis for new business processes and adopting an “out of the box” implementation approach.

Second, I would recommend that customers do whatever is necessary to understand the principles of Agile methodology. These core principles should be understood and agreed to at the highest levels of the organization necessary so that their adherence can be enforced if needed. The Guidewire Services’ implementation methodology is built upon principles of Agile software development, and we have dozens of customer success stories of how Agile has led to delivery success. However, one of the common mistakes we encounter is that project teams have a false understanding of how Agile development actually works. Even more damaging is that managers and executives do not understand what it means to let the teams work within an Agile framework. There are several ways that customers can learn Agile prior to practicing it during the actual project. There are many organizations out there that offer onsite customized Agile training, including Rally Software, the maker of the Rally Agile management software that we utilize on our implementation projects. Guidewire Professional Services also offers a two-day, Introduction to Agile, course that we have successfully delivered to many customers that are new to the methodology. Training isn’t the only part of this recommendation. Project management and executives need to be sure they understand and commit to core Agile principles such as project backlog management, empowered team members, and the importance of timely decision making. All of this is important and spending time to learn more about these topics is of great benefit on any Guidewire implementation. I would also stress that there is no need to “master” the Agile methodology prior to the start of the project, as training is not a substitute for practice. Guidewire Professional Services is expecting to mentor and guide a customer that is new to Agile. We have a commitment and obligation to our customers to help each project team practice Agile and work together with us to find the specific principles and actions that will work best for each individual project situation. 

The final recommendation that I have for customers is to create a project environment that strives to use the best practices built into Guidewire InsuranceSuite products, and finds ways to measure and reward teams that embody this practice. Speaking from experience, I can assure you there is no better way to derail a project from a timeline, cost, or complexity standpoint than to ignore the base product and just replicate old legacy functionality in the Guidewire applications. It is very easy for any project to pay lip service to the “out of the box” mantra, but it is very difficult to have the insight necessary to comprehend and enforce this standard throughout an implementation project. Without debate, I can ensure you that customers that foster and support an “out of the box” mantra enjoy shorter, less expensive and less complex projects. I am not so naïve as to think that this is easy – in fact, it is incredibly difficult. It takes hard work from business analysts to understand Guidewire products, compare them to how business is currently done, and make the difficult decisions needed to change existing processes and practices. Change is hard, but trust me when I say it is worth it in the end when that change is managed in a targeted and organized fashion. I would encourage customers to learn about Guidewire’s Business Value Alignment offering, which is an invaluable tool that gives us a proven framework to promote “out of the box” functionality and to ensure that configuration that we do as part of the implementation is adding value to your business. 

I hope that I have been able to give our customers some thoughts on how to direct efforts prior to the start of your Guidewire implementation project. These are just some of the items that customers must consider as we embark on the journey to implement Guidewire to transform your key insurance operational processes. I hope to be able to share more thoughts on this subject in a future Smart Approach Blog article.