RMAPS® Freeflow--a study in excellence
This paper discusses the highly successful development and implementation of the Residual Market Application Processing System (RMAPS®) Freeflow Project, an information systems application at the National Council for Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in Boca Raton, Florida. The RMAPS® Freeflow Project provided a clear demonstration and validation of the principles and practices comprising the PMBOK and related methodologies in an environment of rapid change based on customer feedback and technological advances. Faced with numerous challenges over the life of the project, the project team worked closely together to meet and exceed all expectations, resulting in a product that has been recognized as an unqualified success from all perspectives.
Based in Boca Raton, Florida, the National Council for Compensation Insurance (NCCI) is the most experienced and largest provider of workers compensation insurance and employee injury data and statistics in the nation, providing a variety of data products to over 900 insurance companies, nearly 40 state governments, and over 38,600 insurance agencies and agents. The cornerstone of the company is the data received from these entities and the systems that support the acquisition, analysis, and processing of that data. With regard to the latter, one of the key services offered by NCCI's Assigned Risk Division is the on-line application processing system provided by RMAPS®, which services its thousands of customers through the timely and accurate processing of over 111,350 applications per year on behalf of NCCI's Residual Market operations in 21 states.
The existing RMAPS® System was a customer-facing web application that had been in place for over 11 years, servicing an exponentially growing customer base. The significant update to the existing RMAPS® system provided by the Freeflow Project represented a clear response to the “voice of the customer” as noted by customer satisfaction surveys. Having committed itself to meeting customer requests for change, it became of paramount importance that the Assigned Risk Division be successful in meeting what amounted to mandatory system and service requirements. Anything less would be interpreted as a state of failure and could not be tolerated.
Given the numerous system interfaces within NCCI's set of applications and data warehouse, all of which are pervasive throughout the organization, it was recognized that a system such as RMAPS® did not stand on its own, but was fully integrated with others. As a direct consequence, RMAPS® Freeflow had to explicitly consider multiple internal interfaces and the impact of any change to the RMAPS® system on related systems and data. Since the initial system was 11 years old, its platform was dated. The project was thus not only involved in system improvements, but also required an astute architectural design that involved an associated extensive re-platforming effort that would meet the existing requirements and allow future upgrades with minimal customizations.
Actual project execution was preceded by an extensive planning exercise involving a thorough quality management system review, during which the key functional elements and processes critical to customer success were identified. This effort not only determined the primary “touch points” of the system, but also acted as a very effective team indoctrination and immersion process. While many elements of the system operation and customer experience were identified during this detailed review, it became evident that the challenges faced by the RMAPS® Freeflow Project were myriad, but could generally be assigned to in one of three basic categories:
- Project Scope – The first challenge was to correctly identify real customer requirements that would make substantial and meaningful improvements in actual customer operations. This resulted in a carefully developed and managed project scope that was fully supported by all parties—business and technical—and which, in turn, provided firm guidance throughout the extended project life cycle.
- Business Process – As part of the overall upgrade of system capability, a totally new and complex tool (class code trees) for the correct identification of customer class codes was designed and included in the overall updated business processes and associated application coding. This effort constituted a major contribution to customer service and required a carefully planned process integration in the comprehensive system design and application.
- Technical Development – This crucial area involved the transition from a classic active server pages application to Microsoft's .NET (Dot Net) framework. This transition required a complete rewriting of application code and associated test cases.
The business owner and core project team members were each directly accountable for all aspects of the project, from its conception to documentation and validation of requirements, design and development, testing, implementation, and evaluation. Different team members assumed active leadership for different portions of the project and associated documentation, but the entire team was fully involved and integrated in all aspects of project management, leadership, and accountability.
PMBOK® Guide Applications and Innovations
Viewed from any perspective, this project was a superb example of project management and control in that it closely adhered to the best practices and recommended procedures to be found in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth edition (Project Management Institute, 2008), Six Sigma, and Capability Maturity Model doctrines, concepts, and practices. The project team drew heavily on the lessons learned from previous internal projects, which were then incorporated in the initial project charter. Together, these practices and procedures served to validate the values and image of the project management discipline for the team and laid the groundwork for the subsequent development of templates, processes, and standards for other projects to follow within the organization. (See the project life cycle shown in Exhibit 1 for an illustration of the application of the templates and processes that were followed, expanded, and/or validated by this project.)
Project Integration Management
The precepts of project integration management were closely followed through the development and tracking of project scope, identification of system interfaces, and risk identification and management. These principles were best exemplified by the detailed and fully coordinated Business Requirements, Detail Design, Test Strategy, Test Plan, and Test Cases that were developed on a multifunctional basis and then closely monitored to ensure adherence to original project objectives. The sheer size of these detailed documents, running into hundreds of pages, required a sophisticated method for tracking their internal content and external interfaces, which was met by the development of a comprehensive traceability matrix, a document that proved to be a very useful innovation in technique in this regard.
Exhibit 1: Project life cycle.
Given the magnitude of the project scope and associated documentation, the need for detailed planning and closely monitored/controlled project management practices was, as noted, of paramount importance. Thus, it is significant to note that there was very little change to scope throughout this project. The limited exceptions were handled by the formal change control process initially outlined in the project charter that set the tenor and tone of the overall effort.
Project Scope Management
The actual scope, as stated by the work breakdown structure (WBS) and associated schedule, are shown in the summary level project plan exhibited in Exhibit 2. As indicated above, there were very limited challenges to project scope due to detailed planning, documentation, and close adherence to a fully integrated project plan that addressed myriad factors, including the development, review, and management of business requirements, detailed design, and testing documents. The sole project change request was for a consolidated change of less than 3% of the originally estimated schedule and cost.
In addition to project scope, a key element of initial project planning was the development of meaningful and measurable system performance criteria. These critical measures of success were initially identified in the quality management process, codified in the Project Charter, and then closely monitored during actual project development, testing, and implementation. Success in meeting these standards was verified through internal/external surveys and verified improvements in the metrics of business unit performance.
Project Application Development
Although Exhibits 1 and 2 indicate a classic waterfall approach to system development, the actual methodology represented a repeated cycle between requirements, development, and testing. While demanding, this approach permitted a continuous learning approach on the part of all parties that greatly benefited the final product. (Note that the vast majority of the resulting changes were not so much changes in requirements and functionality—a.k.a. scope—as much as better ways to achieve application intent and purpose.) To maintain a high level of integration throughout the project in terms of documentation and actual participant work, a significant amount of time was applied to project management and control through frequent and coordinated updates. As discussed below, project communication was critical in this regard.
Project Schedule and Cost Management
Time and schedule management was important not only as one of the key project metrics, but also as a critical element in meeting stakeholder expectations. As shown below, detailed planning, in conjunction with integrated project management and control, led to an on-time, on-cost, on-scope delivery of the entire project over an extended time frame that included such “challenges” as a hurricane during the middle of the development phase occurring in the area of Florida where the organization is located.
|• Commencement||Date June 7, 2005|
|• Full Project Definition||March 21, 2006|
|• Original Date of Completion||January 5, 2007|
|• Client Approval||January 25, 2007|
|• Project Closeout||March 20, 2007|
The actual project plan, a summary of which is shown in Figure 2, was comprised of over 400 lines and included numerous imbedded checklists. The trick was to establish the right level of detail in the project plan without it becoming onerous. Stated differently, the project plan was used as tool for project management, not as an end in itself.
Figure 2: RMAPS® freeflow summary level project plan
Given the extended timeframe of the project, it is significant to note that it was completed within 2.6% of the original estimated cost over a time span of 94 weeks. Attainment of this metric was achieved by a fully shared awareness of and responsibility for project costs by the entire team, supported by continuous monitoring of progress against the plan.
|• Original Budgeted Cost||US$550,000|
|• Actual Cost||US$564,571|
Note: These costs are based on internal blended rates. Actual costs, based on known external rates and factors would have been approximately three to four times higher.
In addition to well-established project control procedures, emphasizing communication and visibility of project progress and performance, cost management was significantly enhanced by the extensive up-front planning of, and then close adherence to, project scope in the business requirements and detail design. As is the case with any project, there were numerous opportunities for scope creep, but stringent control procedures held this tendency in check.
Project Quality and Risk Management
As mentioned above, a quality management subproject preceded the initiation of the RMAPS® free-flow project. Based on an extended review and analysis, qualitative and quantitative, of the entire on-line application system, this effort was conducted by a combined user-project team group over a period of 6 months, captured the Voice of the Customer, and laid the basis for project goals and objectives. Just as importantly, it identified the function points on which measures of performance and satisfaction were based. The success of this innovative technique can be seen by its inclusion in the project life cycle shown in Figure 1 for application to future projects.
The extensive planning and attention to detail by the integrated project team described above was instrumental in the identification and effective handling of project risks, which were codified through a risk matrix (the template for this matrix with sample entries is shown in Figure 3). This effort was initiated in the project charter and updated monthly throughout the life of the project. As an aside, a valuable lesson learned for application to other projects was that risk identification, before an event becomes an issue, is an arduous but critical task. Failure to do so puts a project at the mercy of multiple organizational, functional, and technical forces. The key is to anticipate and plan, not react, to potential risks.
Figure 3: Risk and contingency matrix.
Project Human Resource Management
Given the length of this project, special attention was paid to planning for the acquisition and retention of fully qualified project staff. This was accomplished through significant and regular updates to the organizational capacity database, as well as extensive coordination with affected divisions for the scheduling and use of subject matter experts (SMEs) and testers throughout the life of the project. This was a significant effort, as there were over 35 people on the extended team, many of whom had competing duties. Staff coordination with other managers was thus a critical project management function and required constant attention.
Although almost taken for granted, effective resource management had a clear benefit in the form of key resource continuity. In turn, this continuity permitted the inclusion of all core personnel throughout the life of the project. So, for example, the developers were part of the requirements process, the business unit was closely involved in the detail design, and the QA analyst was included from the onset to facilitate the development of meaningful test cases and effective testing in the latter half of the project life cycle.
Project Communications Management
The impact of this project on such a wide internal/external audience required extensive planning and execution of a master project communication plan to keep all parties posted on overall project progress and the impact it would have on them. This was critical not only for the internal project control necessary to manage the de facto cyclical approach to development, but also to establish the expectations of the external entities that would be affected by the final product.
Internal project team communications were completed through weekly status meetings and documentation such as progress reports, supplemented by ad hoc sessions to address specific issues. The key point behind all internal communications, though, was that they were open and constant. It was also recognized that external parties had to be prepared for the significant changes in the existing system and related procedures for its effective use. Four separate, but interrelated, subproject plans were developed for this effort. This detailed level of communication was further enhanced by the establishment of kiosks for user interface and hands-on experience prior to system implementation.
Project Outcome and Summary
Numerous benefits were gained through the planning, execution, and implementation of the RMAPS® Freeflow Project, but the primary effects can be summarized as follows:
- Customer Service – First and foremost, the RMAPS® Freeflow Project met customer requests and validated requirements for improved workers compensation application processing. This, in turn, translated to a significant degree of increased customer satisfaction as reflected by an analysis of multiple, post-implementation customer survey results.
- The increase in customer satisfaction was strongly influenced by the inclusion of embedded business rules and logic in the application, as well as the introduction of new tools (e.g., a class code tree) to assist in the smooth and timely completion of accurate workers compensation applications.
- Internal Operations Processing – The increased completion and accuracy of applications had a corresponding carryover effect on internal operations in that less time had to be spent by NCCI specialists in the correction and coordination of individual applications. This led back to the final customer where workers compensation insurance was provided on a much more expeditious basis.
- Technical Application Processing – The use of an updated, web-based application significantly improved the capacity and speed of the entire system, involving such aspects as embedded edits and the ability to distribute incoming applications for final review and approval on a much more reasoned and timely basis.
Overall, the project was, and is, considered an unqualified success by all parties—business and technical, internal and external. As a strong indication of this statement, there have been no requested changes to the basic system functionality and features since the time of its implementation. Further, its project processes and innovations have been recognized and adopted for use by other projects. Again, viewed from any perspective, the RMAPS® Freeflow Project was a singular success, reflecting very favorably on its integrated project team and leadership.
Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
© 2009, M. Thorn and J. Tiburzio
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida
Presents the latest thinking regarding good and accepted practices in the area of scheduling for a project.