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InsurTech Ohio Spotlight with Mandy Doney

Mandy Doney is the Enterprise Architecture and Portfolio Management Leader at Westfield Insurance, a leading U.S.-based property and casualty insurance company. Mandy was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio.

Mandy, how do you approach taking things from the strategy side of the business through to delivery?

“There are three critical components when you're moving from strategy to execution: initiative identification, creating targets and prioritization. Business and IT leaders need to understand what initiatives will bring their strategy to life in order to move the business forward. Then they can align on the expected value, how to measure it, the priority of initiatives and the value statements to achieve those goals.

That alignment between strategy and delivery is critical, not just at the start, but continuing through the execution of the plan. To support that alignment, it’s so critical to check in throughout the execution of delivery. Leveraging Steering Committees, conducting architectural and design reviews, monitoring critical metrics and facilitating morale surveys are all ways Westfield has found success in ensuring delivery teams are aligned to and adjusting as needed to business strategies.”

How can a company ensure the things that we think are going to drive value actually drive that value?

“It starts with having clear and measurable expected outcomes. As part of our business and IT planning, we're continually working to improve how we define financial, quantifiable, measurable or observable outcomes. We are rolling out processes to have regular delivery checkpoints to gauge how we're doing against those outcomes. In some instances, we're able to exceed the expected business value and deliver more, and in some cases, we learn a lot and can adjust our goals.

This is a continual area of focus for us because we know identifying expected outcomes and measuring against them creates the ability to accelerate work that's going well or discontinue things that aren't producing business value. A key lesson Westfield has learned is to be ready to pivot if higher value work is identified. Metrics and feedback are key data points to ensure work is driving value and informing trade-off options. It can be hard for teams who have been invested in delivery to pivot, which is why alignment and partnership with business to support change is so important.”

You've recently gone through a shift to the Agile methodology. What was that journey like, and how do you approach getting the whole organization on the same page?

“We've been on the Agile journey at Westfield for several years, and we've found that it’s crucial to have IT and business alignment at the beginning and throughout the transition to Agile. We were fortunate to have strong business sponsorship and partnership throughout our journey. Senior IT and business leaders were sponsors on our Agile Steering Committee and reinforced the Agile principles at critical moments when teams needed support in managing the change.

In addition, we found a lot of value in the planning and alignment ceremonies within the Scaled Agile framework to help keep our organization on the same page. For example, in our largest delivery train, we have up to 150 people getting together for three days to plan our next increment. We see demos of working software, view future roadmaps and next-up delivery work. It gives us the opportunity to escalate prioritization decisions and trade-offs, manage shared resource constraints, understand dependencies and set our delivery targets. It's been a powerful use of time that also creates a foundation for some of our smaller teams to leverage going forward.

One area we’re focusing on now is using our Innovation and Planning iterations more effectively. We have two-week iterations at the end of every program increment and use them for future planning, paying down technical debt and experimenting with new tools or technologies. It provides a mental break from delivery and gives teams more control over their work. So, for Westfield, getting everyone on the same page through ceremonies, shared partnerships and leaving time for innovation have been key to Westfield's Agile journey success.”

When working with outside vendors or startups, how do you create the same alignment of teams that you have internally?

“Vendor partners are a great way to experiment with different solutions and upskill our Westfield team. One thing that's important to success is regular collaboration checkpoints, which build transparency and shared ownership. The best teams that I've worked on have been ones where no one knows who's a vendor and who's an employee. It's all about pulling a team together, having shared objectives and delivering value.

With our vendor partners and startups, that's the kind of atmosphere we like to create to establish collaboration and shared ownership from the very beginning. Then, we can get to work on solving business problems together and injecting new thoughts and ideas into our teams. It’s helpful to gain outside perspectives and partner with companies who are driving innovation in the Insurance industry.”

What kinds of new technologies are you most excited about right now?

“This is an awesome question because there are so many exciting new technologies out there with some amazing potential for the P&C insurance industry. Like everyone, I am excited about generative AI and all of the advancements coming in this space and how rapidly that's evolving. The applications within insurance are limitless in creating efficiencies in internal processes and unlocking greater value for our customers.

Another one is digital platforms and customer-experience enhancements. Westfield is focusing on our digital platforms to improve customer engagement and making it easier for our customers and agents to manage policies, file claims and get assistance. Technologies like chatbots, virtual assistance and automated process work; it's unlocking so many efficiencies to provide excellent customer support.

Another one that’s not new but ever evolving is cloud computing capabilities, Westfield is leveraging cloud technologies more and more to maximize our ability to deliver business capabilities and rapidly adapt to change. Overall, it's an exciting time in tech!”

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